Ex-MLB pitcher alleges Tony La Russa stole signs with cameras in the 1980s

Thanks to the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox, the only thing anyone can talk about in baseball right now is cheating and stealing signs with technology. While stealing signs has been going on since baseball was invented, using technology to steal signs seems like a relatively new development — or is it?

In an interview with Charlotte, North Carolina, radio station WFNZ, retired MLB pitcher Jack McDowell alleged that former Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa set up an illegal sign-stealing operation involving a camera and a lighted outfield sign before he was fired in 1986.

“We had a system at old Comiskey Park in the 80s. Gatorade sign out in right center had a light. There was a toggle switch in the manager’s office and a camera zoomed in on the catcher. I'm going to whistle-blow this thing now because I'm getting tired of this crap. There was that. Tony La Russa’s the one who put it in. He was also the head of the first team with people doing steroids, yet he’s still in the game making a half a million, you know? No one’s going to go after that. This stuff's getting old, where they target certain guys and let other people off the hook. Like the media doesn’t know this all happened and was going on? Everybody knows. Everybody who's been around the game knows all this stuff."

McDowell pitched for the White Sox from 1987-1994, which is after La Russa had left the team. The two didn’t overlap and McDowell didn’t witness La Russa setting it up, but he claims that he was present while the system was being used. McDowell also referred to La Russa’s 10-year managerial stint with the Oakland Athletics, during which he managed infamous steroid users Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, AKA the Bash Brothers.

Tony La Russa allegedly set up an illegal sign-stealing operation at Comiskey Park before the White Sox fired him as manager in 1986. (Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

McDowell didn’t indicate how long the system was used and there’s no way to know how much it helped them, but it doesn’t seem like it helped much. Comiskey Park was closed after the 1990 season and between 1986 and 1990 the White Sox finished above fifth place only once.

At this point, who knows what will happen with this news. MLB isn’t thrilled to be dealing with cheating in the present day, so you can bet commissioner Rob Manfred would rather take a naked at-bat at Minute Maid Park than dig into 33-year-old cheating allegations. It’s possible, though, that Mike Fiers blowing the whistle on the Astros has given former players the permission or courage to speak up about what they saw when they played. We’ll just have to wait and see who else, if anyone, comes forward.

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