High-tech sign stealing: MLB says Boston used Apple Watch to gain edge over NY

Apple Watch Series 2
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Cheating in baseball has been around since the sport’s inception, but teams continue to find new and advanced ways to gain an advantage. The latest incident involves the Boston Red Sox using an Apple Watch to steal an opposing catcher’s signs to his pitcher during an August series against the New York Yankees in Boston, according to The New York Times.

The Times reports that after a formal complaint filed by the Yankees, Major League Baseball investigators determined that a Red Sox athletic trainer received messages on his Apple Watch from the team’s video replay personnel regarding the Yankees’ pitch selection. After looking at his Apple Watch, assistant athletic trainer Jon Jochim then relayed the Yankees’ signal to Red Sox players. The Red Sox admitted to the transgression during the probe, saying this method of sign stealing had been in place for several weeks.

A league official confirmed the details of the investigation to USA Today. Also on Tuesday, the Red Sox filed their own complaint against the Yankees, claiming the New York club used cameras affiliated with its YES TV network to steal signs. The Yankees reportedly learned of the Red Sox’s system while watching their own videotapes of the series.

Stealing signs to determine what type of pitch will be thrown is a legal practice in MLB (though, if caught doing so, players may face retribution by way of a fastball thrown at them), as long as there is no outside technology being used to do so. Teams must rely on their own eyes to suss out other teams’ habits, but an Apple Watch provided the Red Sox a more subtle and effective way to pass along information between a team’s staff and its players.

Before the 2016 season, as part of a multiyear agreement with Apple, MLB allowed the use of iPads in dugouts, albeit ones without an internet connection as a measure to prevent these kinds of sign-stealing incidents. At the time, MLB championed the device as a way of putting more statistical insight into the coaching staff’s hands.

“Our collaboration with Apple on the use of iPad Pro in dugouts and bullpens is part of our ongoing effort to introduce extraordinary technology into our game,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement at the time. “We are pleased that Apple’s groundbreaking products, which have already improved the access that fans have to our sport, will now inform the decisions that make our games interesting and exciting throughout the year.”

The Red Sox’s penalty for the violation may include a substantial fine and a loss of draft picks, according to the Times.