This two-picture sequence provided by FSN Rocky Mountain Sports shows Philadelphia Phillies bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer using binoculars in the bullpen during Monday night’s game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Colorado Rockies.
The Associated Press
Binoculars in the bullpen? Major League Baseball didn’t like what it saw, and has told the Philadelphia Phillies to knock it off.
The Phillies insisted Wednesday they weren’t trying to steal signs when bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer was caught on camera peering through binoculars from the bullpen bench at Coors Field earlier this week.
Manager Charlie Manuel told The Associated Press that Billmeyer simply was watching Philadelphia catcher Carlos Ruiz set up defensively Monday night.
FSN Rocky Mountain, the flagship broadcaster of the Colorado Rockies, showed Billmeyer using the binoculars to peer in on Colorado catcher Miguel Olivo while the Phillies were at bat in the top of the second inning.
It also showed a quick image of Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino in the dugout on the bullpen phone in the top of the second.
“We were not trying to steal signs,” Manuel said. “Would we try to steal somebody’s signs? Yeah, if we can. But we don’t do that. We’re not going to let a guy stand up there in the bullpen with binoculars looking in. We’re smarter than that.”
Olivo said Billmeyer’s actions could tarnish the two-time defending NL champions’ image.
“If you’re a good team and you win, I think you don’t need to do that because they got good hitters, they got good players,” Olivo said. “If it helps them, if they don’t get caught, then whatever. If they get caught, then they’re going to pay for it.”
FOXSports.com first reported the reprimand from the league, which reviewed video of the matter Tuesday.
The Rockies noticed Billmeyer using the binoculars from his perch in center field in the top of the first inning Monday night and asked FSN to zoom in on the visitor’s bullpen.
Armed with evidence, Rockies manager Jim Tracy brought it to the attention of crew chief Jerry Crawford, who spoke with Manuel between the first and second innings of that game.
“I didn’t know about it,” Manuel said Wednesday. “I told the umpire, ‘No, we don’t have anybody out there with binoculars.’ I come to find out that we did. He used them to watch Ruiz set up and his catching and things like that. At the same time, we’re not supposed to have them out there.”
While sign-stealing is something all teams try to do, using electronic equipment, enhanced devices and technology is not allowed in baseball.
It’s not the first time accusations of cheating have been lobbed at the Phillies. The New York Mets accused the Phillies of stealing signs through a center-field camera in 2007, and the Boston Red Sox leveled charges against them in 2008.
During the World Series last year, former Phillies manager Larry Bowa said Philadelphia has a reputation for stealing signs.
Bowa, now the Dodgers third base coach, told Philadelphia radio station ESPN 950 there were rumors of the Phillies using a center field camera to swipe signs.
“There’s rumors going around that when you play the Phillies, there’s a camera somewhere or bullpen people are giving signs,” Bowa said at the time. “And catchers are constantly changing signs. That’s the rumor. Now, is it proven? No.”
A Phillies spokesman said Billmeyer wasn’t commenting on the matter.
The video of Billmeyer showed him peering through the binoculars, then quickly pulling them down.
Manuel said Billmeyer’s brazen use of the binoculars was itself proof that the Phillies weren’t trying to cheat.
“We were definitely not getting signs that way,” Manuel said. “He was standing straight up looking right at home plate. He was right out in the open. It wasn’t like he was hiding or nothing.”
The Rockies weren’t buying any of Manuel’s explanations.
“As far as I’m concerned it’s out of line,” Tracy said. “It’s one thing to go out and play a club as tough as you can possibly play it within the framework of the way they’ve structured things to be done. … Nobody says that you don’t explore something like that, but if you’re cheating and you get caught, then you know what? Then you’d better do something about it. That’s my reaction to that.
“But a pair of binoculars staring down the gun barrel of the hitting area? You know what, I don’t think any club in baseball that’s competing against that team would take too kindly to that,” Tracy said. “Now you can come up with all kinds of reasons as to why you had them and what you were doing with them.
“Are we to believe them all? Or is it OK for us to think maybe there might be some sort of competitive advantage that you might be gaining for yourself? And then you start reflecting back on some of the things that have taken place in previous games and it makes you sit and wonder a little bit.”
Victorino led off Monday night’s game with a triple and scored on Placido Polanco’s sacrifice fly. The Phillies put two men on base in the second but didn’t score. They won 9-5 with a four-run ninth inning.
The Rockies aren’t the first team to suspect the Phillies of shenanigans this season.
New York Mets catcher Rod Barajas, who played for the Phillies in 2007, said there were some suspicions about Philadelphia when the Phillies roughed up Mets left-hander Johan Santana on May 2.
“Some people were talking, amongst us, the bullpen coach would come out and hang over the fence when they were hitting,” Barajas said. “And somebody said — I didn’t notice it — but somebody said he came over and hung over the fence while they were hitting for the first couple innings and then when we were hitting they were sitting back. So, it was just a little talk. It wasn’t anybody pointing anybody out and saying, ‘Hey, they’re doing this or they’re doing that.’”
Santana said he wasn’t sure if there was more to his poor performance that night.
“There are times where it seems like they’re doing something, but I don’t really know,” Santana said.
The binoculars boondoggle was all the buzz across clubhouses Wednesday.
Barajas said using binoculars to steal signs crosses the line.
“If a guy at second base is stealing signs, that’s one thing. That’s part of the game. Us as players it’s our job to fix it and to end it,” he said. “But when you have coaches in the bullpen who are relaying signs … I think it’s something that shouldn’t happen and it’s not part of this game.”
Mets pitcher Mike Pelfrey said former Phillies players who subsequently joined the Mets have acknowledged that the Phillies relay signs to hitters — but with runners from second base tipping off the batter about what pitch was coming.
“They didn’t say anything with binoculars,” Pelfrey said. “I think the thing about it, if people see that, somebody might end up getting hurt.”
Sign-stealing has been around as long as baseball itself and it’s made its way into some of the iconic moments in the game’s history.
A half-century after Bobby Thomson’s bottom-of-the-ninth ‘Shot Heard ‘Round the World’ won the decisive Game 3 of an NL pennant playoff, putting the New York Giants into the World Series and crushing Brooklyn, it was revealed the Giants installed a telescope-and-buzzer system at the Polo Grounds to spy on catcher’s signals.
Thomson insisted he was not tipped off to the fastball he hit from Ralph Branca.
“Sure, I’ve taken signs, obviously, in the not-very-nice way the Giants did it,” Thomson said back in 2001. “But did it happen on that fateful pitch? No, it didn’t. If you want to believe me, that’s fine. If not, OK.”