When the Phillies Used Technology to Cheat…in 1899

Dec 14, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates with head coach Bill Belichick (R) after clinching the AFC East title with a 41-13 win over the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-180434 ORIG FILE ID:  20141214_ads_bt1_125.JPG

There has been quite a bit of buzz recently about Spygate. Well Spygate isn’t the first time a pro team has used technology to try to steal signals from the other side. The Phillies did something similar in the 19th century. The following is from an old Christy Mathewson book (link below).

...the report went out that the Philadelphia club was stealing signals, because the batter were popping them all on the nose, but no one was able to discover the transmitter. The coaches were closely watched and it was evident that these sentinels were not getting the signs. It was while the Washington club…was playing Philadelphia that there came a rainy morning which made the field very wet, and for a long time it was doubtful whether a game could be played that afternoon, but the Washington club insisted on it and overruled the protests of the Phillies. Arlie Latham, now the coach on the Giants, was playing third base for the Senators at the time. (Latham relays the following story).

There was a big puddle in the third base coaching box that day, said Latham. And it was in the the third inning that I noticed Cupid Childs, the Philadelphia second baseman, coaching (at third base). He stood with one foot in the puddle and never budged it, although the water came up to his shoelaces. He usually jumped around when on the lines, and this stillness surprised me.

“Better go get your rubbers if you are goin’ to keep that trilby there,” I said to him. “Charley horse and the rheumatism have no terrors for you.”

But he kept that foot planted in the puddle just the same, and the first batter cracked out a base hit.

“So that’s where you’re gettin’ the signs?” I said to him, not guessing that it really was.

Then he started to jump around and we got the next two batters out right quick, that being a big slump in the Philadelphia hitting as soon as he took his foot out of that puddle…

When the Washington players started back for the field I told Tommy Corcoran that I thought they must be getting the signs from the third base coaching box…He went over and started pawing around in the dirt and water with his spikes and fingers. Pretty soon he dug up a square chunk of wood with a buzzer on the under side of it.

“‘That ought to help their hitting a little,'” he remarked as he kept on pulling. Up came a wire, and when he started to pull on it he found that it was buried about an inch under the soil and ran across the outfield. He kept right on coiling it up and following it, like a hound on a scent…Tommy was galloping by this time across the outfield and all the time pulling up this wire. It led straight to the clubhouse, and there sitting where he could get a good view of the catchers signs with a pair of field-glasses was Morgan Murphy. The wire led right to him…The newspapers may have laughed at the incident in those days, but since that time the National Commission has intimated that if there was ever a recurrence of such tactics, the club caught using them would be subjected to a heavy fine and possibly expulsion from the league.”

The incident in question took place in 1899 and was relayed in Christy Mathewson’s excellent 1912 book Pitching in a Pinch.


One Comment on “When the Phillies Used Technology to Cheat…in 1899”

  1. […] This post is reprinted from our friends at PhillySportsHistory.com. […]


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