If you are a baseball fan, you have probably heard about the sign-stealing controversy that has led to the firing of some high-profile managers (if you are not a fan of baseball and have not heard about the controversy, you can skip to the end of this post. Just hit the Like button and leave a brief comment along the lines of “Wonderful post, thanks for your brilliant insight.”)
From the first time I heard about the sign-stealing situation, I didn’t see what the problem was. Sign-stealing has been a part of baseball since its beginning. I always thought of it as something quaint and unique to the sport. As far as I can tell, there was never a problem with sign-stealing until recently.
The alleged problem today is that some teams/managers were using technology such as cameras to steal the sign and cell phones as part of the process to relay the stolen sign to the batter.
But I don’t see the use of technology as a problem, it’s just a “sign” that the game is evolving and adapting to these new technologies. If you don’t want the other team to steal your sign, come up with a more creative way to communicate with your players that the other team can’t hack.
But I also felt like I was the only one who felt this way; every article I read talked about what a terrible thing this was for baseball and calling into question the ethics of those involved.
Until finally, about two weeks ago, Konstantin Kakaes, an editor at MIT Technology Review and currently the journalist-in-residence at the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote an article in the MIT Technology Review stating that he did not believe there was a problem with the way signs were being stolen.
Kakaes offers a much more reasoned argument than one I could provide as to why he thinks baseball’s ban on sign-stealing technology does not make any sense. He writes:
- Baseball and football are both big businesses in which technology has come to play a fundamental role. Baseball scouts use radar guns to size up pitching prospects. Football coaches endlessly go over game film to craft sophisticated schemes. Teams in both sports employ legions of data analysts who use statistics and even machine learning to devise novel tactics and strategies, and to appraise talent.
- a computerized system called ABS will be used to call balls and strikes in Major League Baseball games sometime in the next five years.
- Baseball pitchers parse recordings made using high-speed cameras, which shoot 1,000 frames per second, to deconstruct the mechanics of their throwing motion in ultra-slow motion.
- Since the 2014 World Series, MLB has used Amazon Web Services (AWS) to run a system called Statcast that analyzes granular data about games, compiled from a Doppler radar system and two stereoscopic cameras, to give near real-time analyses. Some seven terabytes of data are generated per game.
- football coaches speak with their quarterback and a designated defensive player during a game using radio, but baseball does not allow radios.
In sum, elaborate technology has become integral to both football and baseball, and many other sports. Kakaes concludes by stating that football and baseball should change their rules to reflect the ubiquity of imaging and communications devices, and not ban such devices that are so widely accepted everywhere.
As I noted, I could not have said it any better.
So now I feel more confident stating my opinion about the sign-stealing controversy. And if anyone starts to argue with me, I’ll just respond,
“Well, Kakaes says…”
*image from engadget