Chipper Jones will retire after the 2012 season

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We had to figure this was going to happen, but it’s still a bummer: Chipper Jones announced this morning that he will retire following the 2012 season. There will be a press conference later today.

Jones is under contract for this year with an option that kicks in if he were to play 123 games this season. I would bet the under on that, but if Jones wanted to continue playing — and if he was anything other than a complete zero at the plate in 2012 — the Braves would almost certainly have welcomed him back.

But Jones has never been one to be unrealistic about his abilities or his age.  He openly considered retirement last year. He has been on record for some time admitting that he’s not the player he used to be and has talked at length about his age and how much harder the game is for him now than it used to be. He’s had a rough spring too. If it weren’t for the fact that the Braves really don’t have any better options at the moment, I get the sense that he’d retire now. Probably doesn’t want to leave the team in the lerch.

I don’t know how he’ll do in 2012. He’ll get on base at a decent clip because his batting eye is still decent. He’ll hit some homers, though not a ton.  He’ll miss some time due to injury. He’ll make most of the routine plays at third while displaying poor range.  In other words, he’ll be late-model Chipper Jones.

But now that he is announcing his retirement we’ll have a greater opportunity to think about his career as a whole. A career that, for as great as it has been, is probably underrated by some.

He has a career line of .304/.402/.533. The consistency of the early part of his career — it seemed like he hit around .310 with 30 homers and 110 RBI every year — was not as sexy as the numbers some were putting up in the mid-to-late 90s, but it was astounding, especially for a third baseman. It wasn’t until his MVP season in 1999 — and a period when he made destroying the Mets single-handedly a hobby — that people really started talking about him as one of the greats in the game.

After that there were ups and downs and injures and an fortunate time in left field. But even in his down years, he was a well above-average hitter. And even last year — when it became pretty clear that the end was near — he somehow managed more than 500 plate appearances and an OPS+ of 123. And while his defense has never been a particular asset, playing his entire career in the National League means that he has always played defense, which is remarkable for a big time hitter in this day and age.

His future: a first-ballot entrance to Cooperstown. And I’m not gonna listen to anyone who says differently. Not because I’m a Braves fanboy, but because he’s a top-5 all-time third baseman.  And, according to some, an all-time top 2. I think Schmidt is easily first. After that I think there some legitimate — and fun — arguments to be had involving Brett, Boggs and Matthews. But the fact that he’s squarely in that conversation says pretty much all you have to say on the subject.

Happy trails, Chipper. Here’s hoping you go out with one last nice season.

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.