'An Apple Watch in play to keep the pitcher at bay’: Major League Baseball’s latest cheating scandal

Published 12 September 2017 By: Richard Liddell, Kevin Cooper

Baseball catcher on field

Cheating is as old as sport itself.  It comes in various forms and has different levels of sophistication, including bribery, doping (both blood and mechanical) and players’ actions such as the American marathon runner, Fred Lorz, who made sure he won at the 1904 St Louis Olympic Games by travelling almost half of the distance in a car.  Further, what is regarded by some as cheating is considered by others not to be cheating, but instead to amount to bad sportsmanship or “bending the rules”.[1]

Whether or not the recent revelations regarding the Boston Red Sox baseball team and their use of an Apple Watch to gain advantage over their opponents by “sign-stealing” constitute cheating - and the (metaphorical) jury is arguably still out on this particular episode - these events show how advances in technology are facilitating a whole new raft of "opportunities" in sport to “get ahead of the game”.  While some of these “opportunities” may amount to a legitimate advantage, others will clearly constitute cheating[2], and of course many will lie in a grey zone somewhere in-between.[3]

This article reviews the recent events concerning the Red Sox and considers what rules were breached (if any) and what punishment they might expect to receive (if any).   Specifically it looks at:

  • Facts

  • What is sign-stealing and how did the Red Sox do it?

  • Is sign-stealing against the rules?

  • Did the Red Sox cheat?

  • What might the Red Sox’s punishment be? 


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Richard Liddell

Richard Liddell

Barrister, 4 New Square

Rick is on the Editorial Board of Law in Sport and is recommended in the legal directories as a leading junior in sports law and is described in the directories as a “superb advocate” and “a go-to practitioner for sports matters”.  Rick is instructed in sports commercial disputes and sports disciplinary matters and his cases have spanned almost all sports.  Rick is frequently instructed in football related matters and doping cases; and he has acted for athletes/players and governing bodies in doping cases and has appeared on behalf of the IAAF and World Rugby in a number of appeals to CAS.

+44 (0)20 7822 2000

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Kevin Cooper

Kevin Cooper

Kevin Cooper is a US attorney based in Chicago with a keen interest in sports law. Kevin represents and counsels large and small companies on matters involving employment, workers' compensation, injury, contract/general business, and maritime/admiralty law.