You be the Judge on whether Yankees hitters are cheating
Just one sideways glance by Judge on Monday sets off Jays alarm bells
Ever since the Astros’ bang-the-drum cheating scandal of 2017 was uncovered and written about in 2019, the one that outed Houston hitters for illegal use of cameras and video to gain unfair advantage at Minute Maid Park during and prior to their World Series run, cheating has become the whack-a-mole of baseball.
In what seemed a developing storm, that is now looking more akin to a tempest in a teapot, a complaint from the Blue Jays has nevertheless reached all the way to MLB head offices in New York, the result of Monday’s telecast and suspicious behaviour captured on the Sportsnet Feed.
On Monday night, the up-close and personal TV cameras caught Aaron Judge while batting in the eighth inning vs. reliever Jay Jackson, staring out at the pitcher, then quickly and most definitely glancing guardedly to his right…then eyes re-focusing on Jackson. He promptly blasted a 462-foot home run onto the WestJet Flight Deck in centre. It was already 6-0 at the time in a 7-4 defeat, so the impact was minimal.
Not suggesting that Judge needs any help hitting monster home runs, but the sequence of his gaze, from pitcher then to stage-right then back to pitcher was quickly noted by respected broadcasters Dan Shulman and Buck Martinez and was followed up with internal discussions in the Jays’ post-game clubhouse. The Jays have believed the Yankees have cheated for years.
“We talked to the league about it (Tuesday) morning, just to be sure,” Jays manager John Schneider said. “Pitch-tipping or tendencies has always been a part of the game and will continue to be. If you’re clean (and not giving your pitches away) you’re in a good spot. Again, what’s fair is fair and if our guys are giving themselves away, we have to be better at that.
Upon further review in speaking with a variety of experts, it seems much of the blame may fall on the broad shoulders of catcher Alejandro Kirk. The young backstop has a tendency to set up early with his target, offering important clues to an opponent re location and pitch-type. This can be especially effective for coaches that can find a better angle to view and relay the information.
The novelty of the one-knee catching style is also something that may offer up clues to what’s coming. So when Judge’s eyes shifted to his right, the suspicion is that he was receiving important feedback on location from first-base coach Travis Chapman.
“I think it was just kind of odd, the way that at-bat and maybe a couple of others played out,” Schneider said. “We’re focusing on making sure that we are not giving anything away, whether it is from our catcher, pitcher, positioning, setup, anything like that. I think that’s what we can control. On top of that making sure everyone is where they should be on both sides of the field, meaning players and coaches. So that’s where we are today.”
Baseball is a sport in which imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That being said, the goal with many current teams is to find a way of gaining short-term advantage. If it means looking for examples from other teams, all’s fair in glove and war. And once that old (not always illegal) cheat is discovered, it is pushed aside and another mole for MLB to whack pops up.
This particular example of Yankees gaining advantage seems innocuous, correctible and controllable, but the suspicion is it has always gone much deeper with the Bronx Bombers.
History tells us that an advantage can either be attained via either 21st Century technology or the good old fashioned eye test, but both ways, the Yankees, according to opponents, have, allegedly, been masters of their domain for years, dating back even to pre-Astros debacle.
Really? Think about it. How relatively tough can it be to game MLB opponents using technology when one considers that National Security was able to pinpoint the exact location of Osama Bin Laden in 2011 via intercepted audio and encrypted transmissions. Is MLB’s new PitchCom communication between catcher and pitcher tougher to hack than Al Qaeda? In that case, more whacking moles will likely pop up.
But, the fact is this Judge controversy has merely served to take attention away from the bigger issue for the Blue Jays, which is the failure of ace righthander Alek Manoah again on Monday night to find his form. What has happened to the 51-start swagger and dominance of this year’s opening day starter, the same pitcher that finished third in Cy Young voting in ‘22?
Yes, it’s only nine starts into Manoah’s expected 33-game workload for 2023, but for a young pitcher who cruised through his first two MLB seasons with barely a negative blip on his radar, the 2023 repeated encounters with failure after a quarter of the schedule has been played needs more of an examination than just excusing it by saying “it’s early.”
Come to think of it, with all the other head-scratching theories being floated to explain Manoah’s stressful start and lack of success and with the suspicion that on Monday, Kirk may have been the weakest link when it came to giving clues to Judge and perhaps other Yankees, maybe the Jays should consider changing catchers for the big righthander on Saturday, allowing Danny Jansen to work with him. It couldn’t hurt. In his 60 career starts, Jansen has worked with Manoah just four times, but has guided him through 24.1 innings, with a 2.59 ERA and a .186 opponent batting average.
In the meantime, the Yankees, on Tuesday saw starting pitcher Domingo German tossed by the umpires in the third inning for an illegal substance on his pitching hand. That will likely lead to a 10-game suspension.
The Evil Empire, indeed.