Monday, November 18, 2019

Abuse of Technology - Umpire's Role in Sign Stealing

In the wake of allegations that the Houston Astros used technology to steal signs in 2017, we looked at the umpire's role in enforcing electronic device rules...if such rules exist in the first place.

It turns out that OBR doesn't address the issue, NCAA has an explicit rule prohibiting electronic devices being used in this manner, and the NFHS book's only reference to video states that an umpire cannot use video to review a call.

In short, sign stealing is 100% legal at all levels. Although the rules book does contain various prohibitions on movements or other actions that are not baseball-related (e.g., OBR 6.01(a)(9)'s interference if "with a runner on third base, the base coach leaves his box and acts in any manner to draw a throw by a fielder" or 6.04(b)'s Unsportsmanlike Conduct "Call 'Time' or employ any other word or phrase or commit any act while the ball is alive and in play for the obvious purpose of trying to make the pitcher commit a balk" and 6.04(c)'s "No fielder shall take a position in the batter’s line of vision, and with deliberate unsportsmanlike intent, act in a manner to distract the batter"), these apply to a member of Team A doing something to distract a member of Team B: Teammates can communicate visually or otherwise, as long as they're not using language to refer or reflect upon opposing players.

Banging on a trash can or pointing that a pitch may be a fastball located inside doesn't fit the bill.

College specifically outlines the electric rule.
NCAA is the only level that explicitly prohibits communication between video personnel and the dugout, as in Rule 5-2-f: "Video and communication equipment used to transmit information between coaches, coaches and players, scouts or other team personnel shall not be allowed for intercollegiate competition. Video for scouting, training or teaching purposes may be recorded from any unmanned camera location. No video from manned or unmanned sources may be transmitted for scouting, training or coaching purposes during the contest."

Robot catchers could benefit from encryption.
In college, the penalty is a warning followed by removal and/or post-participation ejection.

Although the Minor League Baseball Umpire Manual states, "The use of electronic equipment during a game is restricted...such equipment may not be used for the purpose of stealing signs or conveying information designed to give a club an advantage" (the MLBUM has no such text), there are no explicit penalties for violating this policy.

So, what's an umpire to do? Unless that umpire is working under the NCAA code...largely, nothing. As the MiLB/PBUC manual goes on to say regarding video or audio guidelines, "Umpires are to inform the league office of details concerning any violation."

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Abuse of Technology - Electronic Sign Stealing (CCS)


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