From the third row of Section 101, a man in white craned his neck and peered toward home plate, about 400 feet away inside the cavernous Rogers Centre. Brandon Foley removed his hands from his pockets, adjusted his throwback Dave Stieb jersey and tried to make out the Royals hitter in the batter’s box.
“That’s Mike Moustakas,” he said to a friend.
For a moment, it appeared the search was over. Here it was, a man in white, sitting in the center-field bleachers in Toronto, his eyes fixed on the action, a communication system set up with a friend to his right. Was this really him? The Man in White — baseball’s version of a sign-stealing white whale.
“Are you’re asking if I’m the Man in White?” Foley said, speaking to an out-of-town reporter. “Yes, yes. That’s me.”
The confession came easy. A little too easy. You’d think that one of baseball’s most mysterious figures would want to conceal his identity a little better than this. But here stood Foley, a 19-year-old college student, a native of nearby Mississauga, Ontario, watching batting practice on Tuesday afternoon, waiting for Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.
“Yeah,” he said, smiling. “It’s not me.”
And just like that, the search for the Man in White was back on. The pressure was mounting. Only 90 minutes until first pitch. Could the Man in White be found? In some circles, this quest has been going on for more than four years now, an urban legend that has neither been proved or debunked.
Some say there is a man that sits beyond center field here at the Rogers Centre. Some say he posts up near a bay of cameras in Section 141, just left of dead center field. Others say he might be lurking in the Renaissance Hotel rooms that sit high above center field. He is a baseball phantom — a center-field version of Keyser Soze — and he might have returned on Monday night.
According to Royals pitcher Edinson Volquez, starter Johnny Cueto may or may not have noticed something going on out there while he was shelled for eight runs in an 11-8 loss in Game 3.
“He said last night, they got a guy in center field,” Volquez said on Tuesday. “You see how hard it is: He looks to center field and he sees somebody do this or do that.”
The origins of the story date to 2011, when ESPN published a story that cited four anonymous players, saying they saw a man sitting in those center-field seats, wearing a bluetooth headset and relaying signs with hand gestures. It was a fantastic story, and the exact method of the alleged sign-stealing system was unclear. But the sources certainly seemed to think something was happening.
In the days after the report, Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista told reporters that the allegations were “fictitious and ridiculous.” Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos likened the claim to four men seeing a “UFO flying across the sky.” But just like that, the legend was born, and the Blue Jays have been unable to shake the sign-stealing rep.
“That’s what I hear,”
Volquez said, adding some kindle to the fire. “Most of the teams come here — we’ve got a lot of friends on different teams — they always say that they give the signs or whatever it is. But I don’t go crazy with it.”
The reputation is born not just from rumor, but also results. The Blue Jays finished 53-28 at home this season, tied for the best home record in the American League. Playing inside the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre, their offensive was a genuine juggernaut, batting .278 as a team and cranking 123 homers in 81 games. Here, of course, it might be worth pointing out that the Blue Jays also hit 109 homers on the road and most teams have a friendly home split. Here, too, it might be worth pointing out that stealing signs the old-fashioned way is not against baseball’s rules. A systematic system using people outside the field of play would be, but if an opposing team is cracking your code, it may be a hint to massage your own signals.
“If they’re stealing your signs,” Royals outfielder Alex Gordon said this week, “it probably means you need to do something to stop it.”
With Game 4 approaching Tuesday, there was only one thing left to do: Conduct a search for the Man in White. It began in Section 101 at just after 3:30 p.m., where a group of Blue Jays fans had hung a sign mocking Cueto’s performance in Game 3. A man who identified himself as Ryan stood in an aisle, wearing a white T-shirt.
Was he the man in white?
“No,” he said.
OK, moving on. A few feet away, Brad Baker, a warehouse manager from Burlington, Ontario, watched batting practice. He wore blue, but he stood alone.
Was he the man in white? He was not.
“Complete hoax,” Baker said. “Absolute hoax.”
Baker is a season-ticket holder, he says. His seats are closer to the right-field line, but he’s been to the Rogers Centre so much, he thinks he has a feel for the place. He looked around at this section, filling up around him. There were close to 10 to 12 fans in white shirts. Hey, maybe they were all in on it.
“It’s funny,” Baker said. “The story comes out when the Jays are doing really well. When they’re not doing so well, you don’t hear anything about this mysterious man in white.”
The search went on, and the no’s stacked up. If there was a man in center field on Tuesday, he didn’t appear to faze Royals starter Chris Young or a trusty bullpen.
Finally, it appeared there was a breakthrough. A Quebec native named Gilles Bernatchez stood in a concourse above Section 141, just 25 paces from the infamous camera bay. He held two Budweisers, and wore a white jersey. Could it be?
“It’s not me,” he said, before the question could be completed. “I’ve never seen him. I’ve heard about him.”
Then he paused.
“If you find him, let me know.”