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Major League Baseball fines the Red Sox for the Apple Watch sign stealing incident

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A little over a week ago, the Red Sox were caught stealing signs via instant replay monitoring equipment and the use of Apple watches. They were caught after the Yankees noticed the scheme and reported them to Major League Baseball. In turn, the Red Sox complained that the Yankees had used a YES Network camera to spy on the Red Sox dugout, likely to steal signs as well. Major League Baseball has been investigating and, a few minutes ago, leveled its discipline. From Rob Manfred’s statement:

I have decided to fine the Red Sox an undisclosed amount which in turn will be donated by my office to hurricane relief efforts in Florida.  Moreover, all 30 Clubs have been notified that future violations of this type will be subject to more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.

In reaching this decision, Manfred said that the Red Sox immediately stopped using the Apple Watch scheme as soon as they were reported and then cooperated fully with the investigation. He added that “the violation in question occurred without the knowledge of ownership or front office personnel.” He did not say, it should be noted, that it was without the knowledge of manager John Farrell, though Farrell has not been specifically disciplined. Manfred added that, unlike other sign stealing incidents which do not violate baseball’s rules, this one used technology to do so, and that violated then-Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Sandy Alderson’s 2001 memo which prohibited the use of electronic equipment in stealing signs.

Manfred went on and addressed the Red Sox’ claim that the Yankees used cameras to steal signs and found insufficient evidence to discipline them for that. He added something curious however:

“In the course of our investigation, however, we learned that during an earlier championship season (prior to 2017) the Yankees had violated a rule governing the use of the dugout phone.  No Club complained about the conduct in question at the time and, without prompting from another Club or my Office, the Yankees halted the conduct in question.  Moreover, the substance of the communications that took place on the dugout phone was not a violation of any Rule or Regulation in and of itself.  Rather, the violation occurred because the dugout phone technically cannot be used for such a communication.

“Based on the foregoing, I have decided to fine the Yankees a lesser undisclosed amount which in turn will be donated by my office to hurricane relief efforts in Florida.”

Seems odd that he’d reach back to a previous season to discipline sign stealing by the Yankees. Almost as if he wanted to slap both sides in this, regardless. Maybe that’s wise in that it might stop the tit-for-tat stuff the Yankees and Red Sox have apparently been involved in. Still, strange.

This would now seem to be over. The Yankees and Red Sox don’t face each other again during the regular season. They could, however, face each other in the playoffs. I assume both teams will be changing their signs before then.

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.