Here’s a Facebook Messenger exchange I had yesterday with Alan Solomon, an old colleague from Chicago journalism (we were both on the Sun-Times before he went to the Tribune as a sportswriter; he’s now freelancing as a globetrotting travel writer).
Solly: Question: When you watch baseball [on TV] and there’s a conference on the mound, have you ever been able to read their lips?
Me: Yes and no. I can catch individual words but not the sense. A lot of lip reading is educated context-guessing, anticipating what will be said. A lipreader well versed in what goes on out on the mound will be able to do much better than me. But now the participants cover their mouths.
Why’d you ask that question anyway? Bar bet?
Solly: I’ve always wondered. The “hiding of faces” is a relatively new phenomenon; it always looks so silly, so I was curious to see if there really is a risk—or if it’s just a bunch of hooey.
Me: It is possible that a skilled lipreader (not necessarily deaf) who’s baseball-savvy enough to know the things that are said on the mound can steal stuff that way.
Solly: With most teams having a “video” coach in the clubhouse now to review close plays and advise managers on whether they should appeal, I suppose they could hire one who lipreads as well.
On the other hand, I know players who don’t want to be tipped off on stuff; Don Zimmer, when he played, was one of them. Having taken a fastball in the head, he feared being told a curveball was coming and leaning into the plate in confident anticipation—and discovering too late that an inside fastball was coming instead. Might be a plot device for you: murder by deliberately wrong tipoff . . .
Me: Hey. Mind if I put this exchange on my blog? Folks will find it interesting. I didn’t know that about Zim.
Solly: Absolutely—use it! Invoice will be sent asap.