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MLB's PitchCom system shows mixed reactions

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Baseball and technology have always produced vigilant partners.

During the five years of the 1930s, as radio became more popular, all three New York teams (Yankees, Giants, and Dodgers) banned live broadcasts of their games, fearing the new media would erode audiences. Fans went wild when the Chicago Cubs added lighting to his 1988 Wrigley Field, allowing them to move away from generations of games that were only played during the day. It was the referee’s turn to complain when an electronic call for balls and strikes was suggested.

Other sports may change, but baseball, by and large, is in the business of staying the same.

With the introduction of exclusive instant replays in 2008 and the expansion of replays in 2014, gaming briefly entered the digital age. But adding cameras to every ballpark and video monitors to every clubhouse opened the door to the unintended consequences of electronic cheating.

The 2017 Houston Astros walked through that door with pride and developed an elaborate sign-stealing system that helped them win the World Series. Two years later, when that system was released to the public, it resulted in dismissals, suspensions, and ultimately the permanent tainting of the championship.

Nothing moves baseball faster than a scandal. It was when baseball dealt with his 1919 Black His Sox scandal that the Commissioner’s Office was created. This season, Major League Baseball took a giant leap forward by moving away from the stigma of sign-stealing with the introduction of PitchCom, a catcher-controlled device. Shared with as many as three other players on the field at the same time through earbuds on his hat band.

The idea is simple. If baseball can get rid of the traditional pitch call, where the catcher sends signs to the pitcher with his finger, it will be harder for other teams to steal those signs. There have been some issues like devices not working and pitchers not being heard, but so far this season everyone in baseball agrees that PitchCom is working, like it or not. It seems that

Carlos Correa, the Minnesota Twins shortstop and longtime unofficial and unapologetic spokesman for the Astros in 2017, went so far as to say the tool would have stopped his old team’s systemic misbehavior. rice field.

“I think so,” said Correa. “Because there are no symptoms now.”

But not all pitchers participate.

New York Mets ace and highest-paid baseball player of the season, Max Scherzer, first tried PitchCom during a game against the Yankees late last month and came out with conflicting thoughts.

“It works,” he said. “Will it help? Yes. But I also think it should be illegal.”

Scherzer went so far as to suggest that the game loses something by eliminating sign-stealing.

“It’s part of baseball trying to decipher someone’s signature,” Scherzer said. “Do you have any good intentions to clean up the game a little bit?” he said of Pitchcom. “Yes. But I also feel like it takes away part of the game.”

Scherzer’s comments elicited mixed reactions from his peers. Seattle relief pitcher Paul Sewald called them “a little naive” and “a little hypocritical”. Minnesota starter Sonny Gray said he agrees with Scherzer on paper. go to. “

Sewald remains skeptical, saying of Scherzer:

True or not, Sewald’s suggestion represented what many in the game generally believed. Multiple managers say they have clubs with 12 or more staff members studying videos and swiping signs. Because it’s done in secret, a whole league of paranoia develops, such as even innocent people being presumed guilty.

“I think we’re all aware of that,” said Colorado manager Bud Black. “I know some front offices have more people than others. doing.”

The idea that sign-stealing is rampant has led to widespread use of PitchCom, perhaps sooner than many might imagine. This is welcome news for top executives in Major League Baseball.

Morgan Sword, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations, said: “This eliminates the game’s significant problem with sign stealing. But secondly, it actually sped up the game a bit. Runners didn’t have to go to base and pass multiple signs, which allowed the pace to increase.” has improved.”

The question is, what is lost in achieving these gains?

Codebreaking is as old as the sport itself, but the intrusion of technology into what has been a languid, idyllic game for over a century has sparked a violent cultural clash. Sign-stealing has always been acceptable to players as long as it was committed by someone on the field. But when technology is used as a real-time aid, hackles quickly arise, breaking the unwritten (and now closed) rules of the game.

In an age where computer programs are so sophisticated that algorithms can determine whether a pitcher is throwing a fastball or a slider just by how he holds the glove, it is important to draw a clear line.

“That’s when you’re trying to take advantage of people who aren’t playing the game, and that’s problematic, at least personally,” said San Diego manager Bob Melvin.

Most agree that there is a fine line between technology that improves the current product and technology that will ultimately change its integrity. Getting them to agree on where that line is is another matter.

Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu said:

Sword said Pitchcom is an example of technology’s ability to “create a similar version of baseball decades ago” because it “neutralizes modern threats.”

“I think that’s the way the world should go,” Black said. “And we are part of the world.”

And more technology is coming. The deck has a pitch clock that has been tested in the minor leagues and, according to Sword, has been “very promising” in achieving its intended goal of shortening games. , the pitcher must pitch within a certain amount of time. In Class AAA, he must pitch within 14 seconds if there are no on-basemen and within 19 seconds if there are runners. I’m riding

Generally speaking, pitchers are less enthusiastic about pitch clocks than pitchcoms.

Colorado Rockies closer Daniel Byrd said, “90% of baseball is the expectation that something really cool is going to happen, and it flashes that something really cool is going to happen.” You never know when is coming or what pitch it’s going to happen.Especially in a tight ninth, do you want everyone to run at the last minute?There are so many good things in life that you don’t want to rush past.Have fun. You taste.For me, one is the end of the ball game.”

However, the most radical change might be Auto Strike Zones, or robot referees in general terms. Commissioner Rob Manfred said earlier this summer that he wanted to have such a system in place by 2024. Makes you appear to be in the strike zone even if you are not in the strike zone.

“I don’t think that should have happened,” Yankees catcher Jose Trevino said. He’s probably the best pitch framer in the game. “There’s a lot of guys who’ve played this game, and a lot of guys who’ve been catchers for a living in the past. They’re good game-callers, they’re good defensive catchers.”

According to Trevino, so-called robot refereeing would render the skills many catchers have struggled to master useless.

“Just block, throw and call the game,” he said, adding that it could affect the financial earning power of some catchers.

But that discussion is for another day. PitchCom is the new toy of the year, smoothing things beyond the obvious and in the unexpected realm. It can be programmed in any language, bridging the wall between pitcher and catcher. And as the bard said, “My eyes aren’t good. I can stare at signs, but it’s easier just to hold the signs up to my ear.”

Opinions will always vary, but one thing we all agree on is that the technological invasion will continue.

“It will continue,” said Correa. “In the near future, robots will play as shortstops.”

James Wagner When Gary Phillips contributed to the report.