Apple Inc. (AAPL) - Get Report got some perhaps-needed publicity for its smartwatch on Tuesday, Sept. 5, when the New York Times reported that the Boston Red Sox had been caught using an Apple Watch to help them steal signs against their arch-rival New York Yankees, as well as other teams.
Apparently, the way the scheme worked was that someone watching the game on TV behind the scenes sent information via the Apple Watch about what signals the Yankees were using to a Red Sox trainer in the dugout (TVs are banned in the dugout for precisely reasons like this). The trainer would then signal to one or more players in the dugout what pitch might be thrown next, according to the Times, who would then send those signals to teammates on the field.
Baseball teams have tried to steal catcher's signs forever, typically via a runner on second base who could look in and see catcher's signals, and then unobtrusively tip off the batter what pitch was coming next, either by their body language or gestures while leading. But in situations like these, opposing teams typically change up their signals so they can't be deciphered as easily.
Watching the game on TV, however, a team can figure out the signals and changes to those signals more easily. And using an Apple Watch allows information on the signals being used to be communicated more quickly to someone in the dugout who can, in turn, tip off players on the field.
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The Yankees had submitted a complaint with Major League Baseball about two weeks ago, including incriminating video that had been shot of the Red Sox dugout during a series in Boston in August. The commissioner's office then confronted the Red Sox with the evidence, and the Red Sox admitted what it had been doing, according to the Times.
The Red Sox, in turn, have filed a complaint alleging that Yankees have been using a camera from their YES Network to steal their signs, which the Yankees have denied.
The first-place Red Sox, who currently lead the Yankees by 3 1/2 games, wound up winning two of the three mid-August games at Fenway Park at which the sign-stealing was videotaped.
Updated from 12:18 p.m. with additional information.
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MLB bars the use of electronic devices, including smartphones, in the dugout. iPads are allowed but they must have internet access disabled so that teams can't access real-time feeds of the game. It's unclear so far what punishment will be meted out against the Red Sox by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. It's also unknown whether MLB will act now to ban Apple Watches in the dugout; a call to MLB on the question was not immediately returned.
Although nowhere near as important to Apple's fortunes as the iPhone, sales of the Apple Watch have been on an upswing in the last few quarters after falling for much of 2016. In the company's most recent earnings call on Aug. 1, Tim Cook said that Watch sales were up over 50% year over year in the quarter, although he didn't specify whether he was talking about unit sales or revenue.
Next week, Apple is widely expected to release a new version of its smartwatch that includes direct 4G cellular access, in addition to the latest iterations of its all-important iPhone.
Perhaps the Apple Watch 3 will have additional sign-stealing features for its users who play baseball.
Apple couldn't immediately be reached for comment on this story.
Pete Willson contributed to this story.