Baseball Magazine

Stealing Signs - Part 1: How Teams Get Them and Give Them

By Meachrm @BaseballBTYard
Disclaimer:  In the major leagues, every time a team gets caught or is even suspected of stealing signs from a catcher, there is always debate as to the ethics and morality of doing so.  For these posts, I will avoid the controversy and simply stick to the ways teams typically get them and give them (Part 1).  We can then use that information to determine if your signs are being stolen (Part 2) and then provide ways on how to prevent a team from doing it (Part 3).  
PART 1: How to get them and give them
First and foremost, it is important to note that, in most cases, teams that know what pitch is coming overwhelming get that information from pitchers who tip-off their pitches.  Below are just some of the many ways it is unintentionally done on the part of pitchers.

Stealing signs - Part 1:  How teams get them and give them

Bad habits pitchers get into after
getting the sign is what most batters
will look for to know what's coming.

  • Turning the glove a certain way after getting the sign from the catcher.  The movement often is different based on the type of pitch.
  • Widening the glove after the sign.  Usually a change-up or some other off-speed pitch.
  • Changes in the pace of the delivery.
  • Gripping the pitch too quickly when the ball is held down by the leg or behind the back in the stretch position.  Batters may see it before it enters the glove in the set position.
  • Changing the wrist position on various pitches.  “Hooking” the wrist way too early on breaking pitches is an example.  Flattening the wrist usually means change-up.

There are many other small, almost undetectable habits pitchers get into that can cause a batter or an entire team to know what’s coming on the next pitch.  Outside of those, a team would need to steal the signs from the catcher and then relay them to the batter for it to work.
Here are the two ways that it is most commonly done.
Improper catcher signaling.Young and/or inexperienced catchers frequently give signs incorrectly.  Sometimes their sign is visible to multiple people on the offensive team.  If the fingers used to determine the pitch are given too low or too high, the offensive team may be able to pick them up.  After watching a few pitches to make sure they correctly have the sign or sequence of signs, usually a base coach or bench player who can see the signs would relay a verbal sign to the batter to let him know what is coming.  It could be saying the batter’s number if a fastball is coming or possibly the batter’s first name if a change-up is on the way.  A base coach or bench player could also place his hands on his hips for a breaking pitch and on his knees for a fastball.  The batter would just glance at the coach or player just after the sign is given to the pitcher.  There are endless possibilities but obviously the offensive team would determine beforehand what the verbal signs would be so there is consistency.  Teams usually come up with a standard sign for “I don’t know” which tells the batter that the “sign stealer” was not able to pick it up that time.

Stealing signs - Part 1:  How teams get them and give them

There are spies among us, especially at 2nd base.

Flashing signs or location.Usually runners at second base are the big culprits when it comes to stealing signs.  Many teams have a standard rule that says that the job of the first runner to get to second base is to figure out what signs the catcher and pitcher are using with runners on second.  Multiple signs are usually given at the higher levels and it’s his job to decipher the code.  Runners that follow first check to see if the sequence is still accurate and if it is, begin flashing them to batters.  This can be done in a variety of ways. 
  • The most obvious way is to simply tell or show the batter what’s coming with the runners hands.  Runners should NEVER-EVER use this method.  The goal is to not allow anyone in the park to know what you are doing as a team.  It's also very "Little-League-ish."
  • Another method has the batter look at the runner’s eyes.  After the sign is given, if the runner at second turns his head and looks to his right (as if taking a peek at 3rd base) it could mean a particular pitch or location.  Looking to the left (towards 2nd base) would be a different pitch or location.  Continuing to look straight ahead might say “I don’t know” to the batter.
  • A third option has the batter watch the runner’s feet.  After taking a shorter initial lead and stealing the sign from the catcher, the runner may take an additional step towards third base by leading with one foot or the other.  Leading with his right foot first would indicate a certain pitch.  Leading with his left foot (cross-over step) would signal a different pitch.  Staying completely still after the catcher gives the sign might be the “I don’t know” sign.

There are other methods as well.  Teams who are good at it rarely get caught because they do it in such a way where nobody knows what's going on.
Part 2:  How to know if your signs are being stolen.Part 3:  How to prevent your signs from being stolen.

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