MLB Will Try Coded Transmitters And Bone Conduction To Stop Sign Stealing

Baseball has a problem with stealing boards – or at least a technology problem, seeing how another team’s fields are read is technically legal, but Using Apple Watches or telecameras and then suspicious banging on trash cans is not very much. But soon, the MLB may try to fight fire with fire: On August 3, it plans to begin testing an encrypted wireless communications device that replaces the traditional flash of fingers with the tap of a button, according to ESPN.

The device, from a startup called PitchCom, will first be tested in the Low-A West minor league. As you’d expect from something that relays extremely basic signals, it’s not a particularly complicated piece of kit: a catcher wristband transmitter with nine buttons to signal “desired pitch and location,” which sends an encoded audio signal to receivers that can squeeze a pitcher cap and a catcher helmet.

The receivers use bone conduction technology, so they don’t necessarily have to be placed against one ear and are theoretically harder to eavesdrop. (Bone conduction stimulates bones in your head instead of emitting audible sound.) That said, it sounds like the introduction of the technology could come with other risks. Here is a list of restrictions as quoted by ESPN:

Players found to be carrying a receiver while hitting are ejected; only the active catcher and no other players or coaches may use the transmitter; a spare transmitter is provided, but must remain in the carrying case while playing; and if players and coaches need to consult due to a problem with the equipment, they can notify the umpires and there will be no charge for a hill visit.

MLB seems optimistic about the idea so far. “The PitchCom devices were tested in side sessions during Major League spring training, and feedback from players, coaches and front office staff has been extremely positive,” reads part of an internal memo. obtained by the Associated Press. “Based on these preliminary results, we are optimistic that these devices have the potential to be a viable long-term option to reduce the risk of board stealing and improve the pace of play, especially with runners on second base.”

Photo: FCC OET

I couldn’t find any records for a startup called PitchCom, but one of the founders, one Craig Filicetti, seems to be the same who sells “ProMystic” wireless technology for magicians and mentalists, like a box of crayons that can wirelessly send a signal that matches the crayon someone removes. ESPN lists Craig Filicetti and John Hankins as co-owners of Pitchcom, and two men with those names formed a “JHCF, LLC” in November 2020. Both ProMystic and JHCF have an address in Scottsdale, Arizona in common.