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How the Milwaukee Brewers fit into baseball’s sign-stealing controversy

One report says that the Brewers might be guilty, too.

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Pittsburgh Pirates v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The evidence is damning.

According to a report from Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the Houston Astros have used hidden video cameras to aid in decoding signs and relaying what pitches are coming when their offense is at the plate. The alleged abuses took place during the 2017 season, with former Astro Mike Fiers going on the record (along with other unnamed sources) to detail the process which some Houston hitters employed to gain an advantage over opposing pitchers.

Sign stealing in baseball is nothing new. Opposing baserunners have been trying to pick up the catcher’s signals and relay them to their teammates at the plate for over a century. But the addition of technology to the equation — in the Astros case, a reported hidden camera in center field providing a live feed to a television hung in the hallway leading up to the home dugout — is a new, particularly nefarious wrinkle added to the equation in recent seasons that goes beyond simple gamesmanship.

According to The Athletic, electronic sign stealing is a far more prevalent issue than just what Major League Baseball is now investigating the Astros for:

[I]nside the game, there is a belief which is treated by players and staff as fact: That illegal sign stealing, particularly through advanced technology, is everywhere.

“It’s an issue that permeates through the whole league,” one major league manager said. “The league has done a very poor job of policing or discouraging it.”

Electronic sign stealing is not a single-team issue. Major League Baseball rules prohibit clubs from using electronic equipment to steal catchers’ signs and convey information. Still, the commissioner’s office hears complaints about many different organizations — everything from mysterious people in white shirts sending signals from center field to elaborate systems involving television cameras and tablets.

When a story like this breaks, it is only natural that other reporters would try to dig in further and attempt to discover what additional teams may be engaging in this type of lawless behavior. And that is exactly what Jeff Jones — who has covered the Cardinals for and the Belleville News-Democrat — did when he asked players to identify other supposed sign stealing squads.

A more locally connected writer — J.P. Breen (who broke the Zack Greinke trade in 2010, is a former editor-in-chief of BP Milwaukee, and who currently writes nationally for Baseball Prospectus and is a host of the MKE Tailgate podcast) followed up on Jones’ tweet by saying “We’ve been hearing rumblings about the Brewers for a while.” The Chicago-centric site Bleacher Nation also noted in an article that sign-stealing at Miller Park has “been talked about behind the scenes for multiple years now”, including instances of the Cubs employing multiple signs against Milwaukee even with the bases empty.

According to Robert Murray, sources from inside the organization have vehemently denied that any espionage has taken place. I mean, of course they did, because it’s not like the organization would readily admit to cheating happening under their watch if it is occurring, anyway. If you are a fan of the Cream City Nine, maybe it’s easy to toss these accusations aside while saying simply, “consider the source.” From a more unbiased point of view, however, it might be safer to assume that the Brewers are stealing signs (at least to some degree) than to conclude that they aren’t.

Electronic sign stealing is purportedly a widespread and relatively unchecked problem around Major League Baseball. Jeff Jones is a BBWAA member and a credible reporter with access to current and former players. Milwaukee is considered to have one of the smartest front office groups and is said to be among the most cutting edge franchises in terms of how they deploy technology and analytics. Their field manager and top executive both talk often about how challenging it is to win in this market. That exec — President David Stearns — cut his teeth within the offending Houston organization as a high-ranking member of the current Jeff Luhnow regime. Opposing teams using multiple signs even when no runners are on base is certainly eyebrow raising.

Maybe there isn't any truth to all this. But now that it has been reported, it's not really that far-fetched to think that the Brewers might seek a competitive advantage, is it?