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Phillies accused of stealing signs

Philadelphia's bullpen coach allegedly was using binoculars to look at signs flashed by Colorado Rockies catchers.

May 12, 2010|By Steve Dilbeck

Now the Dodgers have a fresh explanation for why they haven't been able to beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the last two National League Championship Series.

The Phillies cheat.

Well, not exactly cheat, but doing something that at a minimum is generally frowned upon, and at a maximum is considered breaking one of the game's biggest unwritten rules.

Stealing signs.

This has been going on since they put stitches through leather, and is not technically illegal. If you're caught, however, it might be best not to take that next at-bat.

Tracy Ringolsby, a Hall of Fame baseball writer for Fox Sports, was first to report that the Phillies were warned by Major League Baseball concerning accusations that bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer was stealing signs Monday night in their game against the Colorado Rockies.

Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel told reporters when the teams playedWednesday that Billmeyer was using the binoculars to study how Philadelphia catcher Carlos Ruiz set up and was receiving pitches.

Video provided by FSN Rocky Mountain, which was televising Monday's game, seemed to indicate otherwise. It showed Billmeyer, a former failed catcher in the Angels organization, focusing his binoculars on Rockies catcher Miguel Olivo while the Phillies were hitting in the top of the second inning.

The Phillies said Billmeyer wouldn't comment on the allegations, but Manuel seemed to believe that the out-in-the-open nature of what Billmeyer was doing was evidence enough that the team wasn't cheating.

"He was right out in the open," Manuel said. "It wasn't like he was hiding or nothing."

Rockies Manager Jim Tracy called the Phillies' actions "out of line."

"A pair of binoculars staring down the gun barrel of the hitting area? You know what, I don't think any club in baseball … would take too kindly to that," Tracy said. "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."

Spokesman Pat Courtney told The Times that MLB had told the Phillies "no one with binoculars in the bullpen."

Ringolsby, quoting an unnamed source, said the Rockies are the second team this season to file a complaint about the Phillies. He said the New York Mets allegedly filed a similar complaint May 2 after ace Johan Santana was knocked around by the Phillies.

And you wondered how Vicente Padilla could get battered around like that last fall?

In Arizona, Dodgers Manager Joe Torre said he was unaware of the report, but when told of the allegations and MLB's reported actions, he said:

"If that's what they're doing I can understand MLB reacting that way. Stealing signs has always been something that for years clubs have tried to do and clubs continue to do. Binoculars in the bullpen is certainly over and above what you normally would do to try to steal signs. If they've got proof like that then I can understand the warning or the alert that was handed down."

Torre said he had never experienced the problem with the Phillies. However, Dodgers third base coach Larry Bowa noted during the World Series last year thatthe Phillies had a reputation for stealing signs.

Bowa told ESPN Radio in Philadelphia there were "rumors going around that when you play the Phillies, there's a camera somewhere, or bullpen people are giving signs. And catchers are constantly changing signs. That's the rumor. Now, is it proven? No."

Well, it hadn't been proven then, anyway.

If the Phillies had been snooping on signs from afar, this would hardly be the first time the Dodgers were victimized by a team stealing signs.

One of the most famous hits of all time, the "Shot Heard 'Round the World," has come under heavy suspicion. In Joshua Prager's 2008 book, "The Echoing Green," he chronicles in detail how New York Giants coach Herman Franks used a telescope from the team's center-field clubhouse in 1951 to steal the catchers' signs at the Polo Grounds.

Franks would then set off a bell or buzzer in the bullpen to signify the next pitch, and a relay man would signal it to the hitter.

The Giants made up a record 13 1/2 games on the Dodgers that season and then won a playoff game when Bobby Thomson hit a ninth-inning home run against Ralph Branca to send the Giants to the World Series.

When Thomson was asked by the Wall Street Journal whether he was tipped off on the pitch, he said, "I'd have to say more no than yes." Later, he denied stealing the sign for his famous hit.

sports@latimes.com

Times staff writer Jim Peltz and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Steve Dilbeck weighs in every day, every game on The Times' Dodgers Blog. Go to latimesblogs.latimes.com/dodgers.

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