In a sport where some stadiums still adjust the scoreboards by hand, it’s not surprising it took a massive sign-stealing scandal for the MLB to try technology. The league announced it will allow teams to use PitchCom this season, a device worn by catchers, pitchers, and a player or three that lets them signal pitches without having to flash painted fingernails and risk the opposing team decoding the sign language.
This begs the question: Have the people who run baseball really not seen Casino? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, there’s a scene where a couple hustlers are scamming a Blackjack table using what I imagine is a primitive version of PitchCom. The MLB’s device won’t require pitchers and position players to know Morse code, though.
In addition to subverting teams looking to capitalize on lax security, it will speed up the game in a way that doesn’t alter it with gimmicks like putting a runner on second base at the start of extra innings. The players in the field equipped with the devices will know what pitch is coming and be able to position themselves accordingly. (I’m assuming they’ll be able to use PitchCom to set up a shift until its banishment next year.)
Early returns are as glowing as expected. Yankees pitcher Luis Severino and catcher Kyle Higashioka used it over the weekend, and Severino was so enthused he wants to use it during his first start of the season.
“I think it was great,” Severino told ESPN. “I was a little doubtful at the beginning, but when we started using it, it was really good — with a man on second, too. I would definitely like to use it in my first start [of the regular season]. ... You know what pitch you’re going to throw right away.”
He sounds like parents who finally came around on smartphones or the rice cooker you got them for Christmas. Is this what the reception was like when the NFL finally put headsets in helmets?
I wonder why we don’t try a similar device or method for managers and base runners so they don’t have to go through an elaborate song and dance to send or hold a potential base stealer. Also, an ear piece for pitching coaches, managers, catchers, and pitchers so they can avoid lengthy visits to the mound would be welcome, but we all know those are more about stalling to get a reliever more time to warm up than the need to dispatch sage advice.
Baseball is trying bigger bases in the minors this year to increase safety and promote stolen bases before using them in the majors, and that’s the kind of weird, proactive changes they should be trying.
It’s strange that putting your hand below your crotch and doing signals was normalized to the point that the MLB’s stance was, “That’s how we’ve always done it, so if you cheat that’s on you, not us.” It’s like if a teacher told a class they weren’t going to scour the internet for potential plagiarism and then was shocked when half the class turned in the same paper.
Former Astro and current Yankees analyst Carlos Beltran said Houston was wrong for cheating in 2017 during a recent broadcast, and baseball fans and media members treated the admission as if he was a guy who got away with murder and then wrote a book detailing how he would’ve killed those people. What they did was extremely over the line, but the MLB being largely reactive allowed it to get to the point where the cheating was so overt that they were banging on trash cans, and teams were actively warning the Nationals about sign stealing ahead of their World Series against the Astros.
PtichCom should eliminate the not so gray area of whether it’s OK to steal the opposing team’s signals, and thank god because one less unwritten rule to debate is a good thing.