Tag Archives: Gene McCann

Stallings Stealing Signs

17 Oct

George Stallings had turned the New York Highlanders around.

Hired by owner Frank Farrell after New York’s disastrous 51-103 season in 1908, Stallings guided the Highlanders to 74-77 record in 1909.

George Stallings

American League President Ban Johnson said he knew why Stallings’ team had improved.

During a series with the Highlanders in the summer of 1909 Washington Senators Manager Joe Cantillon thought he noticed something unusual past the center field wall in Hilltop Park.  He passed his suspicions on to Detroit Tigers Manager Hughie Jennings.

Tiger Manager Hughie Jennings

The Highlanders hit Detroit pitcher Ed Summers hard during the first game of Detroit’s next series in New York.  Jennings sent pitcher Bill Donovan out to center field to investigate, but according to The Sporting Life:

“Bill returned without having shown any ability as a Sherlock Holmes.”

Jennings then assigned trainer Harry Tuthill to the job.  Tuthill noticed that the letter “H” in a hat advertisement on the center field fence was moving, scaled the fence and made a discovery.

Initially the Tigers did nothing, Jennings had more on his mind; Detroit was headed to the World’s Series and despite New York’s improvement they were a fifth place team.

But rumors spread and the story was picked up by The Sporting Life, getting the attention of  the American League president.

Johnson sent a telegram to Tuthill threatening to bar him from the league if he did not provide the his office with a full report of what he knew.  Tuthill said that after he noticed the letter in the sign moving he went to the center field wall and upon climbing to the other side discovered a small area behind the sign where a man sat with a pair of field glasses.  According to Tuthill “The man ran out as I came in, I think I know who it is but can’t be positive.”

In other reports Tuthill said he was sure who the man was but would not reveal his identity—it was later alleged to be former Major League pitcher Gene McCann.

Trainer (and detective)  Harry Tuthill with Tigers first baseman Del Gainer

Jennings was convinced the Highlanders were stealing signs all year as did The Sporting Life:

“It has been a noticeable fact all season that the Highlanders always hit like fury at home and were punk batters on the road.”

The Highlanders scored 338 runs in 76 homes games; 251 in 75 road games.

The Sporting Life also speculated that Stallings, who had a poor relationship with the American League president, might be expelled from the league as a result of the allegations:

“President Johnson has conclusive evidence…and it is all but natural to suppose that the man in charge of the team which benefited by the system employed knew of its existence, and it is on this theory that Stallings’ resignation will be asked.”

Despite the speculation there was no rule at the time which prohibited stealing signs in the manner the Highlanders were accused

At the winter meetings that December the American League Board of Directors exonerated Stallings, but in their ruling vowed that any team official found stealing signs in the future would be “Barred from baseball for all time.”

Stallings was at the helm of the Highlanders for most of the 1910 season, and became embroiled in another sign stealing controversy in late July when “Big Ed” Walsh and several members of the Chicago White Sox accused the Highlanders of stealing signals in the same manner.

The Chicago Tribune said:

“There is not a player on the Sox club who isn’t confident the catcher’s signs are being tipped off.”

Stallings again denied the charges and said the White Sox pitching staff was tipping their pitches:

“What are you going to do when practically every Chicago pitcher insists on giving his own signals from the box and the signals get familiar, they are repeated so often?”

Stallings was again cleared of wrongdoing, but in spite of a guiding the Highlanders to a 78-59 record through September 19, he was replaced as manager after losing a struggle for control of the team with first baseman Hal Chase, who was named as his replacement.

Stallings went on to manage the World’s Series winning Boston Braves in 1914.