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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Stealing signs with Apple Watch not exactly shocking

The Yankees accused the Red Sox of using

The Yankees accused the Red Sox of using an Apple Watch to steal signs. Photo Credit: Dave Lyons / Newsday

BALTIMORE

When told the Yankees were accusing the Red Sox of using an Apple Watch to steal signs, and Boston’s counterclaim of TV camera skulduggery against its Bronx adversary, one rival executive who knows both teams well scoffed at Tuesday’s ensuing hysteria.

“File that in the ‘No (expletive)’ category,” the exec said.

In other words, duh.

What did everyone expect? This is 2017. With ballparks elaborately wired for video and sound — employing state-of-the-art technology — having the Yankees tape the Red Sox apparently being caught, um, red-handed in utilizing the Apple Watch for nefarious purposes was just the natural progression of an age-old practice.

The New York Times broke the story, which first reported how the Red Sox assistant trainer received a message on his watch from someone studying the video feed, then relayed the sign-related info to a player near him in the dugout, who signals the hitter or a runner at second base.

According to someone who has seen the Yankees’ incriminating tape — which was sent to the commissioner’s office — the evidence is irrefutable. It’s clear what the Red Sox are doing. Despite the methods being cutting edge, this type of thievery has been part of baseball since the game’s invention, and that’s why such a modern upgrade is hardly surprising.

Stealing signs in itself, as commissioner Rob Manfred pointed out Tuesday at Fenway Park, is not illegal. There is no rule on the books against the practice — as long as electronic equipment is not employed to do so. That’s where the Red Sox allegedly crossed the line, and Manfred will likely have to penalize them. Our best guess is a significant fine, which for a mega-market franchise amounts to a wrist slap.

“I do believe that this is a charged situation from a competitive perspective, when you have the kind of rivalry that the Yankees and the Red Sox have,” Manfred said. “The only thing that I can tell you about repercussions is that to the extent that there was a violation on either side — and I’m not saying that there was — we are 100-percent comfortable that it is not an ongoing issue. That if it happened, it is no longer happening. I think that’s important from an integrity perspective going forward.”

Manfred has to tread carefully here. With the Red Sox holding a 2 1⁄2-game lead over the Yankees in the AL East, the commissioner can’t do anything that would directly affect the jockeying for playoff position. That’s why a cash fine seems logical. And the Yankees already have achieved what they wanted by getting MLB involved — presumably shutting down any further Apple Watch escapades at Fenway Park.

As for Boston’s accusation that the Yankees deploy a YES camera specifically to steal signs, Joe Girardi categorically denied the allegation before Tuesday’s game at Camden Yards.

“No chance,” Girardi said. “No, we’re not doing it.”

We’ll take Girardi at his word. On the camera thing. But do the Yankees try to crack the opposing club’s codes in other ways, perhaps a few that tiptoe the line? Of course they do. Even Girardi, who declined to discuss the Boston case specifically, admitted that this sort of espionage goes on all the time, to varying degrees.

“We assume every team tries do something,” Girardi said.

Including the Yankees?

“You can assume whatever you want,” he replied.

Up at Fenway, Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski shrugged off the Yankees’ allegations, but did tell reporters that such matters typically are handled between GMs — not filed as an official complaint to the commissioner. That sounded like Dombrowski casually labeling Brian Cashman a tattletale, and what’s a rivalry without a little name-calling?

Going forward, sign-stealing — in this Hi-Def era — is going to be difficult for Manfred to police. Girardi suggested wiring the catcher’s helmets and using headsets in the dugout to cut down on the hand signals, similar to what is done with the quarterback in football. But as far as technology’s impact on the game, there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. Paranoia seems to be the only effective safeguard.

“I think electronics makes things easier, more accessible,” Girardi said, “and more dangerous.”

No kidding.

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