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A Sign-Stealing Scandal in Detroit?

There were amused smirks, stifled giggles and full-on howls of laughter around the Minnesota Twins' clubhouse this morning -- which was odd, because a couple of hours later, the Twins would take the field against the Detroit Tigers with their entire season on the line. A loss to the Tigers today would eliminate them from postseason contention.

Why the hilarity? Because the Twins awoke this morning to discover (largely via media members) a video was circulating around the Internet purporting to show Twins catcher Joe Mauer signaling signs, or perhaps pitch locations, to teammate Jason Kubel on Tuesday night, when Mauer was a runner on second base and Kubel was at the plate facing Tigers ace Justin Verlander.

"It's pretty funny," Justin Morneau, the Twins' injured first baseman said. "I saw it and started laughing.... I've been hitting behind [Mauer] for five years and haven't gotten a sign from him yet. I'm still waiting."

But in the home clubhouse at Comerica Park, the Tigers were not laughing. Approached at his locker before Thursday's game, Verlander said he had not heard about the video and betrayed no knowledge of the Mauer incident when told about the video's claims. Asked if he had any comment, Verlander, with a serious look on his face, said, "No, not now."

Tigers catcher Gerald Laird, who was catching Verlander on the night in question, also said he had no specific recollection about the incident, but said the Twins are notorious for stealing signs, adding, "That's what they're known for, but there's ways to take care of it."

Was Mauer busted -- and will there be repercussions in Thursday's game? Or was this a case of an amateur baseball-watcher (someone who goes by the Internet handle "rolemodel2008") with too much time on his hands, reading too much into a few innocent gestures?

First of all, there was almost no chance Mauer was signaling pitch types to Kubel, because according to Laird, he and Verlander switched to a complex sequence of signs with a runner on second -- standard operating procedure in baseball.

It's possible Mauer was signaling pitch locations, which is so common in baseball as to be almost an accepted part of strategy, but it's highly doubtful he would have used a signal as obvious as touching the earhole of his helmet. Mauer did not appear in the Twins' clubhouse before the game to address media members, but teammates say he constantly touches his helmet when on the base paths -- no matter the base.

"I'll tell you this much: If you're stealing signs and you're using your hands on your helmet, I guaranetee you someone would get killed," Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That's not the way you steal signs. So this earhole helmet -- if that's what you guys saw and that's how he's giving location, I promise you [the person behind the video has] no clue what's going on, because that's not the way you would ever do it."

One thing the incident did do, however accidentally, was offer a window into one of baseball's best-kept secrets: the fact everyone is trying to steal everyone else's signs, at all times.

"What's the old saying: 'If you're not cheating you're not trying'?" Baseball's always like that," Gardenhire said. "If someone's stealing your signs then you're not doing a very good job of protecting your signs. You just change them. [If you're the catcher] you don't move early. We do it all the time. We see teams do it all the time. And I'm not saying we're out there trying to steal signs. But I hope we are. I hope they're out there trying to steal signs. Because that's the game. Everybody does it."

By Dave Sheinin  |  October 1, 2009; 1:48 PM ET
Categories:  Tigers , Twins  | Tags: Tigers, Twins, playoffs  
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Next: Moment of Levity: The Big Picture


By the time I reached age 15 in Babe Ruth baseball, my primary value to my team (given my status as a weak-hit, rainbow-armed catcher) was my ability to steal the other teams' signs.

I wish I were making this up.

Posted by: diogenes_quixote | October 1, 2009 2:39 PM | Report abuse

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