Tigers' Billmeyer comes clean on ’10 sign-stealing saga

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Houston — Forgive Tigers bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer if he doesn’t get all worked up over the lingering sign-stealing saga between the Tigers and Royals. He’s been down this road before.

To refresh: Tigers catcher James McCann suspected the Royals’ Alex Rios of trying to steal his signs from second base in the ninth inning of the Tigers’ 7-4 victory Wednesday night in Kansas City. He walked out past the mound toward second base and glared at Rios.

“If you can relay signs and get away with it, good for you,” McCann said. “But if you get caught ...Was he doing it? I have my suspicions. No one will ever know except for him. But I do know he wasn’t able to relay them beyond that trip to the mound.”

Rios fired back on Saturday, telling the Royals website, “He needs to get his facts straight. I wasn’t stealing signs.”

He intimated that McCann was just trying to act tough.

This has to seem like small potatoes to Billmeyer. In 2010, when he was with the Phillies, he was accused of using binoculars from the bullpen in Coors Field to steal signs from the Rockies catcher.

The Rockies instructed their television crew to film it and there were pictures of Billmeyer, seated on a folding chair in the bullpen looking through binoculars. It became a national story for about a week.

All the while, the Phillies would not let Billmeyer explain what he was actually doing.

“We never got suspended, never got fined or anything against us,” Billmeyer said. “I was told by the owner to say, ‘The league has talked to us about it and we have no further comment.’ I think he liked the paranoia.”

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel defended Billmeyer, but even he didn’t give the real reason he had the binoculars on that day.

“I understand why they’d be concerned about it, but that’s the truth. We’re not trying to steal signs,” Manuel said then. “That’s it. I didn’t know he (used binoculars). He watches (catcher Carlos) Ruiz to help him where he’s setting up. It definitely had nothing to do with signs.”

That wasn’t it at all. Finally, five years later, Billmeyer can report what he actually was doing.

“I left tickets to the game for a girl and I was trying to see if she was there yet,” Billmeyer said. “That’s really it. Everybody had binoculars in the bullpen. They can’t see me and I can’t see them. So it just got blown out of proportion.”

Mick Billmeyer

Billmeyer wasn’t married then, nor is he now, so he had nothing to hide. And he wanted to set the story straight right away but he wasn’t allowed to.

He laughs about it now. Fans would throw binoculars at him on the road. In Philadelphia, T-shirts were made up that read: “The Phillies have: 1. 84 home games (a series scheduled in Toronto was moved to Philly because of the G-20 summit), 2. Cheesesteaks, 3. Roy Halladay, 4. Your signs.

“That was the week that Ken Griffey, Jr. was DH-ing (for the Mariners) and he fell asleep in the clubhouse,” Billmeyer said. “The media was all over that. It’s funny, Griffey sent me a note thanking me for taking the heat off of him.

“It kind of made me famous for a minute.”

He said the Mets had been accusing the Phillies of stealing signs for several years, which prompted Manuel to give this memorable rant on the topic:

“Keep crying,” he told reporters. “I’m sure if they could steal signs they would. And if we can, we will too. If we can get them legally. If you’re dumb enough to let us get them, it’s your fault.

“It’s been going on in the game a long time. If you’re dumb enough to let us get them, that’s your problem.”

And that may just be the definitive word on sign-stealing.