Sign-stealing is as much a part of baseball as base-stealing.
Runners at second can tap a foot, depending on which would tell the batter if the pitch will be inside or outside. In 2005, then-Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle accused the Texas Rangers of using their stadium’s cameras and scoreboard lighting to tip both pitch types and location. Just this week, the Boston Red Sox admitted to using network televisions and an Apple Watch to relay pitches to hitters.
Wednesday, the Los Angeles Angels and catcher Juan Graterol accused several Athletics hitters of stealing signs. The first two times, only slight altercations ensued. The third led to the first major league ejection of Oakland third baseman Matt Chapman.
After the game, Chapman spoke about his fourth-inning face-to-face with Graterol, which led to him getting the thumb from home plate umpire Mike Everitt:
“I think the Angels were under the impression that we were stealing their signs. I think this stemmed back to a couple games ago, they thought that we were relaying signs to our hitters from second base.”
Chapman, though, wasn’t the first to be on the receiving end of Graterol’s accusations. Two innings prior, Mark Canha found himself in a similar situation:
“He said, ‘stop looking at my signs.’ … I saw him do the same thing to (Chad) Pinder and the first thing that entered my mind (was), I know, first of all, Chad’s not the type of guy to do that, and I’ve never done that, ever in my career.”
Canha, who asserted that there was no way the Angels could have caught him stealing signs, because he wasn’t, said he thought the accusations went deeper than this game, a 3-1 win for Oakland, or even one of the other five over the past week. Instead, he thought perhaps it was a savvy Mike Scioscia-skippered Angels team looking to establish a mental edge over the young A’s.
Chapman got the same vibe, but unlike Canha, couldn’t let cooler heads prevail, given what he called the “disrespect” of a catcher staring down a hitter as digs into the batter’s box:
“I didn’t intend for it to go down like this — happen like this — but the way I looked at it was, I wanted to stand up for my teammates and stand up for myself. Even though we are a young group of guys, I feel that we deserve to be treated just like anybody else in the big leagues and respected by our opponent. I did it out of respect for my teammates and respect for myself.”
Graterol, he said, didn’t take too kindly to his claim that the antics were unnecessary given the false accusations. But, once the two found themselves standing nose-to-nose over the plate, the umpire was forced to step in. And when the situation didn’t subside, it was Chapman who got the boot.
Chapman said that his ejection came after calls from Everitt saying that the problem had been resolved:
“If I thought it had been handled I wouldn’t have said anything. If it had been handled (Graterol) wouldn’t have been continually staring at us.”
Speaking after the game, manager Bob Melvin refused to address particulars of the events, but said he thought the way everything unfolded was strange:
“I am surprised — I’m not going to talk about the nuances of it, but I am surprised how it started and how it ended. … The whole bit, I thought, was a little unusual.”
Between the second, when Canha was addressed by the Los Angeles backstop, and the fourth, when Graterol had his go with Chapman, Pinder was hit by a pitch with two down in the second, albeit by a curveball off the foot. Umpire warnings, however, were not issued until after the Chapman-Graterol altercation.
“I wanted it to end there, I didn’t want anything to escalate. Unfortunately, it did and that’s kinda just what happens when you’re in competition.”
Before that, and before Pinder’s hit by pitch, feather were ruffled in the first base dugout when, with Khris Davis, Oakland’s first baserunner, stood at second with one down in the second. That was when cameras caught Graterol say something to Canha before jogging out to the mound, presumably to change signs with pitcher Tyler Skaggs.
A day after stealing signs was all over the news, sign stealing controversy in the A's game pic.twitter.com/dZjWLcWmq2
— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) September 6, 2017
Davis, who later homered (39) to give the A’s the lead, said Chapman’s willingness to stand up for his team shows a veteran mentality beyond his months:
“He may be a rookie, but he’s a natural (leader).”
In the end, though, things cooled down between the two California rivals. Accusations subsided. And the game finished without an additional hitch.
Chapman said he was glad his ejection didn’t negatively affect his club:
“I’m just happy that we were able to get that win today. … I wanted to stand up for my team but then, once you get thrown out of the game, you feel like you let your team down.”