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The 2010 Toronto Blue Jays had one of the most surprising seasons in their recent history, headlined by the emergence of superstar Jose Bautista. While the team wasn’t exactly turning heads in the standings, finishing in fourth place in the American League East despite a good 85-77 record, the power put on display by the Toronto lineup was historically amazing. The team launched 257 home runs, including 146 at their home in the Rogers Centre. The 2005 Texas Rangers have the all-time record with 153 home runs hit at home, in what is usually seen as a hitter’s ballpark in Arlington. As a team, the Blue Jays finished with 46 more home runs than the Red Sox, who were a distant second.
A recent story developed by Amy K. Nelson and Peter Keating of ESPN The Magazine explores the controversy surrounding the possibility that the Blue Jays hitters were stealing signs from opposing teams in 2010, notably the Yankees and Red Sox at different points in the season. The story came from four unnamed American League pitchers who claimed to have seen a man relaying signals to Blue Jays hitters from a man in a white shirt positioned to the right of the center field camera well.
Stealing signs has always been a part of baseball, but not beyond the field of play. It is common for catchers to have to go through a series of signs when an opposing team has a runner at second base who can peer in, but not when the bases are empty. Some visiting players in the 2009 season saw the man, and then made note of him in 2010 when they saw the same man in the same positioning, aligned in a way so that batters could perfectly see his signals next to the pitcher’s head. The man was believed to have been lifting his arms when an off-speed (or breaking) pitch was about to be delivered, and made no other notable motions.
The Toronto power was statistically unbelievable in 2010. Lyle Overbay, John Buck, and Bautista all had the most home runs for their careers since 2006. Bautista led the major leagues in home runs with 54 bombs, erasing his previous career high of 16 by an extremely notable amount. Seven different Blue Jays finished the season with 20 or more home runs, with only 70 other major leaguers reaching such a mark.
Many Toronto batters had extremely different on-base plus slugging numbers when at home, most notably Bautista, who had a 1.118 OPS at the Rogers Centre but only a .879 OPS on the road. Vernon Wells also had an extreme differential, with a .990 OPS at home and a .699 OPS on the road. The Blue Jays recorded the highest isolated power number for any team since 1954, according to ESPN. Statistics comparing visiting teams’ numbers at the ballpark against the home players show little spike, meaning the Blue Jays were the only ones with an advantage at the Rogers Centre. The suspicion that there was something going on to give the Blue Jays batters a home field edge is supported by the numbers, and the possibility of members of the team stealing signs certainly would be logical.
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos told ESPN The Magazine his team was never involved in stealing signs in the way described and never will be.
“If it did happen, we’d be winning a lot more games at home,” Anthopolous said.
Toronto finished the 2010 campaign 12 games over .500 at home, but four games under .500 on the road. It is not yet known as to the course of action Major League Baseball will take with this Spygate-esque situation, but it’s unlikely the Blue Jays are the only team involved with such a scandal. Fair or not, this story does put some dirt on Jose Bautista, who is already largely accused of using performance enhancing drugs because of his unexpected power surge last season, which has carried over into this year.