Players' in-game video returns, with new rules

March 24th, 2021

Major League Baseball has overhauled its dugout iPad program this season to again make in-game video available to players. The league will upload video of each player’s at-bat soon after the at-bat is complete, and the video will be edited to remove the catcher’s signals so that players may not use it to decipher opponent's signs.

The iPad update is the most noteworthy entry in the electronic devices regulations included in a memo sent to all 30 clubs on Tuesday and outlined to the media in a call last week.

Last season, players and coaches were forbidden from accessing video replay rooms as part of the COVID-19 health and safety protocols jointly agreed to by MLB and the MLB Players’ Association. The idea of players clustering around a video terminal ran afoul of the physical distancing goals.

With those goals still in place in 2021, MLB sought to find another way to appease players who voiced their concerns about not being able to scrutinize at-bats during a game. Previously, the iPads available in the dugout and provided by the Office of the Commissioner contained only pre-loaded materials. The new software will address that with in-game updates that include footage from the television broadcasts and from MLB-owned cameras in the ballparks.

The lack of video access last season became a sore spot for players who rely on the instant feedback the technology provides. Cubs shortstop Javier Báez, whose offensive numbers tumbled in the shortened season, was particularly outspoken on the issue.

"I watch my swing, I watch where the ball went, where the contact was,” Báez told reporters last September. “I'm mad. I'm really mad about that we don't have it. A lot of stars are struggling, and I’m just one more.”

The new system satisfies that concern. But because tech-aided sign-stealing is still a concern of its own, the uploaded clips will not begin until after the catcher has given his signs and the uploads will be delayed until after the end of each half-inning.

As was the case in 2020, designated video replay room operators are prohibited from communicating with any person outside of the room during the game, except the manager or a coach in the dugout to advise whether to challenge a play on the field. MLB can monitor video replay rooms through on-site personnel and/or cameras mounted in the room.

During a game, club personnel are forbidden from communicating the opposing team’s signs to a baserunner or coach on the field in any manner. However, on-field coaches and baserunners who pick up signs on their own may relay that information to the batter or another on-field coach. And prior to the start of a game, there is no prohibition on club personnel utilizing video from prior games to help identify a club’s signs and communicating that info to teammates.