Say what you will about the Aaron Judge sideways glance Monday night in Toronto. You’re going to say it anyway, of course. But catcher-turned-Blue Jays broadcast analyst Caleb Joseph is way out of line suggesting that, if Judge was looking for a sign based on Blue Jays relief pitcher Jay Jackson tipping his pitches, the Yankee bombardier needs one thrown at his head post haste.
Because, you know, sign stealing the old-fashioned way—picking up on tipped pitches or signs from the field or the dugout, as opposed to an Astro Intelligence Agency off-field based espionage operation—is still a crime against nature. Never mind that that kind of sign stealing is almost as old as professional baseball itself. It may be a little unethical, but it doesn’t rise to the level of felonious grand theft.
Judge’s original response to questions after that game was that he’d heard more than a little chirping from the Yankee dugout, based on manager Aaron Boone being tossed over objections to plate umpire Clint Vondrak’s strike call on a low Jackson service. That bad call ran the count to 1-2.
That’s when Judge shot his now-infamous sideways glance toward the Yankee dugout. Before hitting a subsequent pitch 462 feet into the second deck behind the center field fence.
“I feel like after the manager does his thing, it’s like, ‘Fellas, our pitcher has still got to go out there and make some pitches’,” Judge said postgame. “We’ve got the lead, let’s just go to work here.’ I said a couple of things to some guys in the dugout and especially after the game. Hopefully it won’t happen again.”
The issue became compounded after Jackson admitted in due course that, yes, he just might have been tipping his pitches, a very common occupational hazard in his line of work. Players have sought little “tells” from pitchers from time immemorial. Even the greatest of pitch-shielding pitchers can be prone to giving one up from time to time without even realising it.
So what was with Judge speaking about Yankee dugout chirping? Easy enough. You don’t think he’s really going to give away how his mates picked up on Jackson’s tips, do you? Neither Judge nor the Yankees are going to commit treason if they can help it.
“From what I was told, I was kind of tipping the pitch,” Jackson told The Athletic. “It was . . . the time it was taking me from my set position, from my glove coming from my head to my hip. On fastballs, I was kind of doing it quicker than on sliders. They were kind of picking up on it.”
Jackson didn’t sound even a fragment as outraged that the Yankees picked up on that tell as Joseph did during a pre-game show advancing Tuesday’s Yankees-Blue Jays contest.
“Everybody’s doing this, folks. Every team in the big leagues, they’re taking what’s handed to them,” Joseph began, giving what amounts to a confession that, yes, boys will still be boys and, so long as they’re not committing 2017-18 Astros-like black bag jobbing, it’s not exactly a call for outrage or vengeance.
Until it is, apparently.
“And it’s only bad until you get your hand caught in the cookie jar,” Joseph continued. “If I’m a mom or dad when I see my kid with their hand in that cookie jar, I’m slapping that hand. So I’m trying to send a message. And there was a time earlier in my career when, yes, messages were sent to me too. Right at my head when it wasn’t good. I would like to see Kevin Gausman come out and send a message.”
Gausman didn’t send any message Tuesday because none was called for. What he did do was get Judge to ground out and strike him out twice. The bad news for the Jays was Gausman’s relief Erik Swanson hanging a 1-0 slider that hung enough for Judge to send it almost as high past the center field fence as his glancing blast traveled Monday night.
Joseph was far less admirable demanding retribution than Jackson (optioned back to Triple-A afterward) was gracious when learning he’d handed the enemy a big break. “If they knew it was coming and he clipped me,” the righthander said, “he clipped me. I’m glad he hit it as far as he did.” The Yankees certainly were.
Jays manager John Schneider didn’t seem to think the Yankees committed Astrogate-style embezzlement, either. Even if he’d prefer his pitchers save their tipping generosity for the restaurant.
“If you’re doing things in plain sight,” Schneider said, “I think that you have to be able to correct them and you have to be willing to have the consequences be what they are. If it’s done fairly, yeah, that’s part of the game, everyone’s looking to help their teammates, everyone’s looking to pick up on tendencies, so anything that’s happening on the field in the right way, totally fair game.”
“In a very real sense,” wrote Paul Dickson in The Hidden Language of Baseball, “responsibility for tipping pitches or plays rests with the team, especially its coaching staff, so it amounts to a team error.” An unforced error at that. Something Mr. Joseph might want to ponder, before the next time he decides a tipped pitch caught, mugged, numbered, and murdered, deserves decapitation.
So what did Yankee pitcher Domingo German do on Tuesday night? He flunked a pre-inning sticky stuff test administered by umpire James Hoye and got himself tossed post haste and suspended ten games. This was after he’d already been warned, earlier in the season, about overdoing that good new fashioned medicated goo, and after he’d promised to use the rosin on the mound more.
“We all had the same opinion,” Hoye said of his umpiring crew about German’s suspect paw. “Shiny, extremely sticky, and it’s the worst hand we’ve ever felt during a game.” Worse than a busted flush.
Not brilliant, when the Yankees had to press Ian Hamilton into quick duty . . . and Hamilton ended up on the fifteen-day injured list after having to warm up too hastily. And when the Yankees just finished convincing those not disposed to believe them the root of all evil that there was nothing sneaky about catching and clobbering a tipped pitch.