Report: MLB can punish players for stealing signs in new rules

Liz Roscher
·4-min read

If you, like Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly, think Houston Astros players got off light when they weren’t punished for stealing signs and cheating their way to the 2017 World Series, there’s good news on the horizon: the next time it happens, players like Kelly won’t have to mete out justice on their own because the commissioner can actually punish them himself.

According to Evan Drellich of The Athletic, MLB and the MLB Players Association have agreed to new rules that specifically address sign-stealing. They cover team video rooms and clubhouses, in-game video feeds, and recording video from the stands. But the most important part — at least for everyone who was and remains angry that there were no consequences for the Astros players who did the actual sign-stealing — is that the commissioner now has the ability to suspend players for violating the rules.

The new rules

The new rules, as reported by Drellich, cover several activities that typically facilitate sign stealing.

  • Security: MLB has hired an outside security firm to monitor clubhouses and the entrances to video rooms. Due to COVID-19, teams will only have one guard per team this season, but that will likely increase in the future. Clubhouses will be the focus this season, and guards will be tasked with enforcing rules like the ban on checking cell phones during games, and preventing unauthorized personnel from entering.

  • Video rooms: These rooms will be on lockdown and eventually monitored by MLB-hired security. During games, the video-room operators will only be allowed to communicate with managers or coaches about challenges, and communication with anyone else is prohibited. Even a trip to the bathroom is an event for video-room operators, because they must be chaperoned every time they leave the room during a game. “Video-replay monitors,” individuals who sit inside the video room during games, are still being used but will eventually be replaced with cameras.

  • In-game video: By Aug. 1, clubhouse game feeds must only show an angle of the field that doesn’t reveal signs. Teams that can’t do that will be required to show the game on a 15-second delay. As soon as possible, videos of specific at-bats, which players can view in-game on an iPad, will have signs erased using a black box. (This will also be the case with communal video terminals, which aren’t being used this year due to COVID-19 concerns.)

  • Video recording: Club personnel are prohibited from recording video from the stands with any kind of device, including a smartphone, regardless of whether they’re at home or on the road.

Pitcher Joe Kelly looks back at Carlos Correa after attempting to hit him with a pitch.
New rules would allow the commissioner (and not angry pitchers) to punish players for stealing signs, something Astros players avoided this winter after an investigation uncovered their season-long sign-stealing scheme from 2017. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

The punishment

All of these rules are mostly common sense ways to stop electronic sign-stealing, but the biggest common sense addition is player punishment. According to Drellich, the new rules give the commissioner (currently Rob Manfred) the power to suspend players — without pay or service time — for violating these sign-stealing rules.

There’s reportedly no recommended suspension length in the rules. The commissioner has the sole ability to decide the length of the suspension, as he already does for on-field issues. (Manfred alone decided that Kelly would be suspended eight games for throwing at the heads of multiple Astros players.)

Previously, there were no rules giving the commissioner the power to do this, which is one of the reasons Astros players weren’t punished this winter. Manfred granted Astros players “immunity” in exchange for their truthful recounting of the sign-stealing scheme, because punishing players for that was unprecedented — MLB and the MLBPA had never agreed on punishments for sign-stealing, and any suspension could have been overturned on appeal.

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