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MLB Examining On-Field Technology to Prevent Sign Stealing

Brock Fritz Headshot

Major League Baseball is looking at ways to prevent teams from stealing their opponents’ signs.

Sign stealing has long been a part of baseball, although the interest ramped up after this offseason’s high-profile allegation that involved the 2017 World Series-winning Houston Astros. The accusation has caused the commissioner’s office to take a deeper look at on-field technology, such as earpieces allowing the pitcher and catcher to communicate, that would allow pitch calls to be communicated without the traditional hand signs.

According to Yahoo Sports, the MLB has been looking into on-field communication for about a year. New ways to prevent sign stealing included a Feb. 2019 rule banning all non-broadcast outfield cameras and tightening restrictions on in-house video, according to Sports Illustrated.

The league is currently investigating the Astros’ incident, which began in November when former Astro Mike Fiers told The Athletic that Houston used a live game feed to steal signs, then relayed those signs to the batter through methods like banging on a trash can in the dugout.

"This paranoia, industry-wide, that came about as a result of technology and using technology to steal signs, I think that accelerated those talks about some sort of development of a communication device between pitcher and catcher,” a league source told Yahoo.

While more teams may choose to call pitches from the dugout, the league is working on potential on-field solutions. Earpieces didn’t go over well with minor league pitchers last year, as they reported them to be distracting and uncomfortable while throwing bullpens. Yahoo’s article spells out two more high-tech ways the league is examining.

“One of the devices in development, described by league sources, is a wearable random-number generator (similar to a push password used for secure log-ins) that corresponds to which sign in a sequence is relevant," Yahoo's Hannah Keyser wrote. "This would preserve the existing dynamic of a catcher putting down a sign for interpretation by the pitcher, but overlay it with a level of secure encryption that would be virtually impossible to decode even with a dedicated software program.

"Alternatively, the finger system could be replaced by in-ground lights on the mound. Sources with knowledge of the idea said catchers would have access to a control pad that corresponds to a lighting panel visible only to the pitcher. A certain button for a certain light sequence for a certain pitch.”

The goal of any potential solution is to eliminate the catcher from waiving his fingers at the pitcher in a potentially-decodable fashion. Concerns when implementing the technology revolve around finding a product that is accurate, works smoothly and doesn’t add time to the game.

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