Communication and Sign Stealing in Baseball


Communication and Sign Stealing in Baseball


1. Introduction: 2

2. Analysis: 2

2.1. Area of study 2

2.2. Issues Raised 2

2.3. Proposed solutions 3

2.4. Advantages of the proposed solutions 4

2.5. Limitations 5

2.6. Solutions 5

3. Conclusion 6

References 7


This paper analyses the article by Hannan et al., (2015) which includes research on the cryptic communication system that involves the baseball players specially the pitcher and the catcher. Baseball is believed to be a less strategic slow-paced game by many people, which is a wrong belief. Baseball involves a lot more strategy as compared to other games, it’s just the strategy occupies a large area of nonverbal communication Sign Stealing in Baseball that is encrypted and occurs between the players of the game. Little do people know about the fact that what makes baseball interesting is the “game within game” i.e., the cryptic communication of information between the players. The purpose of the article is to provide the baseball players with a new form of cryptic communication, through the formation of an algorithm based on random data that is provided by the game itself. This will make the communication between players more secure and less interpretable by the opponents.

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Area of study

The major area of study that has been researched by Hannan et al., (2015) is non-verbal communication. To be more specific, a major type of nonverbal communication has been highlighted in this article in the context of baseball game and that is sign communication. The article focuses on the encrypted sign communication between the baseball players, especially the catcher and the pitcher. Both the catcher and the pitcher use effective signs and indicators to formulate strategies against the opponents. The major focus is to make the sign communication between the players in such a form that it is not easily intercepted by the opponent’s team and they remain unaware of the defensive strategies against them.

Issues Raised

A very important issue faced by the baseball teams and more specifically the players involved in the game is sign stealing, as mentioned in the article as well. Sign stealing is an issue that has been faced by baseball teams for many years. It involves the efforts made by one team to intercept the hand signals of the opponent team (Chavez, 2017). Although sign stealing is a part of game and a tradition sometimes it is viewed as a breach of etiquette (Blog et al., 2017).

Many systems have been in practice to prevent sign stealing in game and to formulate new indicators. The most basic and simplest system of communication that is mostly used between players is the four-finger system which involves the index finger, middle finger, ring fingers and finally the little fingers, all are assigned numbers 1,2,3 and 4 includes an indicator which has been decided already by the players as the hot sign. The players change the indicator on every inning to avoid the opponents from breaking down their covert communication pattern. Both the pitch sequence and the number of innings are aligned with each other for example of the pitch sequence is as follows i.e., 1=fastball, 2=curve ,3 = slider and 4 = change upward, then when the player shows one finger down in first innings, it will be a fastball. In the second innings if the player shows two fingers down then it will again be a fast ball and so on. The main problem with this system is its’ simplicity and standardization. It has been made in such a systematic way that it can easily be broken down and interpreted by the opponents. Once the opponents gain access to it will be very easy for them to predict the strategies against them and hence devise defensive moves in response.

Proposed solutions

Hannan et al., (2015) have provided solution to the aforementioned communication issue among baseball players. They have suggested the formation of a new encrypted pitcher-catcher communication system that will be difficult for the opponents to understand and hence break down. The unique feature of this system is that the random variables contained in it are not determined by humans and hence are not easily predictable. Hence the variables contained in it are derived from the situations in which the game is being played. Baseball game offers many such features that can be picked up as indicator values such as the first digit on jersey number of the batter and the average batting score of the batter. In case of jersey number if the first digit lies between 1 and 4 then it can easily help in the identification of the active pitch at which ball is to be thrown but if the first digit is greater than 4 then both catcher and the pitcher should decide a common value which is changeable. For example, if the agreed upon value is 4 then it will be subtracted from the first digit which is greater than 5. Suppose if the batter’s jersey number is 85, then the hot sign indicator will be (8-4) =4.

Another random value that can be used as a hot sign indicator is the batting average of the batter. The statistical information about the batting average of every player can be accessed through major and minor leagues and college scoreboards and the last digit of the batting average can be considered as a hot sign this case usually the third digit of the batting average is considered because it offers a more random value.

However, the most important method of encryption as given in this article is the one that includes a wide amount of data but ensures the error free encryption of communication and is based on an algorithm. This algorithm is the essence of this article. It involves first taking the sum of balls and ball strikes, and then number of outs and men at base and in the end taking the difference between the two sums. The difference of the two sums is considered to be the hot sign indicator. For thorough understanding consider the following table from the respective article:

Table 1 Obfuscated “Hot” Sign-Indicator Examples

Balls Strikes Outs Men on Base “Hot” indicator
3 1 0 1 (3 + 1) – (0 + 1) = 3
3 1 0 2 (3 + 1) – (0 + 2) = 2

Advantages of the proposed solutions

The proposed system of hot sign identification involves random values that are selected from the game field situations hence they remove the constraints of a systematic and standardized signalling system. Due to the involvement of random situational values it is almost impossible for the opponents to interpret the signals and break them down. Hence the proposed system offers more security. Unlike the four-finger system, the information of this system cannot be leaked when players one team become part of another team. The sequence of this system is unpredictable because it does not include systematic humanly applied rules which are based on ease of use and remembrance. This system is not very easy to be replicated. The data used in this system is readily available since it is situational data. Lastly, a major advantage of this system is that the team using this system can keep its strategies confidential from the opponents.


The proposed system has many limitations as well. Since baseball is considered a slow pace game, efforts are made to speed up the game which will reduce the time between pitches. In this case if any new technique is made part of the system then it can cause confusion between players because they will have less time to understand it during the may also result in missing the signals. The secondly, the more complex system will be difficult for defensive players to understand accurately. Consequently, they will not be able to react in the appropriate manner. Finally, this system will lay more burden on the cognitive abilities of the players.


To remove the before mentioned limitations of the system, it is suggested that it should be made simpler. The proposed Hot Key Indicator system involving an algorithm is somehow complex because of which adding more complexity to it will make it impossible to be used among the players of the team. This system expects the players to have high level of cognitive and interception abilities which might not be available in all players of a team. Hence making it simpler will make it more understandable by the players i.e. it should include random situational values but in a less complicated way.

Secondly, to avoid confusion which occurs because of speeding up the pitches, the co-operation of the base-runners and defensive players should be assured (Bandler, 2017). No doubt the battle between the catcher and pitcher is of more interest to the spectator’s mutual co-operation between the players will make the team playing better.


The article by Hannan et al., (2015) gives its readers a very interesting reading experience, especially to the baseball lovers, by providing deep insights into the sign stealing practice of the game. It includes the previously used hot key indicator system, identifies the shortcomings in it and then proposes a new system with both its positive and negative aspects.

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Bandler A., (2017). George Will: Baseball Is As Unique As America [Online] The Daily Wire. Available at: [Accessed 10 Oct. 2017].

Blog, &., Sports, O., Racing, H., Olympics, S., Games, X., Cities, S. and Blog, B. (2017). Everything you need to know about sign-stealing. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Oct. 2017].

Chavez, C., (2017). What does it mean to steal signs in baseball? [Online] Sports Illustrated. Available at: [Accessed 10 Oct. 2017].

Hannan, M.A., Abdulla Al Mamun, M., Hussain, A., Basri, H., Begum, R.A., 2015. A review on technologies and their usage in solid waste monitoring and management systems: Issues and challenges. Waste Management. 43, pp509–523. doi:10.1016/j.wasman.2015.05.033

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