The suddenly-resurgent New York Yankees pounded Alek Manoah and the Toronto Blue Jays for their sixth win in eight games on Monday night, but afterwards all anyone wanted to talk about was a glance from Aaron Judge.
During his at-bat in the top of the eighth, with New York already leading 6-0, the Toronto broadcast caught Judge sneaking quick peeks over in the direction of the Yankees dugout before each pitch. Announcers Dan Shulman and Buck Martinez wondered aloud what Judge might be looking at, and that speculation only got louder when Judge parked a 3-2 slider way, way up into the center-field seats.
Aaron Judge hits a home run as the Blue Jays broadcasters wonder why he keeps glancing toward the dugout pic.twitter.com/ZrOY7grbYV— Jomboy Media (@JomboyMedia) May 16, 2023
The broadcast never went so far as to speculate on what Judge was doing with his wandering eyes, but the implication was clear: The Astros’ sign-stealing scandal still hangs over the sport in many ways, and it’s not hard to leap from a batter’s eyes glancing somewhere out of the ordinary to some sort of scheme to communicate what kind of pitch might be coming Judge’s way.
Blue Jays manager John Schneider didn’t exactly dispel that paranoia after the game, telling the reporters that it was “kind of odd that a hitter would be looking in that direction” and that Judge was obviously looking in that direction for a reason”. He also noted that he’d never seen Judge do it before, and vowed that the team would look into it more before Tuesday night’s matchup.
Judge, for his part, offered a seemingly innocuous explanation: Manager Aaron Boone had been ejected just a couple of minutes prior, at the beginning of Judge’s at-bat, and some teammates and coaches were still “chirping” from the dugout — and distracting their captain.
Aaron Judge says he was looking toward the Yankees dugout because he didn't like how much his teammates were chirping the umpire with a 6-0 lead— Talkin' Yanks (@TalkinYanks) May 16, 2023
"I said a couple things to some guys in the dugout and especially after the game. Hopefully it won't happen again." pic.twitter.com/rMJ05Ilp0r
Was it a bit weird for Judge to be repeatedly stealing glances somewhere other than the pitcher’s mound in the middle of an at-bat? Absolutely — even Judge admitted it’s not exactly part of his routine. And you can certainly understand why the Blue Jays broadcast felt compelled to draw attention to it. MLB has taken a lot of precautions to make it as difficult as possible to pull off a sign-stealing scheme again, from PitchCom to cameras monitoring the dugout and clubhouse areas, but it’s fair to withhold the benefit of the doubt given all the revelations over the past few years regarding how widespread that sort of cheating really was. (Including, not for nothing, pretty credible allegations involving the Yankees and an Apple Watch.)
Still, Occam’s razor here would suggest a far more innocent explanation. Judge was the only hitter cameras caught looking in that direction during an at-bat — if the Yankees were running some sort of communication to hitters, surely someone else would’ve been seen taking a peek at some point, unless Judge cracked the Blue Jays’ code and just neglected to tell his teammates. It also seems foolhardy in the extreme for a sign-stealing scheme to be that out in the open; even the Astros relied on the sound of a trash can rather than anything anyone on the field could actually see. And not for nothing, but it’s not exactly damning evidence of a conspiracy for Judge to pound a middle-middle slider from a journeyman reliever; that’s what he’s been doing for years now.
Still, don’t expect the Jays to buy any of that. We’ll see how this plays out when these two teams meet again on Tuesday night.