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MLB Tests New Audio System to Prevent Sign Stealing, Speed Up Games

Major League Baseball pitchers and catchers are testing an audio communication system in spring training that could speed up games and prevent sign stealing as soon as this season.

The Mets are one team that recently tested the system in which the catcher calls pitches by pressing buttons on a wristband that produce audio tones in the pitcher’s hat. Mets pitching coach Jeremy Hefner said he was impressed with how well the system worked in a test run Friday, especially in cutting dead time between pitches.

“I’m all for anything that allows the pitcher to create better rhythm and tempo, and this system does that,” Hefner said. “As soon as the pitcher gets his 6–3 [groundout], the catcher can be calling the next pitch. And the system allows the catcher to call location, not just the pitch type.

“The feedback from our guys was pretty positive. Most of this generation of players has grown up surrounded by technology, just like wearing ear buds, so it’s not that big of a deal to them.”

Mar 19, 2022; West Palm Beach, Florida, USA; New York Mets pitcher Trey Cobb (13) celebrate with catcher Nick Meyer after winning the game against the Washington Nationals during spring training at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

An MLB official said the system “potentially” could be approved for play as soon as this season, depending on the spring training results.

Paranoia about sign stealing has contributed to the slowing of pace of play. The workaround for most teams is to supply pitchers and catchers with index cards that list a menu of sign systems. The pitcher keeps his card in his hat or back pocket. When a runner reaches second base, the catcher consults a sign menu on his wrist, the pitcher pulls his menu from his cap or pocket, they agree on the number associated with one of the systems, the pitcher returns the card to his preferred place of storage—and only then does the catcher go through a complex series of hand signals.

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The audio communication system being tried this spring reduces the time needed to call pitches, especially with a runner at second base. Moreover, the system affords more sign security than when a catcher flashes signals with his fingers in view of the runner at second. One general manager speculated that if the communication system is approved for play this season, pitchers and catchers who opt to rely on traditional signs would be at “a competitive disadvantage” because of the enhanced signal security of the audio communication system.

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