While making your MLB picks today, you can credit PitchCom with making the outcomes fairer than in recent times. Shortly before Opening Day of this young season, the league declared that the technology would be allowed to help catchers call pitches.
The idea was tested in the Low-Class A West minor league a year ago and used in Spring Training. Think of how coaches radio plans into the helmets of their quarterbacks or linebackers, but for baseball.
Crouched backstops will no longer have to flash sequences of signs with their fingers. Instead, they’ll poke one of nine buttons on a device worn on their wrist, relaying verbal instructions to his pitcher and some other fielders electronically. It lets Five players, including the hurler and catcher, are permitted to have the listening devices tucked into the lining of their ballcaps.
Defenses no longer have to worry that a runner – say, on second base – could see the sign and convey it to his teammate in the batter’s box. The gadget is said to speed the pace of the game up.
How PitchCom helps
The creators of PitchCom, interestingly, also deal in the business of assisting performing magicians and mentalists. ProMystic wanted to make sure the transmitter, which is also available in Spanish, Korean, and Japanese, was as inconspicuous as possible.
With the encrypted communication, it’s almost impossible to decipher or forecast. Sign-stealing controversies that have damaged the integrity of America’s Pastime should become, well, a thing of the past.
Like any relatively new technology, PitchCom does have growing pains. The main restraint is that a catcher can’t tell what part of the instruction their pitcher is waving off.
Has anything like this been used before?
In the early 1960s, Jack McKeon, the manager of the Minnesota Twins’ Vancouver farm team made use of a similar tool, radioing directly to his pitchers, who kept a tiny receiver within their shirt pocket. Opposing teams would joke that the progressive crew resembled astronauts.
McKeon, who now shares his knowledge as a special assistant with the Washington Nationals, later steered the then-Florida Marlins to a World Series title in 2003.
What was the Astros scandal?
Though there isn’t any written rule against sign stealing, doing so by technological means is a no-no. The most recognizable case of such misconduct occurred during the Houston Astros championship run in 2017.
During that year, the Astros compiled a 101-61 record, then beat the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in the American League playoffs. Against the latter, Houston claimed the series without winning a road game. They then won the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games.
Mike Fiers, one of the team’s pitchers in 2017, informed the Athletic that, while Houston was up to bat, it would film other teams’ catchers’ pitching signals from a camera in the center field stands. Then, watching the live feed from behind their dugout, other Astros members would clue the hitter in through various noises, such as drumming a trash can.
Once reported, the Dodgers’ organization expressed its suspicions that Houston had a competitive edge. During the 2018 AL Division Series against Cleveland, the Astros were spotted taking photos of the Indians’ dugout. In 2019, the Yankees asked the league to look into whistling from Houston’s bench.
After an MLB investigation confirmed the claims, Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch were suspended for the entirety of the 2020 campaign and then fired by the club, which also had to pay out a $5 million fine and forfeited four future draft choices.
Curiously, no player faced any sort of consequence. They were given immunity by the league for their cooperation. Of course, the Astros aren’t the only club that have looked to bend the rules in the favor. Among other cases, the Boston Red Sox were reprimanded for using a smartwatch to steal signs during the 2017 season.