Home MLBBST Game Guides Combination Signs courtesy of the MLB Network (and another reason to save ‘MLB on Five’)

Combination Signs courtesy of the MLB Network (and another reason to save ‘MLB on Five’)

by Matt Smith

If you haven’t seen it yet, I would highly recommend watching a recent video published on MLB.com about ‘combination signs’.  These signs are used by a catcher to relay the selection of pitches to the pitcher in a coded way, making it harder for the runner on second base to work out what is coming the batter’s way.  TV directors like to show close-ups of catchers flashing fingers down at blistering speed and if you’ve always wanted to learn a bit more about exactly what systems they might be using, this recent video is a great place to start. 

Not long after the MLB Network was launched on 1 January, I expressed the hope that some of the studio analysis and original programming would be made available for free on MLB.com.  Those hopes have already been realised through a series of enlightening demonstrations with Major Leaguers.  Whether it’s been youngsters like Cameron Maybin showing you how they play balls ricocheting off the outfield wall, veterans like Kevin Millar explaining their hitting approach at Fenway Park, or Cy Young winners like Tim Lincecum explaining their unique pitching actions (my favourite video of the lot so far); they have all been a lot of fun to watch.

The latest involves D-Backs’ catcher Chris Snyder and I learned a lot from it.  I had no idea that the catcher may use different systems for different pitchers, something that goes to show how important the working relationship between the catcher and every pitcher is.  While I knew the basics of a few systems, learning about combination signs based on the ball-strike count was an eye-opener as well. 

If you are completely new to the topic, the analysis team explains exactly why combination signs are needed and also notes that the infielders have to know what the pitcher is about to throw as well. 

All in all, it’s a neat overview of the subject, one that is particularly useful to fans (like myself) who didn’t spend their childhood playing baseball and therefore have a large amount to learn about on-the-field topics like this.  This particularly applies to a lot of British baseball fans, which is another reason why the possibility of Five taking away the studio element of their MLB programming would be such a blow.

Watching this clip reminded me of a show on Five several years ago when Josh got out from behind the desk and gave a primer on the signs used by third-base coaches and managers.  I was so excited to learn some of this playing knowledge that I studiously took notes (rewinding and re-playing the video), which is why it stuck in my mind. 

‘Maybe I’ve still got that sheet of paper?’, I thought, and after a bit of searching through my ring binder of completed scorecards I found that I had.  Using the surrounding scorecards as dating evidence (similar to what they do on the archaeological show Time Team – although I can never shake the suspicion with that programme that they chuck bits of broken pottery and coins into the trenches just before the camera starts rolling), Josh gave us this insight back in 2002, which would have been his first season in the job.

Over six years ago and I can still picture it clearly in my mind.  If that doesn’t prove how valuable Josh, Jonny and the rest of Five’s North American sports teams are, I don’t know what will.

To avoid finishing on a sombre note, let’s refer back to the MLB Network clip and presenter Harold Reynolds’s parting comment:

“Combination signs. You have to pay attention because, really, when you pay attention, it becomes a lot of fun”.

It certainly does.  Go and find out for yourself.

You may also like

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.