MLBPA Executive Director Wants to Examine Technology in Baseball Beyond Astros’ Scandal

Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark believes that this off-season’s electronic sign-stealing scandal involving the Houston Astros is only a microcosm of greater issues facing baseball that have been caused by the game’s technology revolution.

The Astros stole signs through illegal use of technology. During games, a live broadcast field from a center field camera was transmitted to the team’s video replay room, and employees would then run to the dugout to communicate signs to players. The scheme progressed to a live monitor eventually being placed near the team’s dugout, with players then banging on trash cans to communicate pitches to a batter.

“I know it is being reflected as a sign-stealing, technology issue. But the truth is that technology discussion goes way beyond what is coming out of a replay room,” Clark said recently at the Astros’ spring training complex in West Palm Beach, Fla., according to The Washington Post.

Clark and other MLBPA reps met with the Astros for three hours, though they did not disclose to reporters what the meeting entailed. MLB has plans to limit teams’ access to in-game video this upcoming season, but Clark argues that larger issues facing baseball stem from how technology is being used by clubs to manipulate player service time, evaluate players, and change on-field strategy. Just one example: the rise of strikeouts and home runs can be traced back to hitters embracing launch angle swing analytics.

“It’s manifesting itself in how player service time is being manipulated,” Clark said. “It’s manifesting itself in a way that we’re seeing abuses of the injured list. It’s manifesting itself [in a way] that is affecting the type of game that is being played on the field. So I know a lot of the headlines say ‘sign-stealing.’ But the truth is that this conversation about technology is much larger than that.

“There are a number of moving pieces here, and the backdrop of those pieces is technology, and the backdrop of that technology being left unchecked is how we develop this culture of it’s okay to do all these things that affect the game,” he added.

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