A bust for two years, Juan Uribe plays the hero now

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There was a great case for the Dodgers releasing Juan Uribe last winter.

Fresh off a 24-homer campaign for the world champion Giants, Uribe was given a three-year, $21 million deal as a free agent after the 2010 season. It was a move widely panned at the time, and it worked out even worse than anyone could have imagined, with Uribe hitting .204-4-28 in 270 at-bats in 2011 and .191-2-17 in 162 at-bats in 2012.

Things got so bad last year that Uribe appeared in one game and had one plate appearance over the final five weeks of the season. He was healthy and on the active roster the whole time, but the Dodgers refused to use him. His received one start after July 23, that coming on Aug. 14. All signs pointed to him being released over the winter. The Dodgers had Hanley Ramirez starting at shortstop and Luis Cruz penciled in at third, with Jerry Hairston Jr., Skip Schumaker and Nick Punto also on guaranteed deals as utilitymen. Of course, Uribe was making more than any of them except Ramirez, but that still didn’t figure to save him.

But, oddly, the DFA or release never came, and while the Dodgers would have been more than happy to trade him, he was back in spring training with the team. Ramirez’s injury opened up an infield spot, allowing all of the veteran backups to make the squad. Uribe still didn’t play a lot — he made three starts in the first two weeks and totaled 32 at-bats in April — but he contributed in his limited action and overtook Cruz, eventually settling in as the Dodgers’ primary third baseman and still keeping that role after Michael Young was acquired. After a strong finish that saw him collect five of his 12 homers in September, Uribe started all four games in the ALDS against the Braves. He homered Sunday in the Game 3 victory and then, after failing to get a sac bunt down, delivered the big blast on Monday, a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth that gave the Dodgers a 4-3 lead they’d make stand up.

It’s a pretty amazing turnaround and still not his first. When he originally signed with the Giants, he was forced to take a minor league deal after hitting just seven homers for the White Sox the year before. Consistency obviously isn’t a strength. His four career-high OPSs came in 2001, 2004, 2009 and this year, for four different teams (he started off with the Rockies). The only one of those teams that never gave up on him was the Giants, unless you want to count the Dodgers, too. After all, here he is. Next stop: the NLCS.

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.

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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.