Red Sox

Red Sox

Here are three words I don't want to hear, on or off the record, when the Red Sox inevitably try to defend their 2018 video room practices.

"Everyone does it."

That excuse wasn't good enough for the 2007 Patriots after the league sent every team a reminder about the illegality of taping opposing signals, and it sure as hell isn't good enough for the Red Sox, whose actions in 2017 effectively prompted a similar memo from Joe Torre.

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The forewarned 2018 Red Sox won 108 games while taking a sledgehammer to the rest of the league, and now comes news that they had some help. According to an extensive report in The Athletic, the Red Sox used their video room to steal signs throughout that regular season, relaying them to the batter from second base.

While this creates a bit of a gray area — the Red Sox decoded the signs via real-time video, but conveyed them the old-fashioned way, and not by banging on a garbage can like the Astros — let's be real. Because the Red Sox were busted for using Apple watches to aid sign-stealing in 2017, they should've been on their absolute best behavior in 2018.

That they weren't, and directly flouted the rules anyway, opens them to serious punishment by MLB, whether or not each of the other 29 teams engaged in similar behavior.

 

It also cranks up the heat on manager Alex Cora, who reportedly played a direct role in the Astros' sign-stealing during their 2017 title season as bench coach. If he deployed similar chicanery in Boston, the league will want to hear about it, because it's one thing to participate in such activities as a subordinate, but it's another when it's sanctioned on your watch. For all the innovations Cora brought from Houston, cheating is one we'd rather he left behind.

So what does this mean for the legacy of the 2018 juggernauts? We'll let the court of public opinion decide whether that championship is tainted, though MLB sign-stealing doesn't inflame the same passion as its NFL counterpart, because it's such an accepted part of the game.

Still, just as the Patriots have rightly claimed for years that they didn't need to deflate footballs to win it all in 2015, the Red Sox will similarly find themselves on the defensive, which serves as a de facto asterisk.

The 2018 Red Sox may note they were a killing machine with or without the aid of Samsung and LG, and we know they won without help in the playoffs, because MLB installed monitors in each video room that postseason.

But if their legacy is damaged, that's on them. Think fans still view the 2017 Astros as the product of a masterfully executed five-year plan? Or do they conjure visions of Oscar the Grouch slamming his lid before every changeup?

Legacy questions miss the point, though, because the real crime here isn't even the act of stealing. It's the impact the threat of such deception has on the actual game, with paranoia playing a significant role in the sport's suicidal pace of play issues.

From multiple mound visits to stupid crib notes sewn into caps to the Enigma machines needed to recode and decode signs on the fly, the moments between pitches can assume the feel of a sign language convention without subtitles.

Because baseball's best teams — the Astros, Yankees and Red Sox — are widely considered the most ruthless sign-stealers, it has forced an arms race among everyone else to develop measures and countermeasures to threats both real and imagined, further slackening a game that ain't exactly jai alai to begin with.

Maybe the solution is a form of wireless communications, à la the NFL's green dot, that eliminates the need for signs, or at least simplifies their sequencing. In the meantime, for the good of the game, MLB must render a punishment with enough teeth to leave no doubt that the risk of stealing signs electronically far outweighs the reward.

If that means making an example of the Red Sox, so be it. What I definitely don't want to hear is that everyone else does it.

Everyone else didn't get busted. You did. And you should pay a price.