Stealing Catcher Signs

By Larry Dierker

MLB Catcher Signs

MLB Catcher Signs

Here we go again. Red Sox pitching coach Dana LeVangie accused Manny Machado of stealing catcher Christian Vazquez’ signs and relaying them to Yasiel Puig. He claims that he saw Machado place his hands on his hips, then prior to each pitch, he touched his helmet with either his right or left hand, and then and pulled at his jersey, and grabbed the groin area of his pants.

So what?

The idea is that Machado broke the catcher’s code is supposedly supported by the fact that Puig got a base hit when, over the course of the season, he hit only .205 against lefties.  Could this have been just one of the five?

I doubt it.  Most runners on second don’t go through all those motions for no reason.  But stealing the signs takes at least five pitches because the catcher gives multiple signs with a man on second.

Assuming the code was broken and that’s why Puig got his jam-shot single, I have some advice for the Red Sox, Dodgers, and every other team in baseball.  And it only requires the catcher to give one sign.

My Advice

The problem is that it also requires the pitcher to call his own game, something every pitcher did when I played but may not do now.  I’ve seen fielders take a note card from their pocket to make sure they were positioned properly.  Maybe the catchers have to get a sign from the dugout.  I wouldn’t be surprised.

So, let me review how to beat sign stealers.  First, you agree on a sign with your catcher.   Let’s say it’s two.

If I’m pitching and I have a choice to throw pitch number one, two, three or four, I touch my jersey once if I want to add from number two and throw pitch number three.  However, if I wipe my leg, I subtract to pitch number one.  At the same time, if I want to go to pitch four, I wipe my jersey or my pants twice.

On this occasion, David Price was pitching to Kike Hernandez.  He struck him out on a 3-2 pitch so Machado got to see at least six pitches and could have relayed the sign to Puig.  But if Vazquez never gave a sign, or gave multiple signs and Price changed the pitch by adding and subtracting, how would Machado know what pitch was going to be thrown?  He could see what Price was doing but it would be too late to relay the sign even if he broke both codes.

Of course, the signs could be stolen directly from the bench by breaking the pitcher’s code.  To counter that possibility, I wiped horizontally to change to a different code that we agreed upon before the game.  I only did this two or three times in 2000 innings or so.  If I saw the guy at second doing anything that looked like relaying signs, I simply changed the opening sign without even consulting my catcher.

When I Was Managing

Some of our pitchers preferred to just throw whatever the catcher called for.  If that were the case, I would just tell them to have two codes and change back and forth.

yet another MLB catcher signLet’s say, you’re taking the second sign and you see something suspicious.  You simply wipe your shirt to change the code.  Sometimes I used the first, second or third sign as an indicator.  Sometimes I used the first sign to indicate the real sign.  Say the catcher puts down a two.  That means the real sign is the second sign after the first sign.  If he puts down a one, it’s the next sign, and so forth.

It is possible to break the code electronically by training a camera on the pitcher and catcher, but if the pitcher keeps changing the code, it would be extremely hard to steal and relay signs in time.

My advice to every team is to give the pitcher a little credit and let him call his own game this way.  I concede what I saw rarely, could become every time a guy is on second in the World Series.  Even so, the would-be thieves could never keep up.

So quit whining and get creative.  You don’t need a computer or a camera.  Just faith in your pitcher.  Would I have faith in David Price? Absolutely.

Image1: Red Sox Catcher Sandy Leon. By Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA – Sandy Leon, CC BY-SA 2.0,
Image 2: