While I apologize to the Five Man Electrical Band for the above headline, the New York Times’ Richard Goldstein recalls the sign stealing shenanigans of Giants backup backstop Sal Yvars (above) who died this past Wednesday.
During the last 10 weeks of the 1951 season, the Giants™ batters were tipped off to the kinds of pitches they could expect during their home games. The details of the baseball espionage were ultimately revealed by Yvars and several teammates.
As the story was told, Giants Manager Leo Durocher stationed Hank Schenz, a substitute infielder, and later Herman Franks, a coach, behind an opening in the Giants™ clubhouse above center field, almost 500 feet from home plate, and they peered through a telescope to spy on the opposing catchers™ signs, made with their fingers. An electrician working for the Giants sat alongside them.
When the electrician was told by Schenz or Franks what type of pitch was coming, he activated a buzzer in the Giants™ bullpen, in right-center field. One buzz meant a fastball was coming, two meant a curveball. Yvars, seated in the bullpen, listened for the buzzes, and before each pitch the Giants™ batters could glance at him for a signal.
In his book œPennant Races (Doubleday, 1994), Dave Anderson recounted the sign-stealing operation and quoted Yvars as having told Giants batters: œWatch me in the bullpen. I™ll have a baseball in my hand. If I hold on to the ball, it™s a fastball. If I toss the ball in the air, it™s a breaking ball.
The Giants, far behind the Brooklyn Dodgers in mid-August ™51, came back to tie them for first place and won the pennant in Game 3 of a playoff on Bobby Thomson™s Shot Heard ™Round the World off Ralph Branca. That three-run homer at the Polo Grounds with one out in the ninth inning was perhaps the most dramatic moment in baseball history.
When Branca delivered his fateful pitch, a high inside fastball, did Thomson know what was coming? œI gave him the sign, Yvars told The New York Times in 2001. But Thomson told Prager that he had been concentrating so heavily that he had not looked toward Yvars.