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Major League Baseball continues to ignore Labor Day

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Did you see the special jerseys and caps Major League Baseball has rolled out for Labor Day weekend? The ones you can buy at the team store, the proceeds of which will go to help displaced and disabled workers? Hahaha, of course you didn’t, because such uniforms don’t exist for Labor Day like they do for Earth Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

Indeed, Labor Day is the only in-season national holiday that gets no commemoration from Major League Baseball whatsoever. Not even a statement from the commissioner honoring labor, organized or otherwise, despite the fact that the past half century of baseball history is inexplicably tied up with organized labor. And despite the fact that the league itself employs thousands, either directly or via its concession and stadium contractors, all of whom have to work today. Some have to come in early, as nine of the day’s fifteen contests are day games, which is unusual for a Monday. Which shows that it’s not that Major League Baseball doesn’t know it’s Labor Day. They’re perfectly aware of how it lends itself to making more money at the gate. They just don’t think it’s worth commemorating much beyond that.

This, of course, is not just Major League Baseball’s failing. It’s a reflection of where we are as a society. While most of you reading this may view my words here as unwelcome political sentiment, the fact remains that the institution of Labor Day itself was a political act, taken by politicians and business owners in order to appease workers they had just murdered and brutalized. What’s more, the obliteration and demonization of the labor movement is one of the most successful political operations of the past 40 years. Organized labor makes up a smaller portion of the workforce than it ever has. Even a great many of the people who do the working in this country have bought in to the notion — propagated by those who profit from labor — that unions are tools of the communists and giving any lip service to the rights of workers is a suspect and even un-American pursuit. Good, secure jobs with good pay and benefits have come to be seen as rare luxuries for which it is rude to ask, let alone expect. What’s worse: many workers themselves have adopted the language of the rich and powerful in this regard, having been convinced that their need to hustle harder than they used to in order to make less in real dollars than they used to is somehow a good thing.

I’m not sure what to do about that, but even if the devaluation of labor is bound to continue, there is no reason why baseball cannot at least commemorate and acknowledge a national holiday devoted to laborers the way in which they acknowledge the environment, the sick and those who have died for our country.  And make no mistake: workers have died for our country too. People die on the job every day and you likely cross a bridge, enter a building or drive on a road that was paid for, in part, by workers’ lives every day. People have likewise died in the name of worker’s rights and in the name of keeping more people from dying on the job. Beyond all of that, labor built this country. The labor movement has saved lives that would have been lost and has elevated the standard of living of families. Odds are that, whether you accept it or not, labor and workers in your own family allowed you to get where you are now.

But baseball has no plans to mark the occasion apart from scheduling some extra day games. Maybe a special cap or jersey isn’t a big deal and maybe such symbolic gestures wouldn’t make a difference. But our values are revealed in both our substantive and our symbolic gestures. And it’s regrettable that the quintessentially American institution of baseball can’t find time to give even a nod to the men and women who form the figurative foundation of American society and built the literal foundation of America itself.

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.