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COLUMN: Someone finally found a use for an Apple Watch



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The New York Yankees' Gary Sanchez hits the first of two home runs against the Boston Red Sox on June 8 at Yankee Stadium in New York. The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry has intensified after it was discovered that Boston used an Apple watch to help steal signs against New York earlier this week.  Photo courtesy of Tribune News Service Buy Photos

Wearable technology has been a topic of sports conversation over the past few years. 

The first one that comes to my mind is the Nike+, an activity tracker released in 2014 that is used to record the distance and speed of a walk or run. Then came the original Fitbit bracelet in 2008 and Google Glass in 2013.

Although there were definitely points in my life when I wanted each of those products, I never got one. And I didn’t miss out on a single thing. 

The one constant element in wearable tech inventions each year is that they are forgotten rather quickly as people realize the lack of practical use each accessory has.

Since its launch in 2015, I have often wondered if the Apple Watch would be the product destined to buck the trend. After two years of questioning how I would use the Watch if I were to get one, a certain professional baseball team employed a tactic that seemed to be straight from a high school classroom.

The Boston Red Sox recently used an Apple Watch to relay signs that they stole from the Yankees’ catchers and that were intended to instruct Yankees pitchers what to throw. This way, the batter could be prepared for the exact upcoming pitch instead of having to adjust in real time.

It sounds a lot like high school students texting answers to each other on their smart watches during a test, doesn’t it?

After becoming suspicious, the Yankees filed a formal complaint against its most bitter rival to the league office and provided video evidence of a member of the Red Sox training staff looking at his Apple Watch in the dugout before relaying a message to other players in the dugout. 

Those players would then chant something inconspicuous at the batter in order to signal him about the type of incoming pitch.

Prior to this episode, the most widely known cheating scandal in professional sports that involved an electronic device belonged to the Sox’s crosstown football counterpart, the New England Patriots. 

Back in 2007, the Patriots were busted for videotaping New York Jets’ defensive coaches’ signals from an unauthorized location during a game on Sept. 9 of that year in a scandal referred to around the sports world as "Spygate."

Following "Spygate," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stripped the Patriots of a first-round draft pick and fined the organization and the head coach, Bill Belichick. After further evidence of videotaping emerged, Goodell was criticized for his quick punishment delivery and was accused of trying to protect the Patriots, one of the league’s premier teams, by minimizing the damage against them.

If MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred gives the Red Sox a “slap on the wrist” punishment as has been reported by multiple outlets, he will be making an even worse mistake than Goodell did – and setting a dangerous precedent. Weak consequences lead to more incidents.

As we all remember, the Patriots would rebound from that rather light punishment, and quarterback Tom Brady would go on to break a rule that would escalate into an extremely overblown situation – ironic, I know. Yes, I brought up "Deflategate" in a column you thought was only going to be about baseball.

Sign-stealing is a part of the game, so Commissioner Rob Manfred was correct when he said that sanctions have never been imposed on teams for stealing signs. Except the kind of sign stealing that is legal requires the relaying of information to be spread by word of mouth – not using communications devices like the Red Sox did.

In fact, the Red Sox even admitted to league investigators that they used electronics with the purpose of shortening the communications chain. This admission alone should be enough to warrant a legitimate punishment. 

Even though the manager of the Red Sox, John Farrell, claims to have had no involvement, he should still be held responsible, as he allowed the trainer to wear an Apple Watch in the dugout.

“I’m aware of the rule,” Farrell said in a New York Times story. “Electronic devices are not to be used in the dugout. Beyond that, all I can say is it’s a league matter at this point.”

I don’t know what a suitable punishment should be, but even if it’s not too serious, it should be more than a “slap on the wrist.” The Red Sox knowingly broke the rules and even admitted to the wrongdoing. 

Manfred could make a strong statement in his handling of the first sign-stealing controversy since he succeeded Bud Selig as commissioner in January 2015.  

spjdavis@umail.iu.edu

@spencer_davis16

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