The New York Yankees began their season with a win and a controversy.
On Thursday, during the Yankees’ opener against the Detroit Tigers, reporter Keith Olbermann tweeted that, “The Yankees have a man in the seats who indicates to their on-deck batter what kind of pitch was just thrown,” along with a photo.
The photo is of Yankees baseball operations coaching assistant Brett Weber, who was relaying pitch speed to the on-deck batter. Pitch speed is displayed prominently in every ballpark, but players were relying on Weber’s readings.
Major League Baseball prohibits team staff from communicating pitch information to batters by hand signals.
“Communicating pitch types, pitch speed, through hand signals, is prohibited,” an MLB spokesman told the NY Daily News after looking at the photo. “We’re going to call them to remind them what the rule says. It could all be perfectly innocent — some clubs don’t trust what’s on the scoreboard.”
After the game, general manager Brian Cashman explained that the scoreboard wasn’t working, so Weber was signaling the velocity of the pitches to the players.
“The scoreboard went down. He was relaying after the fact with his fingers to some hitters who wanted it what the velocity was, pitches to the opposing teams’ hitter, to the guy on deck,” Cashman said. “There’s nothing to hide. We’ve got nothing to hide.
“I think he [Joe Garagiola Jr., baseball's senior vice president for standards and on-field operations] recognizes the fact that there’s no real advantage here,” he continued. “But at the same time, there is a bulletin out that says you’re not supposed to do that. We explained to him that the first inning, the scoreboard was reading 912 m.p.h., so normally that stuff’s out there.
“I think it’s really silly, personally. But we provided all information in a truthful and honest way to Joe.”
Weber has not been signaling from the stands since the incident.
“We’re not going to do it until they resolve what they want,” Cashman said.
While the dust seems to have settled and the MLB appears to be satisfied, there’s something that hasn’t been explained. While many are reporting that Yankees staff hasn’t communicated with on-deck batters previously, Olbermann writes that he has seen staff performing the same duties during other games.
Buster Olney‘s book The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty, which was written in 2001, suggests that this kind of communication has existed for years.
“As he [Derek Jeter] stood in the on-deck circle, he would make eye contact with the Yankees’ employee who sat in the stands and operated a radar gun. Jeter would guess how hard the pitcher was throwing — holding up two fingers if he thought the pitcher was throwing 92 mph, for example. Using this sign language, the radar gun operator might respond with three fingers if the pitcher was throwing 93 mph, and Jeter would nod.”