CLEARWATER, Fla. — Joe Girardi would be hired to be the Phillies manager just nine days later, but he was still in his final days as a TV analyst last October when he stood on a miniature baseball field inside a North Jersey TV studio.
The subject was sign-stealing, and the cast of MLB Network’s nightly baseball show — Girardi, host Brian Kenney, and former pitcher Al Leiter — detailed how to guard against an opponent’s attempt to steal the signs between a catcher and pitcher and what constitutes crossing the line.
Girardi, who managed the Yankees two years earlier, presented an example.
“Sometimes you have to worry about how it’s being relayed,” Girardi said on the set of MLB Tonight. “I was a part of a system where it came from upstairs to someone in the dugout to the guy at second base. We eventually caught it.”
The clip — 23 seconds cut from a seven-minute segment - resurfaced this week on social media, leading some to believe that Girardi’s phrase “I was a part of a system” was the manager’s revelation that his Yankees teams used an Astros-like system to steal signs. Girardi is not active on social media, but he saw the clip.
“I laugh,” he said after the Phillies’ spring-training workout Thursday. “Someone brought it to me.”
Girardi said he was talking in the clip about how the Yankees caught on to another team’s method to steal signs and not saying that the Yankees were swiping signs through illegal means.
His final game as Yankees manager was against the Astros in the 2017 American League Championship Series, during which the Astros illegally used a camera to steal the signs from the opposing catcher and relay them to the batter in real time.
“If people listen to the whole video, you can put two and two together and know what I’m talking about,” Girardi said. “We caught them.”
Girardi said the Yankees reported the team’s cheating to Major League Baseball, but he declined Thursday to reveal which team it was before he simply said, “Put two and two together.” The Yankees filed a complaint in 2017 against the Red Sox, a team that MLB learned was using Apple Watches to decipher the signs given by a Yankees catcher. That same investigation also said that the Yankees had improperly used the dugout phone, which led to a fine.
Girardi ended the viral clip by saying, “We eventually caught it.” But why did he begin it by saying that he was “a part of a system?”
“The system was our system caught the other group,” Girardi 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 else. 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.”
Training camps across baseball this spring have been clouded by the blowback from Houston’s cheating scandal. Three major-league managers — A.J. Hinch of the Astros, Carlos Beltran of the Mets, and Alex Cora of the Red Sox — lost their jobs, but baseball still needs to do more to remove doubt from the game.
There will likely be rule changes to prevent sign-stealing, or at least make it more difficult.
Girardi suggested that MLB could follow the NCAA, which passed a rule this month to allow pitchers to wear a wristband with a card attached that allows more complicated signals to be called verbally from the dugout. Girardi is also in favor of allowing players to wear headsets and relay the information through their ears instead of signs.
“Well, this is my argument: You look at an athlete, and if they’re not in competition and they’re working on their own, they always have headphones in,” Girardi said. “You look at kids. They always have headphones in. So it’s not like they’re not used to having headphones in. So I’m a big proponent of that.”
Rule changes will likely come sooner rather than later. Baseball will try to react quickly as technology grows at a rapid pace across the game and cheating becomes even harder to police. Until then, teams will have to guard against the chance that an opponent is trying to find an advantage.
Girardi said his team was doing the guarding, not the stealing.
“It wasn’t our team doing it. We caught the other team doing it,” Girardi said. “And I think part of this is why the commissioner has put out some of these rules. I think it’s important that we protect the integrity of the game. That is really, really important to me.”