The reaction by most who saw the photo I posted on Twitter on Thursday seemed to be: “Are you sure that isn’t Vince, the ‘Sham-Wow’ Guy?
Apparently that was not the reaction from Major League Baseball.
Writing in The New York Daily News, Anthony McCarron reports that MLB was to contact the Yanks today about the possibility that their version of infamous infomercial pitchman and battery defendant Vince “Fettucine, Linguine, Martini, Bikini” Shlomi may have violated the ominous sounding “baseball operations bulletin C-4“:
Major League Baseball officials will call the Yankees Saturday to remind them of baseball operations bulletin C-4, which forbids team staff from communicating pitch types and pitch speed to players via hand signals, an MLB spokesman said.
McCarron identifies the signaler as Brett Weber, a former minor league pitcher who was hired by the Yankees more than two years ago to pitch batting practice, then run the radar gun and compile offensive and defensive charts during the game.
Apparently sequences like this – which I finally captured on camera during Thursday’s season opener at Yankee Stadium – may be ‘C-4 Transgressions’:
That’s Weber on the left (behind, as another wag suggested, Mother Teresa) and Alex Rodriguez on the right, more or less in the on-deck circle. He is not looking to see if Cameron Diaz is in the seats.
I sit more or less between them. Weber has, since at least the start of the 2010 season, been seated about dead center behind the plate, four or five rows from the backstop. I have not watched him through an entire game to be certain of this, but it is my impression that the signaling is heaviest early in a game, and that not it is not done to all players (and no jokes about how that’s because Weber “can’t do this all day”). I can say without fear of contradiction that this is no coincidence. I have seen Rodriguez look for the signal, nod, look away, and the signal stop.
Last year, on at least one occasion, the Yankee employee had some sort of card or card-shaped object with which he also gestured towards the players in the on-deck circle. I do recall at least one occasion last season in which I did not see Weber at the game. I can’t speak to 2009; my seats that year were about seven rows back and more or less lined up with the on-deck circle.
While McCarron concludes that Weber is signaling pitch speed to the players, and more to the dugout than to the batter in the on-deck circle, my sense was that these signals were more likely to indicate the type and location of the pitch, and specifically to the next hitter. But I’m just drawing a conclusion.
As odd looking as this has always been, it has struck me as being something less than cheating and I wasn’t looking to portray it as such. As I wrote earlier, I noticed this last year and made a few desultory attempts to capture the images, but none had been to my satisfaction until Thursday – so it was not as if I was trying to catch the Yankees at anything, and, obviously I’ve been in no hurry to do so. The same information – pitch type and speed – is flashed on the gigantic centerfield scoreboard more or less simultaneously with Weber’s gesture. McCarron explains:
Some Yankee hitters waiting on-deck look for pitch speed from that employee instead of on the scoreboard – where it is shown in most every ballpark, including the Stadium – believing the staffer is more accurate.
The thing that amplifies this strange saga is history. In the ’70s and ’80s the Yankees and MLB were frequently at odds over an “Eye In The Sky” – an innovation by the late George Steinbrenner in which a Yankee employee (beginning, I believe, with Gene Michael, and lasting so long that the last one may have been Buck Showalter) worked from the press box level and was in communication with the dugout during games, relaying goodness knows what. The Commissioner’s Office frowned on this and monitored it regularly.