Blue Jays right-hander Jay Jackson has a say. Well, at least he had one until Yankees judge Aaron took him deep on Monday night, causing the journeyman pitcher to return to Triple A.
Before Jackson took a fixed position, he raised his hands near his ear as he grabbed the ball. The catch, indicating what type of pitch he was about to throw, was visible to Yankees first baseman coach Travis Chapman, according to multiple Jays sources. Jackson, in a Tuesday night phone interview, acknowledged he was rocking his slider, but said the timing of his delivery was more of an issue than his grip.
So here is. The judge was not stealing signs illegally when Jays broadcasters Dan Shulman and Buck Martinez noticed him alertly looking sideways during his eighth inning at bat against Jackson. He was apparently watching Chapman, who might have relayed Jackson’s story with hand signals, behavior perfectly permitted under Major League Baseball rules.
The judge, however, might not have needed it so much.
“From what I was told, I was kind of rocking the pitch,” said Jackson, who after striking out the first two batters in the eighth inning, threw the judge six straight sliders, the last on 3-2. “It was (less) my grip when I came behind my ear. It was the moment when it took me out of my fixed position, my glove coming from my head to my hip. On fastballs, I was doing it a little faster than on the sliders. They were sort of taking over.
Such conduct is part of the spirit of play that smart teams employ in pursuit of every possible advantage. The Blue Jays didn’t say the Yankees did anything nefarious, other than possibly mispositioning their coaches. No one has accused the Yankees of using any of the electronic equipment banned by Major League Baseball following the Astros sign-stealing scandal.
“If they knew it was coming and he cut me, (then) he cut me,” Jackson said. “I’m glad he succeeded as much as he did.”
Jackson’s comments should offer valuable insight into the matter, but in baseball’s age of post-Astros paranoia, fans will believe what they want to believe, with the fallout of the league not enforcing its rules and shutting down the illegal theft of electronic signs in the late 2010s.
Social media conspiracies are everywhere these days, and when Shulman and Martinez both noticed Judge’s eye movement and wondered aloud what he was looking at, it was a trigger.
In this case, however, the collective, ahem, side-eye is unwarranted. Even though the Yankees coaches were outside their respective boxes, one point Jays officials made to the league on Tuesday is for Toronto pitchers to stay consistent in their deliveries, hide their catches, do whatever is necessary to disguise their throws. Receivers, likewise, must mask the scene, but Blue Jays manager John Schneider said he “didn’t see anything” with his team’s receiver Alejandro Kirk.
Schneider declined to comment. Athleticism‘s Kaitlyn McGrath when she was briefed on Jackson’s remarks. But before the game, he spoke about the importance of teams guarding against opponents who are trending.
“If you do things in plain sight, I think you have to be able to fix them and you have to be prepared for the consequences to be what they are,” Schneider said. “If it’s done fairly, yeah, it’s part of the game, everyone’s looking to help their teammates, everyone’s looking to pick up on trends, so everything that happens on the pitch in the right way, a game totally fair.”
Regarding the positioning of Yankees coaches, Schneider said, “I think there are boxes on the field for a reason. And yeah, I think when it’s blatant 30 feet where you’re not in that spot, you kind of put two and two together a bit. … If things are being picked up by people that aren’t where they should be, that’s where the line should be drawn.
The Blue Jays tried to make sure the line was drawn on Tuesday night, asking Yankees third baseman coach Luis Rojas to stay inside his box. The Yankees then made the same request to Blue Jays third baseman coach Luis Rivera. But the larger question, the one about Judge’s eye movements, already seems to have disappeared.
A league source said Athleticism‘s Brendan Kuty, “There is no indication that anything that happened last night was in violation of our rules.” Yankees manager Aaron Boone added that he did not expect a league investigation. And Schneider certainly wasn’t asking for one.
Jackson said the Jays folks first let him know he could tip after he walked out of the game on Monday. He was training at the Rogers Center on Tuesday, shortly after learning he had been re-signed to Triple A, when the subject came up again.
“One of the guys told me maybe I had my pitches flipped,” Jackson said. “Then the video guy came back later and said, ‘Hey, we might have noticed something about the difference between your slider and the fastball. Maybe it was something these guys were moving away from. Just be aware of that. You may want to change it next time.
Often when an opponent discovers that a pitcher is tipping, it is the runner at second base who acts as the detective and relays the information to the batter. Jackson said he could accept such a result more easily than a batter who “looks somewhere”. He also said coaches ‘shouldn’t relay the signs’. But he added: ‘If I give pitches, it’s on me. I have to solve this problem and make a better 3-2 pitch in this situation regardless. I left it at medium-medium.
Major League Baseball rules, a copy of which was obtained by Athleticism, prohibit the communication of signs or field information from the shelter. The introduction of PitchCom, which allows direct communication between pitcher and catcher, has made sign stealing nearly obsolete. But the rules, updated every year, clearly state that a coach or baserunner on the field can relay other tells.
“During a game, no member of the club staff may in any way communicate the signs or on-field information of the opposing team to any batter, base runner or coach on the field,” states Rule 1-1(B) “The only exception to this rule is that a base runner or on-field coach who identifies an opposing club’s signs or on-field information by his own observation without the opposing team’s pitcher, catcher, or dugout’s aide can communicate this information to the batter or another coach on the field.
“”Pitch Information” means any information about the type or location of an incoming pitch, or any cue from the pitcher that can help a batter identify information about a pitch (for example, information about “tipping pitch “).”
The Yankees’ past isn’t quite clean. Commissioner Rob Manfred fined them $100,000 for using their dugout phones to relay information about opposing teams’ signs during the 2015 season and part of 2016. As early as 2015, the Yankees used the hall of video playback to learn other teams’ sign sequences, a common practice employed by clubs before the league cracked down on such conduct ahead of the 2018 season.
The league continued to set new rules and enforcement methods after the Astros scandal. The Yankees, in this stricter era, are among the savviest clubs to legally detect pitching tendencies. They picked up Tigers pitcher Elvin Rodriguez who rocked his pitches last season, prompting the right-hander to say, “They got me.” And Monday night, they had Jackson.
“It is what it is,” Jackson said. “I have to clean everything up, go back and get it next time.”
(Top photo: Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)