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Hank Aaron thinks Colin Kaepernick is getting “a raw deal”

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There’s a lot of passion on both sides of the ongoing Colin Kaepernick saga, with supporters contending that the protesting quarterback is being blackballed by the NFL and detractors, somewhat inconsistently, alternating between arguing that (1) it’s not a political thing, he’s just not good enough to play; (2) teams don’t need the “distraction” he provides; and (3) he’s an un-American ingrate who outta be put on a rocket and blasted into the sun (or something).

One argument I’ve heard frequently from Kaepernick detractors is that it’d be silly to believe that team owners and executives would avoid signing a player they believe would help their team because all team owners and executives care about is winning. Ergo, the argument goes, it must be based on his skills as a quarterback.

I don’t now enough about football to argue intelligently about that, but one man who has spent decades as a high-ranking front office executive for a professional sports team has no trouble believing that owners would spite themselves by avoiding Kaepernick: Hank Aaron.

Aaron, who is the Atlanta Braves senior vice-president and who has served in various other capacities for the club for years, says Kaepernick is “getting a raw deal,” and that  the reason Kaepernick isn’t signed is due to the wishes of the team owners. He added that he’d like to see other players join Kaepernick’s protests.

I’m not suggesting that Hank Aaron could go and be the GM of an NFL team tomorrow or that he is some authoritative voice when it comes to a man’s football skills, but (a) the guy knows more about discrimination and injustice in sports than anyone else alive; and (b) has been in a front office for nearly 40 years. That he has no trouble whatsoever believing that an athlete is getting blackballed should make those who think such a thing is impossible take notice. At the very least, it’s worth taking his views on the matter seriously.

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.