Tony La Russa

Former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, left, before a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox Friday, April 19, 2019, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Given the frenzy surrounding sign-stealing in Major League Baseball lately, it shouldn't surprise many that new stories alleging old infractions would come out of the woodwork and make their way into public conversation. What might surprise some is the connection the St. Louis Cardinals share with the latest allegation.

Take a deep breath, though, Cardinals fans. To date, no nefarious schemes have been suggested involving your team. However, a notable figure in Cardinals history was certainly placed under scrutiny Friday by former MLB pitcher Jack McDowell.

McDowell, a former Cy Young Award winner who pitched for the White Sox, Yankees, Indians and Angels during his 12-year MLB career, is in the news Friday for what he said about Tony La Russa during a recent radio interview with WFNZ in Charlotte.

During the interview, McDowell discussed a sign-stealing system that was allegedly in place during his time with the White Sox, and named the former Cardinals manager as the person who spearheaded the creation of the system. 

"We had a system in old Comiskey Park in the late 1980s," McDowell said. "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. Okay? I'm gonna whistle blow this now because I'm getting tired of this crap.

"There was that, Tony La Russa is the one who put it in. He was also the head of the first team of all the people doing steroids. 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."

McDowell, whose time with the White Sox did not begin until 1987, never played with La Russa as his manager. La Russa left his role with the White Sox in 1986, taking over as the manager of the Oakland Athletics at that time. McDowell's claims clearly suggest the sign-stealing system was designed prior to La Russa's departure (and therefore, his own arrival), but he does not elaborate on how came came to believe La Russa was responsible for its implementation. 

La Russa later responded. 

“My question is this: Was he ever on our team?” La Russa told the San Jose Mercury News. “He was never on our team.”

Later in the interview, McDowell states he had never discussed the sign-stealing system previously, with his reasoning being that the White Sox left old Comiskey Park a couple years later, in 1990, which put an end to the system involving the Gatorade sign allegedly started by La Russa.

"I've never said anything about the old system we had because once we got to new Comiskey, 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, had to go in there and flip on the toggle switch and stuff. I don't know, it was crazy."

The alleged infraction occurred long before La Russa's arrival in St. Louis in 1996. La Russa retired as Cardinals manager following the 2011 World Championship season. He has since worked as an executive for the Diamondbacks, Red Sox and now the Angels.

With Boston, La Russa served as vice president and special assistant to then-president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski from 2017 until Dombrowski's departure from the organization during the 2019 season. The Red Sox have been accused of a sign-stealing operation during the 2018 season, for which La Russa was still employed by the team.

The chief culprit in that affair is believed to have been then-manager Alex Cora, whose role in that scheme--and the one involving his time as bench coach of the 2017 Astros--has him in hot water with MLB this winter. Cora was fired from his manager role with the Red Sox Tuesday and still awaits word on an official punishment following MLB's investigation into the matters.

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