Friday, August 12, 2011

A Story of Bold Venture

In which two bloggers (yours truly and Chris Jones, of Esquire, Grantland and his own blog, Son of Bold Venture) discuss “Signs of trouble in Toronto,” the ESPN: The Magazine story by Amy K. Nelson and Peter Keating about allegations that the Jays steal signs at the Rogers Centre.

JONES

This will be fun: a little journalism, a little baseball... Someday we'll be perfect? That day is today, my friend.

Why don't we start off by getting our biases out of the way up front?

I cash a monthly paycheck (paycheque) from ESPN for my work at Grantland. I also know Amy. I wouldn't say we're best friends, but we hung out as part of a larger group during the World Series in 2008—so much rain!—and I like her and respect her work very much. (I should also say here that I haven't spoken to her about this story, and I want to make it clear that the things I write here are my thoughts alone. In no way am I speaking on behalf of Amy or ESPN.)

I also grew up a hardcore Jays fan, commemorating their 1992 World Series win by losing my virginity that same night, an eventful evening I've documented many time before.

You, I presume, are a huge fan of the San Diego Padres. Is that correct?


TAO

You have no idea what a Padres fan I am. I still weep for the day we traded away Winfield.

Obviously, yes, I am a long-time, devoted Jays fan. So much so that I have spent countless hours over the past five seasons NOT drawing a paycheque in order to type away my almost daily thoughts on the team's progress (and regress). So there's that.

The second thing that probably needs to be said—and will likely serve as an open, inviting chin to an angry uppercut by the time we're done—is that I am an ANONYMOUS blogger. Some days, I wish someone would show up with a moderately sized cheque and say: "Leave your days of toil behind and come write your blather for us!" But I have a mortgage and a wife and other ways to make my daily wage, and while I'm passionate about this side gig I've created for myself, the day job and the blog aren't ready to co-exist quite yet.

A last quick note before we dig in: I've liked Amy K. Nelson's work enough to follow her on Twitter for some time, so nothing out of the past few days should be taken to be a personal attack on her. I know that some of my initial language about this article was heated, and if that helped to fuel the ugliness of the past two days, I sincerely apologize to her.

Now, let me propose a jumping off point to the discussion, since this was the first thing that struck me about the piece: The way it was branded—"An Outside the Lines/ESPN: The Magazine Investigation"—needs to be taken into consideration when evaluating the merits of the article. If this were a brief article airing some scuttlebutt on a random Wednesday, then I'm sure that it might have run and raised some ire amongst the fans, but not like this.

But this piece presented itself as enterprise journalism, and my complaint is that it was not entrepreneurial enough. And yet, it carries that seal of quality that comes from long history of the good pieces done by Outside the Lines, which lends the article the both credibility and importance.


JONES

I'll always thank the Padres for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter. They're my second-favorite team for that reason alone.

You're right, Tao, that the Outside the Lines branding made this a bigger story. It was heavily promoted by ESPN online and with the in-studio interview with Amy. It wasn't a quick hit. Which I think is a good thing, but I see your point.

I'm going to take a guess at how this went down—and it's a guess. I repeat: ONLY A GUESS.

Earlier this season, as you no doubt know, the Yankees—specifically Joe Girardi—essentially accused the Jays of stealing signs. (Catcher Russell Martin did, too.) The Red Sox also change up their signs when they come to Toronto. These weren’t new stories, really.

I'm guessing that somewhere along the way, Amy, who's a dogged reporter, had decided to ask around about the Jays in major-league clubhouses. There's a line in the story about players not liking to discuss such things, which, for me, was a signal from Amy that this was a tough story to report and that she probably isn't all that happy about having only anonymous sources for confirmation.

That being said, two points:

1) Anonymous sources are a standard part of investigative journalism, from Deep Throat on down. No journalist likes to use them, but we use them, because many important stories wouldn't get told without them.

2) Amy had four individual sources corroborating a single incident, which is pretty different from quoting some dude in a bar somewhere. And those sources provided Amy with a very specific account of said curious happening.

Amy (and Peter, I should add)—again I'm guessing—then looked for statistical evidence to support the various accusations. (Even though I would say that those accusations alone are newsworthy.) They found it, most particularly, in the statistic about the home run differential between the Jays and visiting teams at Rogers Centre—the third highest in the last sixty years.

Then they wrote the story, and then shit went nuts.

I'm not going to tell you it's a perfect story. I would have liked to see more quotes from the Jays. I would have liked to see historic comparisons between the current Jays teams and earlier Jays teams and their performances at Rogers Centre. (It might have been cool to see how this bunch compares to the 1992 or 1993 teams, which were also accused of stealing signs, by the way.)

But I think it's a good story that deserved to be told.

I guess what I'd ask you, Tao, is this: Do you believe the man in white existed? Do you believe that part of the story?


TAO

I guess I'll revert to my usual position as the perpetual fence-sitter, and say that I'm 50/50 as to whether I believe such a man existed, and about the same as to whether it bothers me or not. I've tried not to read Jonah Keri's piece on Grantland about this, but a glance at it gave me the impression that he would actually applaud such skullduggery. (Which might be an indication that we need to go grab Jonah and bring him back to Canada so that he can return to being typically over-polite and apologetic. But I digress.)

As to your point on the merits of the piece, I've re-read the piece a number of times now, and I can see where there is something there. It's still pretty sketchy, and it reads more like a proposal than a finished investigation, but there's the start of something on which follow-up could be done. My problem was that it wasn't. Though I did note that line to which you refer, and I understand that getting sources to go on the record would be tough—still, investigative journalism by its very nature is tough and exhausting. It has to be.

Were calls made to former Jays players or coaches (Nick Leyva or Brad Arnsberg come to mind), even if to get a stick-to-the-code denial? Or moreover, did someone sit down and watch the video of the games in question? If the piece were to say: "We watched the games in question, but could not ascertain that there was someone in those seats motioning toward the hitter," then it throws a big bucket of cold water on this whole thing.

Which brings me to my second point: The reason why I take this article seriously is because it impugns the reputation of a team, its players, and most specifically, its most visible player, Jose Bautista. We may have (arguably) left behind the "steroid era," but accusations of cheating resonate loudly, and quickly become fact in the echo chamber of sports talk. It's pretty stunning how quickly the entirety of a player's career can get wiped out with an accusation of cheating. Did anyone PROVE that Mike Scott ever did anything untoward with the ball in the 1986 season? And yet, if you and I were hauling back on a couple of pints at the Elmdale Tavern, and his name came up, how soon before we launched into smart remarks at his expense over his cutting and doctoring the ball?

The point here is that to call out a player or a team as a "cheater" with everything that we've gone through over the past decade, and to diminish their achievements requires a greater effort on the part of the reporters, and more verifiable information making it to the page.

I appreciate that as a Jays fan, my personal standard of proof might be incredibly high. I'd have liked the reporters to have gotten closer to it before they told me there might not be a Santa Claus.


JONES

While Jonah's definitely been corrupted by his border crossing, I would say he does have a point, which this story also makes: Sign stealing isn't technically illegal.

But I totally, totally understand what you're saying about leveling the cheater accusation. It's a big deal, and that's why I think Amy and Peter went to the lengths that they did. I hear you when you say that you don't think they went far enough. I can't really say for sure whether they did or not, because I don't know exactly what sort of reporting they did.

The video evidence, by the way, I'm not that fussed about. The chances of seeing that guy in the right-field stands during at-bats are pretty slim, I would think.

And interviews with former Jays might not have proved all that revealing, given that baseball is a small fraternity of guys who would like to keep working in the game, and that this might be a relatively recent phenomenon.

Here's my thinking:

1) The man-in-white story is a pretty specific story. For a reporter, that story is a good get—lots of detail and corroboration, including Bautista's confirmation that the altercation happened. I'm bothered somewhat by the idea that Bautista would have been a relative non-entity in the spring of 2010, when this apparently occurred. I don't quite get that.

2) Whether the Jays are stealing signs or not, they certainly have developed a reputation for stealing signs. That might be wildfire gossip spreading, but generally speaking, if enough people are saying the same thing, it's worth investigating.

3) The statistics in this story aren't definitive, but they're pretty interesting. Is this Toronto team really one of the all-time home-run teams of the last sixty years? And is Rogers Centre really that great of a home park?

4) The go-to defense that the Jays have a pretty mediocre home record doesn't wash with me. Sign stealing would do nothing to help their crappy bullpen.

5) And last—and most important—in some strange way, I think this story is GREAT for the Jays. If you have opposing teams coming into Rogers Centre doing who knows what with their signs and looking for UFOs in the outfield, that can only distract them from the rhythm of the game at hand. If I were the Jays, I think I'd want every team to think I had their signs.

There's a great story about the German soccer keeper Jens Lehmann. During a 2006 penalty shootout against Argentina, he pulled a cheat sheet out of his sock before each kick. On the sheet, he'd written the penalty tendencies of most of the Argentine players. Shot after shot, he kept picking the right direction. Then up came Esteban Cambiasso. Lehmann looked at his sheet for a long time before he tucked it back in his sock. He saved a pretty poor penalty from a rattled Cambiasso: What does he know?

Cambiasso wasn't even on the sheet. Lehmann was just a master of the head game.

This sign stealing stuff is fantastic head gaming.


TAO

Indeed, if I heard that there was an MLB team that were not stealing signs, I'd be shocked and banish them to some scrub league... like the NL Central. But this "reputation" that the Jays have is hardly new, as I specifically remember Orlando Hudson wearing the T-Bird uniform, bouncing around on second, and having a pitcher walk off the mound shouting at him. But that was under a different manager, different GM, totally different coaching staff... So is it the city that brings this out in them? Of course not. But reputations linger in sports because our memories are tied to the laundry, as it were.

Where I think Toronto has started to develop a bit of a reputation is that they play in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox, and with the ever-growing coterie of beat writers and national drop-ins, there's plenty of opportunity for those teams—who are under the greatest pressure and the biggest spotlight—to gripe about how they get beat on any given night. And, of course, they have.

Which brings me to a point that I think is important: Are the Red Sox and Yankees leveling the same accusations as the Mystery Team We Presume To Be the White Sox? I get that it is a specific story... But is it corroborated by the Yankees and Red Sox? I didn't see that on the page, but it's a vital point in taking this from "four teammates collectively rooted out one individual on one night" to "several anonymous sources on several teams say they saw this tactic in use." If you're trying to convince me, that goes a long way.

As for the stats: I just think that they were dealt with in too much isolation, and that inherently creates things that pop off the page. Players with good home splits were held up, but John Buck hit worse at home, and Edwin Encarnacion hit twice as many homers on the road as at home. Was he not seeing the signs? Were they not useful to him?

If you were to root around in the numbers of the all-time record home run season of the 1997 Mariners, I'm sure that you'd start to find all sorts of aberrational rates between them and their opponents. If you look at home run rates in a season of historical home run output, you'll find historical anomalies. But what of the fact that the Jays ranked in the bottom third of Major League Baseball in total hits? Is a stolen sign only redeemable for a round-tripper? Should the number of singles and doubles not have gone up as well if the Jays knew what was coming?

I know that there have been a lot of threads pulled from the data set, but if you are making a very specific accusation based on hearsay and a look at the numbers, you had better be prepared to have those numbers pulled every which way. The accusation was serious, and I think that the statistical analysis was cavalier in what they thought they could prove.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this whole saga for me was the reaction on the part of Peter when one of the interviewers on The Score used the term "cherry-pick" when discussing the stats: He got very terse and very angry and defensive, and defended his professional reputation vigorously. Wouldn't he expect the Blue Jays and their passionate fanbase—when being told that their professional reputation was being called into question—to respond with equal vigor?

I will definitely agree with you that there is something to this being a plus for the Jays, not only in terms of playing head games with their opponents, but in rallying their fans through the creation of a staunch "us versus the world" mentality. (I'd also note that we shouldn't discard the notion that the Red Sox and Yankees' accusations were based in their own attempts to get into the heads of their emerging rivals.)

One final thought on this from the point of view of a kid who grew up wanting to be a journalist (for Esquire no less... I see a body-switch comedy in our future!), got the degree and then lapsed into any number of other pursuits: I HATE that last paragraph of the piece, and you know what? I bet Amy isn't overly fond of having this piece close on that paragraph. It's a cop-out. It says: "We did the investigation, and we couldn't come up with enough to nail this down, but there's something there, and ain't that kinda interesting?" It's like something I would have done when I was a terrible, lazy 24-year-old J-school student. Which is why I'm... you know... an anonymous blogger.

I acknowledge your point that sometimes you have to proceed with circumstantial evidence. But I'll repeat myself here because I think it bears repeating: If your investigative piece ends with: "The evidence is circumstantial," then you haven't finished your investigation.


JONES

Tao, a wise man once told me that publishing is writing interrupted. What will be interesting for me, now, is to see where this story goes from here. It might just disappear into the ether of a long season. But I suspect that we’ll hear a lot more about the Jays, the art of sign stealing, and where they go from here.

Speaking of which, how about Brett Lawrie?


TAO

Brett Lawrie is just awesome. He merits his two nicknames—Gordie Dougie, for his quintessential Canadianosity, and Full Tilt, for how he seems to approach everything from running out ground balls to celebrating grand slams. Watching that moment unfold the other night, I couldn't help but smile like a big goofy kid. It reminded me of something important: Baseball is pretty fun.

41 comments:

Drew GROF said...

Ballin.

Mike D said...

This is excellent. But someone still needs to explain to me the role that Alex Rios has played in all of this.

Anonymous said...

As you seemed to allude, Tao, I'm not inclined to view four teammates participating in the same event as four independent corroborators. They are collaborators.

In the sea-change that the internet brought, journalists have to endure the ability of all the eyeballs who read their pieces to react quickly, often, and in droves. (And with unprecedented anger, but that's a separate issue.) The screws better be pretty tight on your stories or you're going to hear about it.

And I'll bet dollars to doughnuts this story doesn't run in this half-finished form if it's accusing the Yankees or Red Sox of the same crimes.

Brad Fullmer Fan said...

"Which brings me to my second point: The reason why I take this article seriously is because it impugns the reputation of a team, its players, and most specifically, its most visible player, Jose Bautista. We may have (arguably) left behind the "steroid era," but accusations of cheating resonate loudly, and quickly become fact in the echo chamber of sports talk. It's pretty stunning how quickly the entirety of a player's career can get wiped out with an accusation of cheating....

The point here is that to call out a player or a team as a "cheater" with everything that we've gone through over the past decade, and to diminish their achievements requires a greater effort on the part of the reporters, and more verifiable information making it to the page."

This is one of the keys of this entire thing for me. If you're going to disparage an entire organization and its players, you have to do more than what ESPN did (or at least more than what was published in that article).

It's also not a coincidence that Jose Bautista is the lead in the story and also the main image in the video package. People in the States have been looking for reasons to doubt and discredit Bautista's production for two seasons now and this is another aspect of that unfortunate narrative.

awlang said...

It was a good back and forth but it seemed there were no counter arguments (Stay with me) to Tao's counter arguments to Chris' comments supporting the piece. I feel like I've gotten the same politically correct, corporate, nonsense that doesn't make a point from KLaw, Keri and now Jones regarding the article as a whole and the statistics in general.

Look I don't like the vitriol against Nelson because she is a woman (really detracts from this being a bad article) but when the best defense of article and supporting stats are as follows it is pretty telling that it wasn't very good:

Keri:
"At the risk of appealing to authority or playing favorites, Nelson has a reputation as one of the most dogged baseball reporters in the business. Her story on the events leading up to Nick Adenhart's death is one of the best pieces of baseball journalism I've ever read. She and Keating no doubt worked hard on this piece."

Klaw:

"In general, yes. I'd like more information, certainly, but I also know more of the background info than appeared in the article, too....

First of all, I didn't write it. Second, Colin Wyers' research didn't focus on raw HR totals, but HR/contact rates."

Jones:

"The statistics in this story aren't definitive, but they're pretty interesting. Is this Toronto team really one of the all-time home-run teams of the last sixty years? And is Rogers Centre really that great of a home park?"

Sure Keri thinks Nelson is great, and I'm sure they worked hard...but...they missed the point. Law would certainly like more information because the article is incomplete and wants to make clear he didn't write it but sure it's great (Did they even think to ask Law?). And Jones' comments leave him asking for more information, always the sign of a great piece of work accusing a team of cheating.

I know they all work for ESPN, but I thought Grantland was supposed to be a separate entity that had some independent thinkers that could openly question something that was at least a little dubious on the World Wide Leader. Clearly...not so much and we will see Keri and Jones towing the company line for a while (Though, good for them, I would take that job in a second).

gabriel said...

Yeah, the article was pretty much one anecdote wrapped in a bunch of irrelevancies and some cherry-picked stats. Doubtless the four relievers saw a guy in white doing something - is it possible that that something was passing pitches? Sure, but Nelson & Keating offer no real evidence to support that inference. I would bet they looked at a 7-pitch sample, the guy in the outfield "got it right" 6 times, and they jumped to an unwarranted conclusion (perhaps particularly so since the White Sox hit 8 HRs that series to the Jays' 3).

The best number that Nelson & Keating come up with is the Jays' home run on contact %. But 7 times the average differential tells us very, very little. For one, the Jays were a great HR-hitting club, even away from home - so we would expect a significantly larger-than-average gap at home (and away). So this impressive-seeming number really tells us nothing by itself.

One further note about the home run numbers - why should we think that stealing signs helps home runs and nothing else? I for one would expect to see a greater contact rate and fewer off-speed pitches chased as being the first fruits of stealing signs. We are either not told about these numbers because the authors didn't look at them, or because they don't support the prosecution - either way, it doesn't speak well of the authors.

An exceedingly shoddy piece of work.

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

One missed point in all this: How did the man in white steal signs? Did he have binoculars? Nothing mentioned. Did he have a video feed from MLB.tv? Not said. If he did, how quick would he have to get those arms up after seeing the sign? The logic doesn't add up.

All we know is that it was a guy in a white shirt who held his arms in a certain way. He must have the eyes of an eagle.

It looks like Jones will get to keep his ESPN job because he didn't ever stray in any kind of way apart from the company line.

Great defense, Tao.

mike in boston said...

The video evidence, by the way, I'm not that fussed about. The chances of seeing that guy in the right-field stands during at-bats are pretty slim, I would think.


yet this person can apparently be seen from home plate by the batter?

Jim Briggs said...

This is just the kind of thing that keeps me coming back here. Great (and civil) discussion.

@dwbudd said...

I think this colloquy gets it just about right. It has all the right cloak and dagger earmarks to make it interesting, and a whiff of evidence to prevent the reporter being laughed off of the air.

I don't know if there is a "man in white," as some players allege. There is so much video footage, from every conceivable angle, that I don't believe for a second that, if this guy really exists, it would be pretty easy for ESPN to capture and present dispositive evidence. The fact that they haven't leads me to believe that there is more smoke here than anything else.

Human beings, as a result of millennia of evolution, are trained to find post hoc patterns where there is nothing more than correlation. "Hmmm... The team seemed not to swing and miss on a couple of off-speed pitches. We saw a guy in a white shirt moving his arms around about the same time. There MUST be some relation."

The statistical evidence is even thinner. The alpha and omega of the case here is that the team had an odd home run advantage at home. Not one other stat - not OBP, not OPS, not strikeout percentage - is mentioned. There is no attempt made by ESPN, who employ STATS INC, to compare home/road splits for the Jays' pitchers with respect to any of these stats.

It's basically, well, they hit too many home runs in 2010.

A quick look at the home/road splits for the Blue Jays shows that the gap for pitchers in OPS - really, the most holistic offensive stat - is not significantly different from the "advantage" the hitters got at the SkyDome.

Oh, and since Boston is one of those teams that apparently are whispering about sign stealing, in 2011, the Sox's home field advantage in OPS is 11%. Toronto's is 10%.

Jim Briggs said...

Plus, Tao, I think you win by virtue of no true answers to your counter-argument.

It's a real shame that people have gone to some really disgusting places in their criticism of AKN, when it is in fact her half-baked work that merits scrutiny here. It helped the establishment regroup, when instead the onus should have been on them to offer better proof in discrediting a franchise.

Tao of Stieb said...

It's funny, because I can re-read this again and come away feeling as though there were no winning side, but that we've each had our say and moved the other out of the anger and towards a conciliatory place.

You know, dispute resolution is a vastly under-appreciated skill.

cdsmitty said...

What I still don't understand through all of this is that both Amy and Peter STRENUOUSLY defend the fact that getting an anonymous source was the equivalent to pulling teeth. If it is indeed so difficult to get players to go on record and accuse the Jays, why does the same article have Giarardi, Salty (seriously, get a shorter last name, I can't spell check that), and Martin all claiming the Jays were stealing signs. It seems extremely contradictory to use this as your main defence for your anonymous source, and then find direct sources, who will go on National TV. Anyone else?

Chris Chapin said...

@cdsmitty - I couldn't agree more with you on that point. Bucholz and Martin and Girardi had no problem going on national television and claiming that the Jays were stealing signs. Yet a couple of relievers from the White Sox had to remain anonymous. I mean in this day and age, does anybody actually feel as if anything can in fact remain anonymous?

But what troubles me the most is that what punishment was there going to be for the White Sox. What inherent danger was there for them to come forward and join a long list of far more well known players who were accusing the Jays of stealing signs. If Russel Martin does it, he knows there is a good chance Brandon Morrow might drill him in the back the next game. What personal danger is there for a bullpen pitcher? Small fraternity my ass, no one team other than the Jays is going to boycott you for speaking your mind on a rather compelling and troubling incident if true. It just reeks of suspicion.

Tao of Stieb said...

I can see that there would be a point where players will talk, but you ask them to put their names to something, and they either fear retribution or fear being held up for scorn, so they demure.

There's a bit of noise out there about how there's more to the story that is known in the industry, or that the writers might know but can't find a way to get on the page. To me, I just think you have to go get more than the low-hanging fruit if you're going to go this far down the road of undermining a team's credibility.

José Bautista deserves to take pride in those 54 home runs. If someone is going to try to tarnish that legacy, they'd better come with more than this BECAUSE there are so many for whom LESS than this would suffice.

Heavy is the hand that holds the pen. (Or somethin'.)

Tao of Stieb said...

Sorry, I sidestepped something here...

I think it was revealing what happened with Martin and Girardi when they were asked about the sign stealing the next day. The night that they got their asses handed to them, they were all outrage and indignation and accusation.

But the next day, did you see how they backpedalled? There's a sense of embarrassment there, and they changed the subject to their own need to protect their signs.

Heat of the moment, people say strong things. Put in the cold grey light of dawn, it's hard for them to stand behind it.

(I'm sure that the day after a manager gets tossed from a game, he's a little less likely to think that an umpire is a mothereffer and that he cost the team the game.)

The Ack said...

For real, you had to post this on a Friday? I now have the blogging equivalent of urinal stage fright.

mike in boston said...

demur and demure don't mean the same thing.

i agree with the above Jim Briggs who noted that the most striking thing about the exchange is how few of your points are answered head on. while civil, your interlocutor doesn't offer much of a defense of the piece.

whatever story there is about the Jays and sign-stealing, that story was not well served by this article. when you look at the stats, the sources, and the conclusion, this is only a few steps away from Cox's infamous "you gotta ask the question" piece.

yt said...

Tao,
Excellent work - I wish that Jones had addressed some of your points in his final reply, but I think it is telling that he did not.
I think the story that has evolved is of journalism's own fraternity. It's unfortunate the way that ad hominems got in the way of allowing this discussion to happen sooner.

Tao of Stieb said...

Demur. Goddamned homonyms.

Tao of Stieb said...

YT:

There's an aspect of this that has to do with the velvet rope with which some members of the media keep themselves separated from the cattle, and they keep information to themselves.

(Although that criticism is a little rich here, because we're criticizing the authors for saying too much of what they heard.)

Chris Chapin said...

Tao,

I think your certainly right in that both Girardi and Martin backtracked after they made their comments. But they said it on the record nonetheless. Not only that it wasn't like they were the only ones to be vocal about it in the media.

I feel as if it had more to do with the fact they are the GM and Catcher respectively of the most famous team in sport and it looks pretty shameful when you make excuses like this right after you had your ass handed to you.

I really find it hard to believe that these guys were that scared to come forward. Again they are bullpen pitchers - it's not like we're talking about Paul Konerko coming forward with these accusations. But I digress, you are probably right that it is difficult for these guys to speak their mind. Just surprises me considering you think they would unequivocally have the support of their manager who has never shied away from a headline.

Great post by the way - unquestionably one of the best posts I have read in a very long time. I love the back and forth.

Chill said...

Beautiful piece, Tao. I'm a fan of yours and Jones and you guys handled yourselves very well here. I too think it's telling that your points weren't really addressed. I'm hoping that this gets you noticed and you are given the opportunity at a paying gig by someone. Your hard work and dedication to your writing (and the team) deserve it.

Anonymous said...

A simple question that I haven't seen asked/answered, is that if they had this inside knowledge, why didn't Keating, Nelson or some ESPN lackey go to a Jays game with a camera and catch them in the act? Would that have been too difficult?

An awful story for which I have cancelled my Insider subscription.

Chris Chapin said...

What amazes me in a way is that if they were in fact stealing signs - and the confrontation did in fact happen with Bautista as even he admits - don't you think his first reaction would be to tell the club they should probably change their tactics or face getting caught?

jonathanjoyce said...

Tao,

Cheers to fighting the good fight and for giving the Jays fan a voice that will be read by many over at Chris' blog.

I think we Jays fans are being overly sensitive, but it is a real issue. Telling a story based on incomplete information and selective stats is dangerous because most readers won't understand that is what has occured.

One of my favourite things about being a Canadian is our shared thin skin over what we hold near and dear. We are proud of our teams, our movie stars and our internationally sucessful music stars (save for Celine Dion). Daggers to anyone who talks about them in a negative light!

Matt said...

If "knowing" what pitch is coming is so beneficial, why do All-Stars ever make outs in the Home Run Derby?

The Manute Bol Experience said...

Nice jorb, both of you.

I'd like to know where Colin Wyers has been in all of this. He has barely mentioned it on his twitter account and I'm pretty sure he didn't write a piece explaining his stats. I still have no idea why HR/CON% is the stat to tell you if there's sign stealing going on. It's such an egregious cherry pick.

Also, I'm pretty sure we all knew the Jays had an outrageous outlier of a home run year last year. So comparing their HR/CON% to their opponents in the same parks isn't really fair.

Smells like a total case of looking for a stat that will back up your anecdotes.

ErnieWhitt said...

Its been written above but the biggest quote for me was this: "The video evidence, by the way, I'm not that fussed about. The chances of seeing that guy in the right-field stands during at-bats are pretty slim, I would think."

The video evidence should have been the FIRST thing that ESPN collected. Absence of actual proof means they have anecdotal evidence and stats that may or may not merit a second look. Ignoring all of the other stats that clearly show this idea is preposterous is shameful. They used this story to smear Jose Bautista. If I were him I would be seeking a formal apology.

spclxk said...

Perhaps the most interesting part of this whole saga for me was the reaction on the part of Peter when one of the interviewers on The Score used the term "cherry-pick" when discussing the stats: He got very terse and very angry and defensive, and defended his professional reputation vigorously. Wouldn't he expect the Blue Jays and their passionate fanbase—when being told that their professional reputation was being called into question—to respond with equal vigor?

Absolutely nails. The irony blows me away.

Keating's research is nowhere sufficient but expects us to give him such courtesy about his own record, as he broadly strokes his own highlights.

With the risk of sounding redundant, whatever their intent, the result was a not very good article that was inadequately researched.

No amount of praising the reputation how 'dogged' of a reporter either Keating or Nelson is, will ever change that fact.

Keith Law spoke about the possibility that we are too worried about the fact that we lost sight of good journalism, because we do not agree with the findings, but at the same time he wants more information.

And isn't that all we as reasonable fans want in light of this article: more information?

Pete Toth said...

I agree with Mike D. Its all about Rios. The White Sox are pissed at Toronto for getting stuck with him when the music stopped playing. Wonder what the Angels have in store for the Jays in retribution for the Wells heist? Or the Cardinals for that matter when the smoke clears? The only stealing going on other than with Davis the odd time he reaches base, happens on the phone or behind closed doors at the executive level. Our resident wizard AA might be good for one more sleight of hand before the hammer comes down and every GM refuses to deal with him. Thank god for FA.

MRB said...

Excellent discussion! A very fun read.

Pete Toth said...

From over the border:

http://espn.go.com/blog/chicago/white-sox/post/_/id/6837/white-sox-appear-to-have-witnessed-jays-cheat#comments

Pete Toth said...

Even more interesting: (With photos of the man in white)

http://stealofhome.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/blue-jays-caught-stealing-signs-but-by-whom/

allisauce said...

"We'd love to believe all the denials coming out of Toronto that the Blue Jays would never, ever steal signs. But other clubs have been buzzing about that possibility since last season. One of the biggest reasons has been the transformation of Jose Bautista -- but not so much in his power numbers as in his amazing ability to lay off tough breaking balls he used to hack at.

"This guy could always hit a fastball," one scout said. "But he'd chase so many other pitches, he didn't get in enough hitters' counts to get those fastballs. Now he doesn't chase those pitches. I've never seen anything like it. I've never seen a player make that change and do it that dramatically."

Bautista at home last year: 55 walks, 44 strikeouts, .403 OBP, 1.118 OPS.

On the road last year: 45 walks, 72 strikeouts, .353 OBP, .879 OPS.

His splits this year aren't anywhere near so pronounced. But let's just say AL executives and scouts we surveyed didn't dismiss this sign-stealing flap as preposterous. Nevertheless, said one AL exec, "I'm guessing you won't be seeing a guy in a white shirt holding up his arms there anymore.""

That's from ESPN today.

Was that the point of this article? To allow others at ESPN to write stuff like this, to cast more doubt on Bautista? To impugn his MVP candidacy versus thos ein larger markets *cough*Boston*cough*.

We heard about the pack that ESPN ran while talking about the sign stealing gate - only clips of Bautista hitting home runs... Bobby Vaentine called it "misleading" on air.

Maybe I'm wearing a tinfoil hat here....

Tao of Stieb said...

Allisauce: Where's that article?

allisauce said...

Its here:

http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/page/rumblings110812/mlb-postseason-problems-revisited

I posted the bit in its entirety.

The bit about Valetine is discussed here:

http://preludetoabigbreak.com/2011/08/10/espn-as-entertainment/

allisauce said...

I'll say this -

This is in their "rumblings and grumblings" section. Not as "Journalistic" as OTL. However, the "news" portion of the OTL work allows this other work to be published without fear of someone saying its not fair, because it was reported elsewhere first.

It's all very... Fox News-ish to me.

Tao of Stieb said...

Well, this is what I mean when I talk about the echo effect of these rumours. One person says it, than another reinforces, and suddenly Jose Bautista is a bum.

And yet...

Deere5800 said...

One question I have about this. Let's say the Jays did have this man in white. With such an in-depth way to steal signs, why didn't they just have him sit on the other side of the batter's eye? That way, you look over the right shoulder of the pitcher, get the sign, and the man in white is far away from the opponent's bullpen. Why put your cheater close to the opposition?

Anonymous said...

Great piece.
What are the chances the Jays next promo is half priced out field tickets if you show up wearing all white and promise to speak into your sleeve?