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Ex-ace says Tony La Russa had White Sox using camera to steal signs in ’80s

"There was a toggle switch in the manager’s office and a camera zoomed in on the catcher,” Jack McDowell says of the setup he claims was installed by the Hall of Fame manager.
Former White Sox manager Tony La Russa stands with his Baseball Hall of Fame plaque while being honored before a game in Chicago on Aug.  30, 2014. [MATT MARTON  |  AP]
Former White Sox manager Tony La Russa stands with his Baseball Hall of Fame plaque while being honored before a game in Chicago on Aug. 30, 2014. [MATT MARTON | AP]
Published Jan. 18
Updated Jan. 18

Former ace Jack McDowell, the 1993 AL Cy Young Award winner, accused Hall of Fame manager and Tampa native Tony La Russa of installing a sign-stealing system involving a camera at Comiskey Park in the late 1980s when they were with the White Sox.

“We had a system at Old Comiskey Park in the late ’80s, Gatorade sign out in right-center had a light, there was a toggle switch in the manager’s office and a camera zoomed in on the catcher,” McDowell told the Mac Attack show on WFNZ-AM in Charlotte, N.C., on Friday.

“I’m gonna whistleblow this now because I’m getting tired of this crap. … Tony La Russa is the one who put it in. He was also the head, the first team of all the people doing steroids (referring to La Russa’s time as A’s manager, 1986-95). Yet he’s still in the game making half a million, you know? No one is going to go after that. It’s just, this stuff is getting old where they target certain guys and let other people off the hook.

“Like the media doesn’t know that this all happened, what was going on. Everybody knows, everybody that’s been around the game knows all this stuff. Why all of a sudden it became a big thing, I have no idea. But it’s frustrating being on the outside and watching what’s going on with the game that I played for so long.”

La Russa, 75, who joined the Angels in November as senior adviser of baseball operations, managed the White Sox from 1979 to ’86, where he was two-time AL manager of the year. He later went on to win a World Series with the A’s and twice with the Cardinals before retiring in 2011. La Russa was selected to the Hall in 2014.

McDowell, 53, pitched for Chicago from 1987 to ’94 and was a three-time All-Star before finishing his 12-year career in 1999 with the Angels.

ESPN reported that the Angels did not respond to a request for a comment from La Russa.

“I’ve never said anything about the old system we had because once we got to New Comiskey (in 1991), I didn’t know if there was one or not,” McDowell said. “There were rumors that we had one, but it wasn’t as out there as the first one was, where they forced the pitcher who was pitching the next day to go in there and flip on the toggle switch and stuff.”

McDowell, who is the coach at Queens University of Charlotte, spoke in the aftermath of a week in which three major-league managerial positions were vacated in the fallout of the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal and MLB’s ongoing investigation into the Red Sox for similar transgressions.

Astros manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were fired Monday after being suspended by Major League Baseball for the team’s illicit use of electronics to steal signs during Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series title. A day later, the Red Sox fired manager Alex Cora, identified in MLB’s report as a ringleader when he was a bench coach with the Astros in 2017 and has been accused of bringing a similar scheme when he took over Boston in 2018, the year it won the World Series. On Thursday, the Mets “parted ways” with manager Carlos Beltran, who like Cora was implicated in the MLB report. Beltran was on the 2017 Astros team and was the only player mentioned in the MLB report.

“You know how it used to be taken care of?” McDowell said in the radio interview. “If they were stealing signs from second base, you just had the catcher call a breaking ball and then throw your fastball off someone’s neck and just say, ‘Oh, you’re gonna keep trying to pick up signs, guys? What’s it going to be?’

“There’s ways to go around it. Players could police it back in the day. But now if you throw a ball 6 inches inside, you’re almost thrown out of the game immediately and everyone wants to fight. Back in the day, it was like, ‘You want to steal signs, yeah that helmet better be working right now.’ ”

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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