Stealing signs at any level of baseball is a largely frowned-upon practice. It’s a cheap way to gain an edge over an opponent, whether it’s alerting the rest of your defense that a runner might try to steal a base or relaying what pitch your teammate in the batter’s box should expect to see next.
It happens all the time at the major league level, though teams and players rarely acknowledge it. But it becomes an issue when it starts to trickle down to the youth level, as Goffstown Little League manager Pat Dutton believes it did during his team’s 6-4 loss to Barrington, R.I., in the New England Regional Final in Bristol, Conn., on Saturday.
“You can see (runners on second base) leaning in, looking in and they’re doing hand gestures to their kid (at the plate) indicating what kind of pitch it is and where it’s located,” Dutton said. “You can do that in big league ball, but in Little League it’s unsportsmanlike, it’s dishonorable, and it’s disgusting. They did it the whole tournament and got away with it, and now that’s what’s representing New England in the Little League World Series. It’s just a bad look.”
Dutton said he first noticed it when Goffstown and Barrington played in the semifinals on Aug. 8, a 2-1 Goffstown win. He alerted the home plate umpire then and again when he saw it happen on Saturday.
According to Dutton, Barrington stole a sign on the very next pitch, leading the home plate umpire to issue warnings to the offending player and the team’s manager. According to Little League rules, however, both the player and manager should have been immediately ejected from the game.
Rather than play the rest of the game under protest, however, Dutton decided not to pursue the matter any further, knowing such a move would not have changed the outcome of the game.
“It’s just frustrating to see teams and kids having to go about it that way when clearly they were playing better than we were,” he said. “They didn’t have to do that. That’s something these kids don’t learn on their own. That’s something that they’re taught. They’re coached to do that.
“Obviously the team condones it, they coach it, and, personally, that’s something that I’m completely against. Little League is supposedly against it, but you wouldn’t know it this week.”
Dutton did not blame his team’s loss on the controversy alone despite it clearly being his biggest point of contention. He acknowledged his players didn’t play up to their usual standards and said the kids agreed that their performance wasn’t up to par.
Regardless, it was a tough way to come up one win short of traveling to Williamsport, Penn., for the Little League World Series.
“Just getting to the championship game we had to work a lot and practice a lot,” Dutton said. “We worked hard as a team, as a unit. Our pitching staff was amazing getting us there. It was a great team. The best team I’ve ever been a part of. One through 13, it was fun to watch those boys play and earn their right to be there. They earned it. They didn’t cheat nobody out of anything.”