CLEARWATER, Fla. — The story that won’t go away wended its way through Phillies camp Thursday in the form of a 22-second video of Joe Girardi talking about illicit sign-stealing.
The video was plucked from a segment on sign-stealing that Girardi participated in during his time with the MLB Network. It was taped in mid-October, just before he was named Phillies manager.
In the video, analyst and former big-league pitcher Al Leiter asks Girardi, “What did you guys use?”
The question is accompanied by some laughs but it’s clear that Leiter is asking what means the New York Yankees used to pick up signs during Girardi’s time as manager of that club from 2008 to 2017.
Girardi responds by saying, “I was part of a system …” He then explains how signs were detected “upstairs” and relayed down to the dugout and field.
At first blush, it sounds rather incriminating.
Until you hear how Girardi punctuates his comment.
“We eventually caught it,” he says in the video.
Girardi knew the video had been making the rounds — he said it made him laugh — and was prepared to answer questions about it after Thursday's workout.
“If people listen to the whole video, you can put 2 and 2 together and know what I’m talking about,” he said. “We caught them.”
There was a long pause.
“Put 2 and 2 together,” he said.
The implication was that Girardi was talking about the Houston Astros, who were nailed for illegal sign-stealing during the 2017 season. The Astros eliminated Girardi’s Yankees in the ALCS that season and went on to win the World Series.
But he may have been talking about the Boston Red Sox, an AL East rival of the Yankees, who are also under investigation for stealing signs illegally.
As fallout from the cheating scandal has engulfed baseball in the early weeks of spring training, Girardi has been mostly reserved while speaking with Philadelphia reporters about the topic. The emergence of the MLB Network video resulted in him being more expansive Thursday.
Girardi was asked about his saying, “I was part of a system” in the video.
“Yeah, the system was our system caught the other group,” he said. “If you listen to the whole video, we caught the other team. It was coming from upstairs to someone in the dugout and then relayed one way or another. I laugh because people are cutting it up and trying to make it something.
“It wasn’t our team doing it. We caught the other team doing it. And I think part of this is why the Commissioner has put out some of these rules and I think it’s important that we protect the integrity of the game because that is really important to me.”
Girardi was asked if his team reported the violating team to MLB.
“As a manager, I personally don’t, but that doesn’t mean that the team I was on didn’t,” he said.
The video dealt extensively with the importance of teams protecting their signs from being stolen and that has been a theme of Girardi’s first camp with the Phillies.
“A lot of people want to talk about what happened in 2017, ‘18, ’19,” he said. “No. It’s what we do moving forward, guys, that’s important to me.
“It’s complicated in a lot of manners and guarding your signs is really difficult today with all the cameras and everything you can see. So you have to be really clever. It’s hard.”
MLB is expected to come up with tighter guidelines regarding access to video around the dugout before opening day. One possible solution would be locking down the video room at game time. But that comes with complications because teams need access to instant replay to challenge umpire calls.
“I don’t know if I’ve thought through it enough because I know players like watching their at-bats,” Girardi said. “I think the replay room has caused a lot of consequences that they did not foresee. And I’m a proponent of replay. I think it’s important. But there’s some consequences that I don’t know any of us foresaw as we put this is in because it’s usually right next to the video room."
One potential solution is barring players from watching video during the games — it seemed to work OK for Ted Williams and Mike Schmidt — and moving those who keep tabs on potential replay challenges upstairs to the press/broadcast level.
Girardi said he wouldn’t mind if those who oversee replay challenges moved upstairs but he’s not sure about closing off the video room to players.
“I don’t know what the right answer is because players like watching their at-bats,” he said.