In 1962, Mets pitcher Jay Hook said the pennant-winning ’61 Reds stole signs through their scoreboard. But don’t call him a whistleblower, exactly.
It might surprise his critics now, but Mike Fiers actually isn’t the first incumbent baseball player to blow the whistle on a pennant- or World Series-winning team’s off-field-based technological sign-stealing. Almost six decades ago, another pitcher blew the whistle on a pennant winners espionage. Except that he won’t exactly call himself a whistleblower.
“A writer asked me some questions, and I answered,” says Jay Hook, who pitched for the 1961 Cincinnati Reds before joining the embryonic New York Mets as an expansion draft pick, by telephone from his northern Michigan farm. “I didn’t seek him out.”
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The story by multiple writers hit the United Press International wire in March 1962. It said the ’61 Reds, who won the pennant by four games over the Los Angeles Dodgers, had personnel crawling into Crosley Field’s walk-in, hand-operated scoreboard in left-center field. Inside, they’d train binoculars toward the batting area and pick up opposing catchers’ signs, then call them to the Reds’ dugout by telephone for relay to the batter’s box.
When Paul Dickson wrote his 2003 history of sign-stealing gamesmanship, The Hidden Language of Baseball: How Signs and Sign-Stealing Have Influenced the Course of Our National Pastime (a second edition was published last September), he cited that UPI story and a quote from Hook saying he went public about the Reds’ espionage because “I want to protect the Mets against that sort of thing. I think it’s wrong.”
A friendly 83-year-old man who looks about two decades younger, Hook doesn’t remember saying those words exactly. “There must have been some questions about the Reds,” he says now, his amiable conversation punctuated with frequent chuckles. “That’s what was put in the papers, but I’m not sure I said that. I did say to that writer that I didn’t want to get in the middle of that story.”
Fiers’ whistleblowing has brought him six parts high praise for heroism in breaking the code of the clubhouse to expose the Astros’ extralegal sign-stealing and half a dozen parts high fury for being what some call in polite terms a rat fink bastard. Hook says he didn’t face anything such as that kind of venom after the UPI story hit the ground running.