September 6, 2017

"Red Sox sign-stealing mess shows MLB must address its mixed-up relationship with technology."

Opines Dave Sheinin (WaPo).
Major League Baseball should and probably will come down swiftly and decisively on the Boston Red Sox for what appears to be a caught-red-handed case of using electronic devices, specifically a replay camera and an Apple Watch, to steal signals from the New York Yankees and relay them to their own hitters....
But... "sign-stealing, at least by non-technological means, is an accepted part of the game," and...
What good does it do, for example, to ban cellphones and other internet-connected devices from the dugout when they can be used legally in the tunnel to the clubhouse, mere steps away from the dugout itself? There is a mixed message sent by a league that, on the one hand, has embraced video replay and that now allows managers to use non-connected tablets in the dugout to pull up data on opposing hitters and pitchers, but on the other hand still relies on catcher’s hand signals to call pitches — which any runner on second base can see and attempt to decipher.

The game can go high-tech or low-tech, but the middle ground it currently occupies is unstable....
So the question is whether to use "headsets — NFL-style — on pitchers, catchers, coaches, managers and middle infielders, and relaying pitch-calls." Those of you who watch baseball: How would you feel about switching to headsets? Baseball tends to be more dedicated to tradition, and not only are headsets nontraditional, stealing signs is — as Sheinin writes a "time-honored art."

By the way, in the comments over there, the "most liked" ones are about a different technological matter: Getting a machine to call the balls and strikes!

45 comments:

Achilles said...

Cheating at sports seems to be a New England thing.

I kid I kid...

Pianoman said...

Most of the player/manager ejections these days have to do with disputes over the strike zone. We could cut way down on all that arguing if we used machines to call balls and strikes. There's no reason *not* to do that, other than tradition ... or if you *like* watching players and managers getting ejected over it.

Achilles said...

The biggest story right now in sports/culture is the Michael Bennet police video story. One of those nobody is going to come out ahead. Just throwing it out there.

tim in vermont said...

No, Just no, it was bad enough when catchers went to goalie masks, but at least they had a solid reason.

Greg Hlatky said...

If I'm not mistaken, tests have shown that machines are no better than humans in calling balls and strikes (about 95% accurate). Inconsistency is usually the bone of contention.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

There is time to get the sign off instant replay, communicate it to a guy in the dugout, and for him relay the sign to the batter?

Michael K said...

This is why I am getting to like Little League baseball better then the majors.

For a while we had a minor league team in Mission Viejo and I went to their games.

Michael K said...

" the Michael Bennet police video story."

Hilarious. Kapernick is getting involved. Maybe they can share a cell.

Ann Althouse said...

"Most of the player/manager ejections these days have to do with disputes over the strike zone. We could cut way down on all that arguing if we used machines to call balls and strikes. There's no reason *not* to do that, other than tradition ... or if you *like* watching players and managers getting ejected over it."

The rule is you can't argue balls and strikes. Most don't. Occasionally they do and they get thrown right out. That's a non problem in my book. There aren't that many ejections, and when there are, I enjoy it. And I enjoy discussing why X (e.g., Ryan Braun the other day) was stupid enough to do that.

I like that there are human beings on the field, making decisions and having emotions in response to the events. Put machines out there and who cares?

Nonapod said...

Why would headsets be a problem? Is it just an aesthetic thing, people don't like the idea of pitchers who look like they work in a call center? Or are their practical reasons?

Humperdink said...

Good to see Bill Belichick, Fauxcahontas (I'm a Cherokee) Warren, and the Red Sox sing from the same Boston hymnbook.

Static Ping said...

If we go to headsets, that probably would end the ability of the catcher to call pitches. The catcher will have to say the words into the headset which will likely be overheard by the batter. Lip readers get involved as well and does signal interception.

This is essentially an extension of the rule of law argument. Either we all can use whatever means to steal the signs or we all can't. If the Red Sox are going to cheat, then everyone gets to cheat. Given that it is part of the game to try to hide what the next pitch will be to the advantage of the pitcher, the league is going to prefer "no one gets to cheat" and will punish Boston.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

...a different technological matter: Getting a machine to call the balls and strikes!

If they develop one, can we put it on the Supreme Court?

Pianoman said...

"There aren't that many ejections, and when there are, I enjoy it."

That's where we differ -- I'm annoyed by the whole "you can't argue balls and strikes / ejections / screaming at umps" cycle. It distracts me from the game.

Same thing with fighting in hockey -- it's a distraction from the game, which is the *point* of the whole thing.

Nonapod said...

The catcher will have to say the words into the headset which will likely be overheard by the batter. Lip readers get involved as well and does signal interception.

Couldn't they use coded language, like the snap count in American football?

Pianoman said...

Although, I have to admit -- seeing Lou Piniella screaming at the top of his lungs over a questionable call at 3rd *is* pretty entertaining ..

Ralph L said...

This is the least of pro baseball's problems.

rcocean said...

Machine umpires would have to be mobile, or able to take a 100 MPH pitch.

Plus, they couldn't ham it up like some umps do.

rcocean said...

BTW, what is an "apple watch"?

Meade said...

"If they develop one, can we put it on the Supreme Court?"

Only if we can program it to have empathy. Like a wise Latina.

Khesanh 0802 said...

Proving once again that technology - and those who use it- will always be one step ahead of those who wish to control us.

Nonapod said...

BTW, what is an "apple watch"?

A watch made from an apple, obviously. As you may imagine, it's extremely difficult to construct a wrist watch using nothing but an apple... what with all the tiny intricate precision gears and all. It's why they're so valuable.

rehajm said...

it's extremely difficult to construct a wrist watch using nothing but an apple

In school I made one of those potato clocks. It was cool.

sparrow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sparrow said...

It was the steroid use that killed MLB for me: stolen signals don't seem like much in comparison

Henry said...

The game can go high-tech or low-tech, but the middle ground it currently occupies is unstable....

This writer apparently knows nothing about the NFL.

There is no low- or high-ground. There are only rules upon rules.

Pianoman said...

This stuff has been going on since the 70's: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_line_judge

Baseball has already adopted instant replay, and the roof didn't cave in. Balls & strikes would seem to be the next logical path in evolution.

Ralph is right -- this is a minor problem. But MLB doesn't want to deal with the bigger problems, possible because they're trapped by "tradition".

Not only should they consider using more tech to make the game more accurate, they should also look towards shortening the regular season and lengthening the playoffs.

rehajm said...

As cheating goes, spitballs are more fun.

rehajm said...

or as Gaylord Perry's daughter says, 'It's a hard slider'

Robert G. said...

I wouldn't mind if they tech'ed up the game, as long as that includes teams wearing shorts like the White Sox did in '76.

Static Ping said...

Nonapod, the football code is a good point, but I am not sure that will work for catching signs. Most pitchers have between 2 and 4 pitches to throw so it will be repetitive after a while unless there are multiple codes for each pitch. And, again, it does not really solve the problem of someone cheating like the Red Sox are cheating.

Personally, I don't have a problem with someone stealing signs if they are doing it on their own. If a team's signs are too simple that someone in the dugout can figure them out, then that's their own fault. When you bring in technology it makes it too easy. That's pretty much the unwritten rule about cheating in baseball. If you cheat, it better be impressive. Lots of players do not have a problem with the spitball because it is so hard to throw it without getting caught that it is basically a skill. Using a loaded bat is cheap. The trainer looking at his Apple Watch is super cheap.

Titus said...

The Sox are in first place, natch. Lots of winning out here girls.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Meade said...

Only if we can program it to have empathy. Like a wise Latina.

Easy calibration. Just shift the strike zone two feet to the left.

SeanF said...

Pianoman, tennis is a little bit easier, because every call involves physical contact - the ball contacting the court or the net or the racquet, the player's foot contacting the court, etc.

Both Ball/strike determinations and fair/foul determinations involve the ball being in the air, contacting nothing but air, at the time the determination needs to be made.

Not saying it's impossible to automate, mind you, just that it's a bit more difficult than tennis.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

The difficulty is not in the position of the ball, which is easy enough to track with properly placed high-speed cameras. The tough part is that the strike zone is defined based on the body of the batter, so the algorithm needs to adjust to each batter:

According to rule 2.00 of the Major League Baseball rule book, a strike zone is defined as "that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap" and is determined by "the batter's stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball."

Ignorance is Bliss said...

And once you have a computer algorithm judging the strike zone, you will have people trying to game the system. I imagine uniforms designed to make the hollow below the kneecap appear an inch higher, and the top of the shoulders & top of pants an inch lower.

They would probably either need to go with a fixed height strike zone, or go with one proportional to each batter's height, measured at the start of the season.

dix said...

They should allow whatever it is the Red Sox were doing. The only way to combat it would be to reduce the amount of time between when the catcher gives the sign and the pitcher pitches the ball. We could get the time down to two hours per game.

'TreHammer said...

...how does the stolen sign get relayed to the batter quickly enough so that he can react accordingly...

Annie C said...

Dumb question I know but.... why does the catcher tell the pitcher what to pitch anyway?

Rina rosiana said...

obat aborsi

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Annie C said...

why does the catcher tell the pitcher what to pitch anyway?

Because the catcher needs to know what pitch is coming so he can catch it, and if the pitcher tries to tell the catcher what pitch is coming, then the pitcher is also telling the batter, or at least using a sign that the batter can see, and thereby learn.

And the pitcher has the final say, if they don't like the suggested pitch they shake their head and the catcher moves on to the next pitch.

Bob said...

Bill Belichick smiles.

mccullough said...

It is tough to get a computer to figure out the top and bottom of the strike zone. The width of the strike zone (theoretically) is the same for all players because it is the width of the plate plus about two and a half inches on each side (again theoretically).

But the height of the strike zone is open to interpretation. Some batters stand with their back foot in the back of the box and have their stride foot land behind the front of home plate. Others, notably Bryce Harper, land with their stride foot ahead of the front of home plate. So should the bottom and top of the strike zone be measured in reference strictly to the batter or in reference to the height of the ball when it reaches the front side of home plate since the plate dictates the width of the strike zone.

If a player lands with the stride foot at the very front of the box, then a pitch that is too high in reference strictly to the batter would be a ball even though if the batter landed with his stride foot even with the front of home plate the pitch would be a strike. Similarly, a pitch that would be at the hollow of the batter's knee if he landed his stride foot even with the front of home plate would be a ball if the batter land's his stride foot even with the middle of the plate, if the height of the strike zone is strictly in reference to the batter.

So umpire discretion and experience is important.

furious_a said...

I like it when a batter uses another player's bat and it explodes in his hand from the corking. Incredulity followed by rage when he's tossed.

Jose_K said...

The main reason for the ban, betting. It will remain.
Stealing signs is legal and must remain legal. As Ausmus said, don't want sign stolen, change signs.
"If you are not cheating, you are not trying hard enough"