BOSTON – Sitting atop a podium at Fenway Park, Rob Manfred looked as much exasperated parent as he did MLB commissioner.
Two of his most revered baseball teams are tattling on each other, and Manfred wasn't expecting to be caught in the middle.
The New York Times broke a bombshell yesterday, an hour before Manfred was set to address the media in Boston. Two weeks ago, the Yankees filed a formal complaint against the Red Sox, citing video evidence that Boston had been using Apple Watches to cheat.
They allege Sox have crafted a scheme to steal signs from opposing catchers with illegal technology. A video person would watch the catcher's signals, relay them to a trainer in the dugout using the watches, and the trainer would inform the players.
There was no denial from the Red Sox, but in response, they filed a complaint about the Yankees doing the same thing. The Sox claim that one of New York's YES Network cameras is used to steal signs.
The act of stealing signs itself is not illegal, but using Apple watches or TV cameras to do so is.
"We actually do not have a rule against sign stealing. It has been a part of the game for a very, very long time," Manfred said. "To the extent that there was a violation of the rule here, it was a violation by one or the other that involved the use of electronic equipment. It's the electronic equipment that creates the violation."
While affirming that there will be in-depth investigations of all allegations, Manfred believes the nature of the Red Sox and Yankees feud is fueling this fire.
"I take any issue that effects the play of the game on the field extremely seriously. I do believe that this is a charged situation from a competitive perspective when you have the kind of rivalry the Red Sox and Yankees have, I guess it’s not shocking you could have charges and counter charges like this," Manfred reasoned. "We will conduct a thorough investigation of the charges on both sides."
Manfred's tonality was that of a man that didn't want to play mediator. You see, issues like this usually don't make it to the league office.
"I've never been a general manager, but I'm told sign stealing issues are often resolved by one general manager calling another general manager and saying, "Hey, I think you're doing X and if you're doing it, you oughta stop doing it,'" Manfred said. "That has happened in the past."
Quite often, according to Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.
Minutes before Manfred took the podium, a bemused Dombrowski fielded questions atop it.
"Usually the general manager calls you and says, 'Here's a situation I'd like to discuss with you,'" Dombrowski said. "I've had that happen maybe 10 times in my career."
Stealing signs has been a part of baseball for decades, and always be, Dombrowski opined.
"Do I think sign-stealing is wrong? No, I don't," he said defiantly. "I guess it depends how you do it. But no I never thought it was wrong. I guess everybody in the game has been involved with it throughout the years. People are trying to win however they can. It's an edge they are trying to gain."
Even if it's proven that one or both clubs cheated, it doesn't seem like this going to snowball into SpyGate 2.0. Manfred said there have been prior allegations of teams using electronics to steal signs, and while he has the power to vacate wins, he won't be using it.
"I would say this: Could it happen? You know, is there the authority to do that? I think the answer to that under the major-league constitution is yes. Has it ever happened with this type of allegation? I think the answer is -- I know the answer is no," Manfred said. "And the reason for that is it's just very hard to know what the actual impact in any particular game was of an alleged violation like this."
Manfred actually wasn't in town to address the dueling investigations. His attendance at Fenway Park was to celebrate "Pete Frates Day," a mayoral holiday declared to honor the ALS-stricken Boston College pitcher that invented the "Ice Bucket Challenge."
Dombrowski offered an interesting theory on the timing of the Times story.
"The Yankees decide they want to give it today, for whatever reason. I think maybe because it just so happened the commissioner is in town today," Dombrowski said.
So if this is an issue that's often glossed over, or handled within the general manager community, why is this a league office issue now?
"I'm not really sure why it is, personally," Dombrowski said. "Because I have been involved in different things and I've talked to other general managers and I know that they've been involved in those things too. I'm not really sure why."
It's because the Red Sox and Yankees rivalry is back. The next time the two meet, whether it's in the playoffs or 2018, it'll be the hottest the feud has been since 2004.
Chris Mason is a Red Sox beat writer for CNHI Sports Boston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter at @ByChrisMason