USA Today's panel: the game needs to stay ahead of the drug curve

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USA Today runs their fifth and final part of their panel-of-experts series this morning.  Today they cover a few of my favorite subjects:

World Baseball Classic: The experts think they should change the scheduling of the WBC or pull the major leaguers out of the tournament altogether. Injuries are a big factor here, but I found Dusty Baker’s comments on this most compelling. He had several guys out last year, and his starting catcher — Ramon Hernandez — didn’t get to work with all of the team’s pitchers until just before the regular season started.  It seems to me that getting your catcher on the same page as the staff is one of the more important things that has to happen in camp, and the WBC makes that really hard.  Personally I’m not fan of the WBC — I think the major league season features the best international talent already — but there are some serious drawbacks to it even if you like it.

The World Series: Scott Boras talks about partial neutral-site scheduling and the creation of a Super Bowl destination experience/weekend extravaganza. I hate this idea with the intensity of a thousand burning suns. When something acquires the name “Classic,” as in “Fall Classic,” it seems to me that the last thing you want to do is to mess with it. Ask the people at Coke.  But even if you’re going to change it, Boras’ idea of modeling it on the Super Bowl is particularly horrifying, what with the Super Bowl being a turgid, overly-commercialized soul-sucking experience and everything.  My rule still stands: if baseball wants to be successful it should watch whatever it is the NFL is doing and then do the exact opposite.

Fan safety: The panel thinks that they should extend the safety netting to the edge of dugouts at every ballpark, or even use Plexiglas. I’m all for this (the nets, not the glass).  I’ve stated my reasons about this in the past.

PEDs:  The panel thinks that baseball needs to look beyond steroids and HGH and ahead to medical advances such as stem cell breakthroughs and figure out ahead of time how the game will handle this.  Scott Boras is particularly on-point here, noting that at some point they’re going to figure out a way to grow back someone’s rotator cuff using stem cells. What if a healthy player uses such therapies and it allows him to throw the ball 120 mph?  The example itself may be silly, but the idea that the game needs a framework in place to deal with whatever advances come down the pike before players start exploiting them in the sly is a good one.

Oh, and Boras also offered the closest thing you’ll ever see to a mea culpa:

“The steroid thing fell on the players. It should have fallen on people who are responsible for the
administration of the game — myself included, to be honest with you. It was one of the worst things that ever happened to the game.”

Not the strongest acceptance of responsibility you’ll ever hear, but it’s more than the owners and administration have ever offered.

Sadly, however, Boras’ admission of complicity in the steroids scandal will put his Hall of Fame case at risk . . .

Aaron Judge ties the rookie home run record with his 49th blast

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Monday afternoon baseball that isn’t either (a) part of a doubleheader; or (b) on a holiday is always a bit unsettling, but today’s rare Monday tilt gave us a gift in the form of history: Aaron Judge hit his 49th home run, tying the rookie record.

The dinger came in the third inning of this afternoon’s Royals-Yankees tilt. It was the sixth pitch from Jake Junis and left via right field. Mark McGwire also hit 49 with the Athletics in 1987. Judge has the rest of today’s game and five more games after it to hit number 50 and claim the record for himself.

Watch:

Major League Baseball wants you to look at a screen while you’re at the ballpark

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During the debate last week involving expanded netting at major league ballparks, the familiar refrain from the anti-netting crowd rung out: “hey, netting wouldn’t be necessary if you simply paid attention!” These folks get particularly upset at the idea of people looking at their phones or other electronic devices during the game, implying — or sometimes explicitly stating — that if you do that you almost deserve to be hit with a 100 mph foul ball.

The problem with that, though, is that Major League Baseball increasingly encourages fans to use their phones during games. You can order your concessions through them now. Fans are encouraged to use the MLB.com Ballpark app for an increasing number of in-game features. And, of course, the video boards — always in the opposite direction of the hitter — are getting larger and larger and contain more and more information that the clubs and the league want you to see.

But it goes farther than that. Or at least it will soon. As this article from TechCrunch makes clear, in the future, Major League Baseball wants you actually watching the game action through your phone or your iPad. It’s an augmented reality feature in which you hold up your tablet and . . .

In essence, it’s a bit like watching TV broadcast in person, with information overlaid on the action as it happens in real-time. The data is gathered from Statcast, MLB’s in-house analytics tool . . . Players on the field, meanwhile, get small, square popups featuring their faces that can be tapped open to offer up personalized player information

Which is kind of cool, actually. Personally I am fascinated with the possibilities of augmented reality. For me it usually comes to mind when I’m out hiking and I want to know what a certain kind of tree is or something (my natural education was sorely lacking as a child), but there are tons of other applications. Even though I probably know more about the players and what’s going on on the field than your average American, I’d still probably use such a product, at least a little bit at a game.

But, of course, there is that safety tradeoff. How can Major League Baseball continue to be hands-off about a netting policy and maintain that fans assume the risk of foul ball injuries while simultaneously encouraging the use of electronic devices that will, necessarily, distract them from directly observing on-field action? Indeed, if they do continue to maintain that paradoxical approach, I’d expect this quote from the article to be used at a trial of an injured fan suing for damages:

“People are already using their phones, and we don’t think this is all that different,” MLB Product VP Chad Evans told us at the event. Of course, in a sport where small spherical objects are regularly projected into the stands at high speeds, it’s a good idea to keep your eye on the field. Perhaps popping up an alert on screen when a ball approaches would be a good start.

That last bit — not the quote, but the article’s suggestion of a warning — is comical given how quickly a ball can make it into the stands. Even fans paying rapt attention can get hurt by fast foul balls. Expecting them to process a warning and then act based on it when instinct often isn’t fast enough is ridiculous.

Cool product, for sure. Like I said, I’d probably even use it on occasion. But the more technology and the more distractions Major League Baseball pours into the game, the more responsibility it will have when those distractions contribute to fan injuries. In light of that, they simply cannot continue to be hands-off with respect to the matter.