Sign, sign, everywhere a sign … on your wristband

Abner Doubleday didn’t invent baseball – some historians say the only thing he started was the Civil War – but even if he had, there are a few things I don’t think he had in mind when it comes to the National Pastime.

It’s actually not the National Pastime anymore; it’s the National SaveTime. And while I’m all about it – one major league team recently hosted a night game that ended before actual nightfall – there’s something you’ll be seeing more and more as the College World Series cranks up Friday.

Lots of pitchers are appearing to check their watch, so much so that you’ll think they are either waiting for a train or wondering if it’s time to take their medicine.

Actually, the answer is neither. Instead, they are getting the signal on what they are supposed to throw on the next pitch. It’s a wristband with a digital read-out that the dugout sends directly to the pitcher. For example “1-1” could mean “fastball, away.” Throw a pitch, get the ball back from the catcher or infielder, check the wristband, throw another pitch and hope the catcher hasn’t fallen asleep. It’s (unfortunately) that simple.

What? No more “1” finger by the catcher for a fastball, “2” for a curve? Abner (or somebody) must be rolling over in their grave!

It’s done for two reasons; only one of which I hate. The first is for the speed of the game. Let’s not even get into how great it was when catchers – even if they were in the fifth grade — actually called the pitches because that’s how you learned the game. But with this new technology, the signs don’t have to be relayed six times before it gets to the pitcher.

These days, coaches at every level want to be in total control. And, to be honest, pitchers and catchers can now just worry about pitching and catching. Though I always loved it when a junior varsity kid would shake off the catcher signs six times before throwing a pitch (really? You’ve got that many in your arsenal?) I guess it’s OK in the name of saving time.

But what I don’t like is another element it has taken out of the game – stealing signs. Somewhere along the line, stealing signs has taken on the same implication as cheating on your taxes or chewing with your mouth open.

I think stealing signs is a great part of baseball and eliminating it is penalizing someone for being just a little bit smarter than the dudes on the other team.

The use of this product from a small tech company in Virginia named “Game Day Signals” – another investment opportunity I failed to act on — was approved by a number of conferences for use this year. LSU’s pitchers prominently use it and they are far from the only ones.

One current college coach told me that his team will be using it next year and he is very excited about for one main reason – eliminating sign stealing.

Of course we should have seen this coming, once batters began coming to the plate with some Pythagorean matrix printed on their sweatband. (Isosceles triangle means drag bunt.) Forget about checking with the third base coach to see if he gave the double hat touch for the indicator. Now it’s just stand there, get a number and do whatever the chart says.

I’m all about change and making the game faster. But to me, it seems like this is just making the game dumber.

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