Why the Toronto Blue Jays Just Aren't the New England Patriots

When the Spygate scandal broke in 2007, there was some question over how much of the outrage directed at the Patriots resulted just from, well, them just being the Patriots. After all, while what the team was doing was certainly against the rules, it wasn’t like they were sneaking into other teams’ practices or doing any double secret covert ops. They were filming (illegally) signals being delivered in plain sight. If it were a bottom-feeding team like the Kansas City Chiefs or Cincinnati Bengals, the thinking went, nobody would have cared all that much.

That theory seems to have been proven true by the last few weeks’ controversy (or relative lack thereof) over the Toronto Blue Jays sign stealing operation. I finally got around to reading ESPN The Magazine’s very interesting piece on how the Jays were apparently using a man seated in the center-field bleachers to relay pitches to their hitters. The story posits that somebody was somehow signalling pitches to the guy in the bleachers (perhaps via Bluetooth) and the man in center-field would then raise his arms over his head to signal an 0ff-speed pitch and do nothing to indicate fastball. The ESPN Mag writers, Amy K. Nelson and Peter Keating, then use gobs of stats to show how the Blue Jays hit vastly better at home than on the road. All in all, it’s a pretty convincing argument.

And yet, the outrage has been limited. Granted, the Blue Jays have not been officially caught red-handed like the Patriots were, but their alleged violations feel very similar to what the Patriots did in Spygate. Just as it was against the rules for the Pats to videotape opposing teams’ signals, it’s illegal in baseball for hitters to get help stealing signs from anybody off the field. Both cases come back to illegally trying to capture signals delivered in plain sight. And you could make an argument that a hitter knowing whether he’s got a fastball or off-speed pitch coming is more valuable information than anything the Patriots gleaned from trying to match up opposing teams’ defensive signals to their plays.

There’s been relatively little fallout, though, from the ESPN Mag story. MLB has no plans to investigate and some even defended sign stealing as an art. It’s just tough to work up that much outrage over the Toronto Blue Jays, I guess. Just imagine, though, if the Red Sox were accused of it …