The Pick Proof Quarterback Wristband System
This article originally appeared in the Jan. 6, 2006 issue of Collegiate Baseball
By LOU PAVLOVICH Jr.
TWIN FALLS, Idaho. — It has always been a risky proposition for coaches to signal in pitches to catchers.
The obvious problem is that opponents might be able to steal the signs and know every pitch that is coming.
In the Fall of 2004, Head Coach Boomer Walker and Pitching Coach David Carter of College of Southern Idaho devised an ingenious plan that would scuttle any hope an opponent had for picking off signs.
“We always had a couple of teams in our league that did a good job of stealing our signs,” said Walker.
“The signs were becoming too complex, and the flow of the game came to a crawl at times because of the intricate signs to our catchers.
“As with most programs, one of us would go through a series of signs for a fastball inside or away or another pitch in a certain location. We just felt there had to be a better way to do it.”
Walker said that both he and Carter came up with the idea of having their catcher wear a quarterback wrist band with a clear, acetate panel which housed a small code sheet that could translate locations and pitch selection. The small sheet also had codes for pitchouts, pickoffs and other plays by the pitcher with men on base.
“The coach has a master sheet with all the full names and abbreviations for the different pitches and locations. Underneath these abbreviations are numbers which you can signal in to the catcher. We flash two numbers to our catcher from the dugout. The only numbers we don’t use are double numbers (11 or 22, etc.) because there is the possibility of confusion with our catcher. Once the number is signaled in by hand or verbally, the catcher looks on his wrist card to find out what the number signifies. The number may relate to quadrant on the grid that says FB1 (which could mean fastball at location No. 1 which might be the catcher’s left knee or some other location in the strike zone).”
Walker said every key strike zone location is covered in the new system.
“We participate on the junior college level and play doubleheaders quite a bit. So we came up with 14 different color coded cards (one for each inning during two 7-inning doubleheaders) for each of the different pitches and locations. Each card has multiple sets of numbers for each pitch and location along with the different pickoffs we have for pitchers, pitchouts and things of this nature.
“After the idea was launched, it only took us about 3-4 hours to prepare different colored cards for the catcher to wear in his wrist band. We then had them laminated so they could slide easily in and out of the wrist band.”
“The beauty of this system is that you can do it visually by signaling in the numbers with your hands. You also can yell out the numbers if you want to. If we feel like it, we might even yell out decoy numbers which aren’t on the catcher’s card. Then our catcher simply calls what he wants to.”
Walker said he was surprised how much time this system cut off games compared to the old system of relaying signals to the catcher. I wouldn’t be surprised if 30 minutes a game was cut off. We really like this system and have thought about expanding it to other parts of the game such as offense and defense.”
Since this system was devised by Walker and Carter, only a handful of western programs have learned about it up to now. But as word of mouth has filtered through the coaching profession, more and more programs are utilizing it.
Yavapai Junior College (Prescott, Ariz.), one of the top community college programs in the nation under Head Coach Sky Smeltzer, immediately recognized the importance of this concept when his ball club played College of Southern Idaho last season.
“I thought the concept was extremely important,” said Smeltzer, who used the system for 54 games last season.
“We created our own program based on what Southern Idaho was doing on a Microsoft Excel spread sheet. We came up with four sets of master sheets for the coaches and cards for the catchers. The numbers can be scrambled to other ones very easily. We never played any team last season more than four times. So we could use one set for each game.
“This system is absolutely unpickable. Different teams would have several players with pens and paper writing down every number we tossed out. They added up the numbers, subtracted them and did a mixture of both. After a few innings, they always gave up because the system is impossible to crack. It didn’t matter if teams scouted us and wrote down every number for every pitch we had in a game because we would utilize a new set of numbers for other games.”
Smeltzer said he has used hand signs to go along with numbers at times to confuse opponents even more.
History Of QB Wrist Bands
According to the research staff at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, possibly the first time in history a quarterback wrist band was used with plays displayed on it was during the 1965 National Football League season with the Baltimore Colts.
Quarterback Johnny Unitas was down with an injury as was second string quarterback Gary Cuozzo. That left running back Tom Matte with the task of running the offense as the third string quarterback. In an effort to help him remember the plays, a wrist band was constructed which had many of the plays from the offensive playbook.
Over the years, quarterback wrist bands have been used more frequently. Today it is common to see nearly every quarterback with these wrist bands which can hold 200 plays in it which are signaled in from the sideline.
Getting More Sophisticated
As word has spread in college baseball about the new, uncrackable system for relaying pitches to catchers, different computer programmers have become involved.
Brian Bancroft, former computer guru for the Texas A&M athletics department and now working with the track and field program in that institution, wrote a program in Microsoft Access which regenerates the numbers so that an infinite number of 3-number combinations (0-5) can be used for the Aggies’ system (see graphics for catcher grid and coaches master sheet).
“I worked with Jim Lawler (now head coach at Arkansas-Little Rock) on the program,” said Bancroft, who holds two degrees in electrical and computer engineering and has worked at Lockheed Martin and the NASA space shuttle program with navigation systems.
“It took about 15 hours on the computer, off and on, to write the program. It was fairly simple to do. But I designed the database where the numbers can be generated in a random fashion over and over again. Since the signs are given with only one hand, we wanted to make sure no digit higher than five was used. You can also verbally call out the numbers as well.
“You have a certain amount of pitches you throw in a game at different locations. With this understood, we also wanted to make sure pickoff moves by pitchers were part of this system along with pitchouts. So the database was designed with 150 pitches in mind for a typical game.”
Bancroft gave an example of how the system works.
“The catcher has a card which slips inside the quarterback wrist band clear panel. This grid has a number of abbreviations on it which correspond to the coach’s master list. The abbreviations are certain types of pitches such as a fastball along with the location. Only three numbers (0-5) are given to the catcher (on one hand or verbally). The catcher uses his card grid to translate the number to the abbreviation. The first two numbers given to the catcher are located on the top row and last number is how many down to go just like a map.”
Bancroft said that if you are looking for a fastball away, the number located in the coaching master sheet might be 243. The coach displays these numbers to the catcher. The catcher looks on his grid at the point where the numbers intersect, and the abbreviation tells him what pitch to signal in to the pitcher.
“Then the coach marks this pitch off his master sheet. If he wants to use the same pitch again, he simply uses another 3-digit number under this category.”
There had been so much interest in this new system that Bancroft plans on selling different sets of printed out cards and master sheets for those baseball and softball programs that are interested, although he has not come with a price as of the deadline date for this story.
To contact Bancroft, e-mail him at: email@example.com
The University of Washington utilizes a Microsoft Excel custom program, made in-house, which generates random numbers and abbreviations similar to what Texas A&M did.
All a coach has to do is press a certain number on his keyboard to scramble the numbers and generate a complete new set of numbers for both the catcher’s card and coach’s master sheet.
Uses On Defense, Offense
Another coach who has been innovative in his use of quarterback wrist bands is Oklahoma Head Coach Sunny Golloway.
His players on defense each wear a quarterback wrist band. The information in each card tells the defensive player how he must adjust his starting position in the field to each potential batter in the opposition’s offensive lineup.
For instance, the centerfielder knows whether to take 5 steps to the right prior to a certain batter coming to the plate. The third baseman may have to play in because of the threat of a superb bunter.
“If certain guys are dead pull hitters, coaches in the dugout are not screaming at our defensive players to rotate over,” said Golloway.
“They just look at their wrist band and see who is coming up. They automatically make the adjustment quietly without anyone in the dugout doing a thing. It has speeded up the game. By the third or fourth time the opponent’s lineup has gone through the order, our defense has a pretty good grasp of what each hitter is capable of.
“We have found the quarterback wrist bands to be a great teacher on defense.”
Several other coaches said that the quarterback wrist bands could be extremely helpful when giving offensive signs to batters and base runners if the simple 3-digit numbering system was relayed to them without complicated sign patterns on the bodies and heads of coaches.
Yavapai’s Smeltzer said offensively it would be a big step in allowing fewer signs to be missed by base runners and hitters.
“Let’s face it. Base runners and hitters miss signs all the time. Many programs have complicated signs with different indicators. Possibly this system would work great for that part of the game as well. The great thing about it is that it is pick proof yet extremely simple.”
Future Of Wrist Bands
Jerry Weinstein, pitching coach with Cal Poly SLO and regarded as one of the most innovative coaches in the business, is currently experimenting with this new system. He is having a custom computer program designed.
But he has an idea which will elevate this system to another level.
“I like the idea of using the card grid numbers for catchers,” said Weinstein.
“But wouldn’t it be great if you could have the pitcher put the same card the catcher has on his glove in a location hidden from the opposition? That way, the pitcher would know precisely what pitch was going to be thrown without ever getting a sign from the catcher. It would speed up the game even more, and it would prevent any coach from stealing a sign that the catcher ultimately gives to the pitcher. It is even more pick proof by this method.
“The key is finding a spot on the pitcher’s glove where the card would fit and not be easily seen by prying eyes. This would probably work better than having a pitcher wear a quarterback wrist band like the catcher.”
Coaches Can Relax
Arkansas-Little Rock’s Lawler, who was introduced to the system nearly a year ago by Coach Bill Kinneberg at the University of Utah, said he can relax now when he relays pitches to the catcher without fear of his signs being picked off by opponents.
“Not only does this system speed up the game, but it allows coaches calling pitches to undergo less stress,” said Lawler.
“Prior to this new concept, I had 8-10 different signaling systems which I rotated through the season.
“If I suspected any opposing team had my signs, I would go to another.
“How many times have you seen pitching coaches hiding around the corner of a dugout giving signs to his catcher so the opponents could not see him? It happens all the time.
“This foolproof system allows pitching coaches to relax and just call pitches now.”
Lawler said he noticed that the innovative new system cuts at least 30 minutes off each game.
“If both teams signaled in pitches to their catchers the old way during a game, it took a lot of time. But all you do with the new way is either signal in three different numbers on one hand or verbally yell them out to the catcher. It is just so simple and easy to use for all parties.”