Explaining Sign Stealing in Baseball and Softball

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Sign-stealing has been a part of baseball since its inception, where catchers receive signals from coaches in the dugout to communicate with pitchers and hitters. This concept is simple when everyone is on the same page, but during games, teams decode their opponent’s signs to know what pitch or play is coming. This article will discuss what signs are, why they are important, how legal and illegal sign-stealing work, how teams protect their signs, and some infamous cases of sign-stealing.

What are Signs in Baseball and Softball?

Signs in baseball and softball are a way for players and coaches to communicate without their opponents knowing what they are saying. Teams use sign codes in various levels of play, including Little League, High School ball, College, and MLB. Every team has its language for what the signs mean, and most teams change their signs between innings or games. For instance, a simple sign to tell a hitter what to do can be touching the top of the coach’s hat in little league baseball, but in the MLB, the signs can be more complicated to make it harder for opponents to pick them up.

Examples of Signs in Baseball and Softball

Examples of signs in baseball include a coach touching the top of their hat, which means that the hitter should take a pitch, or a catcher communicating the pitch type to the pitcher by putting one finger down for a fastball, two for a changeup, or shaking their hand for a curveball. The third-base coach might put their hand under their chin to tell the baserunner to steal second on the next pitch or touch their ears, which could mean a hit and run or a double steal.

How Does Legal Sign Stealing Work During a Game?

Legal sign stealing occurs during the game when a player on second base notices that the catcher is setting up for a high pitch and alerts the hitter by tapping their hand to the top of their helmet. Watching the opposing team’s third-base coach for signs with a baserunner is another way of legal sign-stealing. However, it is up to the opposing team to protect their signs.

What Does a Team Need to Do to Protect their Signs?

To protect their signs, teams need to complicate them, change them between innings or games, and alert each other if they think the other team has their signs. Catchers can change the signs when a runner is on second base, pretending to set up high when looking for a pitch in the dirt to confuse the runner. Players should watch their opponents closely in the dugout and on the field to see if they have picked up their sequence.

What Did the Houston Astros Do in 2017 that Took Sign-Stealing to a New Level?

In 2017, the Houston Astros took sign-stealing to a whole new level. The team used a video replay room to decipher pitches in real-time and banged on a trash can to alert the hitter of the pitch type. An investigation uncovered the scheme that led to suspensions, fines, and the loss of draft picks.

Did Any Other Teams Do Anything Similar?

While the Houston Astros are the most infamous case of sign-stealing, other teams were also involved in some form of sign-stealing. The Boston Red Sox used an apple watch to relay signals to their hitters, and the New York Yankees used their video replay room to decipher signs during games.

Any Other Types of Potential Cheating?

There are rumors that the Houston Astros used buzzers to alert players of pitches during games, but there is no official confirmation. However, MLB has started implementing electronic signs between pitchers and catchers to discourage sign-stealing.

Can Technology Help Limit Sign Stealing During Games?

As MLB begins to implement electronic signs between pitchers and catchers to deter sign-stealing, teams are still trying to find ways to protect their signs during games. However, there is no doubt that illegal sign-stealing takes away from the integrity of the game and the efforts of teams who play fair.

In conclusion, sign-stealing has been a part of baseball and softball since the beginning, but there is a fine line between legal and illegal sign-stealing. While legal sign-stealing is a way for players to gain a competitive advantage, illegal sign-stealing using technology to cheat is unacceptable. As technology continues to advance, MLB and softball organizations will need to find ways to adapt and protect the integrity of the game.