Technology To The Rescue …

The Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal happened in 2017 and 2018; the ramifications of those events continue to reverberate in MLB.  As a quick reset here, stealing opponents’ signs in baseball has been part of the game for at least a hundred years but what the Astros did was to apply technology available to them in their home stadium to give them an edge in knowing what sort of pitch was coming before it left the pitcher’s hand.  The key element there is that the Astros could get an edge that was not available to the opponent.

If Team A is stealing Team B’s signs based on carelessness by Team B or if Team A has figured out Team B’s signs because they have not changed them in a month or so, that would seem to be fair play.  Team A’s advantage arises here from Team B’s ineptitude and few people would argue that ineptitude is something to be protected or nurtured.  The “distortion” of the playing field is real, but it seems to be tolerable.

But the Astros introduced technology into the mode of sign-stealing and that offended lots of people even those beyond the ones who are the guardians of the purity of the game.  MLB issued punishments and temporary banishments which seemed fair given the “crime” that was committed – – but how to prevent the next round of scandal.  After all, knowing what the next pitch is going to be prior to its delivery is a tasty morsel for anyone in the batter’s box.

Since technology was the culprit in the escalation of this scandal to Brobdingnagian proportion, it appears that MLB will turn to technology as the way to thwart any such recurrence.  Starting this year, teams may opt to use a small radio transmitter/receiver that originates from the catcher and is received by the pitcher – and possibly infielders too – that will tell the defenders what the next pitch is going to be.  That means the catcher will not need to wiggle his fingers in his crotch area to communicate with the pitcher and potentially with the middle infielders who can share that signal among themselves and their teammates.

The system here has been developed by a company called “PitchCom”; it was tested in the minor leagues last year and was used in some of the Spring Training games this year.  Teams will not be required to use PitchCom, but they can choose to do so in MLB games starting this year.  Most of the reporting related to PitchCom seems to take the position that it puts to bed any possibility of a recurring scandal.  However, consider for a moment this observation by Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Major League Baseball has OK’d the use of ‘PitchCom,’ an electronic device in which a catcher can signal pitches — pitch type and location — directly to the pitcher through a listening device.

“However, MLB denied the Astros’ request to park an AWACs truck next to the dugout.”

Professor Perry is at his snarkiest best in that commentary, but his snark reveals a truth.  If a “radio signal” is used to transmit information, that “radio signal” is subject to being intercepted.  Even if the “radio signal” is coded in some way, it is subject to “intercept and deciphering”.  PitchCom is much more “secure” than finger-wagging, but if anyone believes that PitchCom is invulnerable, I suggest that they are living in a delusion.

While I may not be completely convinced about PitchCom’s security over the long term, I suspect that it will be secure in the short term until someone figures out how to intercept the signal, and relay that information to the batter who is not authorized to have a receiver on his person in the batter’s box.  I see another positive aspect of PitchCom as well; it should allow for teams that use it to increase the pace of play.  Fewer confabs between pitcher and catcher – – the ones carried out with gloves strategically placed over their mouths to defeat lip readers – – allow for more action in less time.  Moreover, sending the signal and recognizing what it is and what it means should be faster using PitchCom; so, in theory, there might be a little less time between pitches.

I do not think that this technological introduction is going to harken the return of the 2-hour baseball game, but it might make things move along at a bit spritelier pace.  We shall see…

Someone said that one of the great things about going to a baseball game is that you just might see something you have never seen before.  Such was probably the case for fans who went to see LSU play Florida in Gainesville, FL on March 27th.   LSU won the game 11-2 and a glance at the box score for the game might give you the thought that the Florida pitching staff was working hand in glove with the LSU hitters.  Consider:

  • The Gators’ pitchers did not walk even one batter in the game.
  • The Gators’ pitchers managed to hit 8 LSU batters with a pitch.
  • All 8 of those batters who got a free base from the pitchers came around to score.

LSU outfielder, Gavin Dugas was hit by a pitch in three consecutive plate appearances in the game.  Dugas seems to specialize in getting plunked; as of this morning he has been hit by a pitch 13 times in 77 at bats in the 2022 season.  Those 13 free bases contribute significantly to Dugas’ OBP of .544 for the season.  Messr. Dugas seems to have a magnetic attraction for pitches; in the 2021 season he was hit by a pitch 18 times.  It is a good thing for Dugas that his sport is baseball; were he a track and field athlete, he might express his talents as a javelin catcher.

Finally, let me close today with a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Joe Six-Pack:  A generic term for the average citizen.  Yet, its image of a beer-bellied, brain-dead sloth lying gelatinously on a sagging couch with his pants open and guzzling a half dozen Old Milwaukees between explosive belches has somehow attainted a negative connotation.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………