Stealing signs is nothing new in baseball. On this day in 1900, it was discovered that the Philadelphia Phillies were taking sign stealing to a whole new level.
Every so often, there is a ruckus across baseball about teams stealing signs. In recent times, the Padres, the Cubs, and the Blue Jays have been accused of such nefarious practices, often involving some suspicious character with binoculars relaying the information. Yet, the most ingenious method of stealing signs may have been perfected by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1900.
What the Phillies did was utterly brilliant. Morgan Murphy, a backup catcher who played all of eleven games for the Phillies in 1900, would sit in the clubhouse and read the catcher’s signsusing opera glasses.
Then, using a telegraph, he would relay those signs through a wire running under the outfield to a buzzer under the third base coaches’ box. The third base coach would then let the hitter know what was coming. It was seemingly the perfect scheme, until the plot was uncovered on this day in 1900 when the Philadelphia Phillies were facing the Cincinnati Reds.
Reds shortstop Tommy Corcoran, who had been pressed into duty as the third base coach, was the one who uncovered the plot. He uncovered the wire in the coaching box, which, upon investigation, led back to the telegraph machine and Murphy. And so ended one of the great sign stealing escapades in MLB history.
The plot being uncovered also put an end to Murphy’s tenure with the Phillies. A career .225/.286/.280 hitter, who had an OPS+ of 53, Murphy was kept around for his defense. And, in the Phillies case, because of his ability to work a telegraph and steal signs from opposing catchers.
It was an ingenious plan, as the Philadelphia Phillies were ahead of their time. However, like all crooked schemes, it was uncovered by an unwitting participant.