Welcome to this MLB edition of “Is This cheating?” During the sixth inning of the Blue Jays-Rays game on Monday, Tampa Bay outfielder Kevin Kiermaier ran through a hold sign from third base coach Rodney Linares. Kiermaier had just hit a single to the third baseman Jake Lamb, who proceeded to throw the ball into foul territory down the first base line. A normal man would take second on the error. A bold man would go for third, but Kevin Kiermaier decided to go for home. Jays’ right fielder Teoscar Hernández casually tossed the ball home, and the catcher, Alejandro Kirk, had all kinds of time to set up and tag Kiermaier for the final out of the inning.
Here’s where the fun starts. On that play, Kirk dropped a card out of his wristband, and Kiermaier took said card back to the Rays’ dugout. That card had all the information on it detailing how the Blue Jays’ pitching staff was going to attack Rays’ hitters for the series. Here’s a video of the incident:
After the game, Kiermaier told reporters that, at the moment, he believed the card was his outfield positioning card, which Kiermaier “keeps in [his] pocket.” Kiermaier claims he never even looked at the card. Although as soon as he realized the card wasn’t his, he decided he was not going to give the card back. Rather, he would hand the card to a Rays’ dugout attendant.
From the video, it seems clear that Kiermaier had no idea what he was picking up. He doesn’t even look at it. He just sees the card, and grabs it. To do otherwise would be like seeing a rock next to a big body of water and not throwing the rock in said body of water. It’s impossible. The questionable ethics of this situation come when Kiermaier refuses to return the card. Even if Kiermaier didn’t look at it, I highly doubt every single person in the Rays’ organization would be able to hold back the same way. Someone’s curiosity is going to get the better of them. They’ll open the card, look at the scouting reports, and tell the Rays’ hitters how Blue Jays’ pitchers plan on attacking them.
Could Kiermaier have given the card back? Absolutely. It wouldn’t have been that much of a hassle, but the question isn’t whether or not he could have, it’s whether or not he is obligated to do so? That’s kind of a difficult question to answer. As an anonymous Blue Jays executive told reporter Arash Madani: “If there’s one card we wouldn’t want any opponent to have, it’s that one.” Therefore, stealing it seems rather advantageous. However, that only makes protecting those cards that much more important in-game.
Let’s say Kirk was tracking a pop-up in foul territory toward the Rays bench, and the card fell out in the dugout, are the Rays still obligated to give it back? This falls sort of under the same category as a runner on second peeking at a catcher’s signs. If the catcher is not making an effort to hide the signs, is it really cheating for the runner and hitter to take advantage? It’s not like Kiermaier and company were using X-Ray technology and high-zoom cameras (AKA resources from outside the field of play) to see through Kirk’s wristband and collect their information. They just simply took what the Blue Jays gave them, and if you think for a second that the Jays were at a disadvantage for the rest of the game without that card, I guarantee you they had more cards at the ready for situations exactly like this.
While it’s still unknown whether or not any members of the Rays’ organization looked at the card, the Rays were winning 4-2 at the time of the incident and wound up winning that game by a final score of 6-4. If the Rays did, in fact, look at the card, you’d think they’d be very well-prepared for their matchup last night with Toronto. However, the Rays could only muster up five hits and two runs throughout the entire contest. They did walk 11 times, which is a little suspicious given that the Rays are near the middle of the league in terms of O-Zone chase rate and total swing rate. Not to mention, that’s the most walks the Rays have recorded in a single game all season, but I’m willing to chalk those numbers up to coincidence before pointing the finger.
Was this move by Kiermaier cheating? At first, definitely not. However, by opting to give the card to Tampa Bay personnel rather than returning the card to Kirk or a member of the Blue Jays, Kiermaier has opened the door for fans and media to accuse the Rays of cheating by looking at the card. But is that really cheating? It reminds me of that moment when Buffalo Bills’ DB Tre’Davious White happened to stumble upon the Baltimore Ravens play sheet in the middle of a game and tried to read through it.
The official grabs the paper from White before White can really get a good look at it, but no penalties were handed out. No fines. No suspensions, because while the league and its officials should certainly make an effort to prevent teams from gaining a clear upper hand, is it really cheating if a gift falls into your lap? You didn’t do anything malicious, maybe a little unethical, but it happened to you rather than you doing something to make it happen. I feel the same way with Kiermaier. If he and nobody else in the Rays’ organization never looked at the sheet, then fair game. There’s no way anyone cheated, but I find that hard to believe. However, just because the Blue Jays failed to protect their information doesn’t mean the Rays are cheating by taking advantage. I may be sounding a little hypocritical with this take given how hard I’ve come down on the Houston Astros in the past, but seeing as how the Rays never used outside sources to extract the information, I believe this situation to be different enough to warrant fair play. Roast me if you want, but I don’t think Kiermaier did anything wrong.