Baseball must improve on its safety
ATLANTA — There’s always a surge of excitement when a foul ball comes your way, mixed with a sense of dread.
It’s a thrilling souvenir to take home from the ballpark.
Yet too many fans have been left bloody and maimed by these projectiles hurtling into the stands.
One person even died.
But, for some reason, Major League Baseball is playing a dangerous game by dragging its feet on requiring all teams to put up protective netting from foul pole to foul pole.
“I think everybody that’s got a uniform on would like to see that,” Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “You look up there, you can’t even see the nets. I’ve got to think once people get there and start watching the game, they won’t even notice it.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred is leaving it to the individual teams to decide what should be done, saying there’s no one-size-fits-all solution given the different dimensions of each ballpark.
We can also safely assume that MLB is doing a cost-benefit analysis, given that extra netting would have to be installed in front of some of the best seats in the stadium, which might make them harder to sell if fans believe their view is obscured.
Given the attendance woes that baseball already is facing, the owners are sure to be resistant to any changes that might further cut into their bottom line.
You know what’s a potentially bigger drag on attendance?
Watching someone being hauled out of the stadium on a stretcher, blood pouring from their head after being struck by a ball that left the bat at more than 100 mph.
No one will forget that excruciating scene in May, when Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. sent a screamer into the stands that struck a 4-year-old girl.
He immediately put his hands on his head and took a couple of steps toward the stands. Then, he sank to his knees near home plate, breaking down as he was consoled by teammate Jason Heyward and manager Joe Maddon.
“Right now, obviously, I want to put a net around the whole stadium,” Almora said.
Some teams have already moved in that direction.
Over the All-Star break, the Chicago White Sox became the first team to extend the netting all the way down each foul line after a liner at Guaranteed Rate Field opened up a bloody gash on a female fan’s head, sending her to the hospital.
The Washington Nationals followed suit, and several teams, including the Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers and Toronto Blue Jays, have announced they will extend their netting by the 2020 season.
That’s a good start, but MLB should order all 30 teams to install the extra protection as soon as possible. No need to wait until next season if it can be done now.
And while we’re at it, pass along the same edict to all minor league affiliates, which have been overlooked in this debate but where fans are just as much at risk.
Last season, a 79-year-old woman was struck in the head by a foul ball at Dodger Stadium and died four days later, though news of her death didn’t come out until February.
Linda Goldbloom was reportedly sitting in the second level of the stadium when she was struck by a ball that sailed over the netting. It’s not clear what measures could’ve been taken to prevent her death.
Remembering his days as a third-base coach, Snitker said, “I stopped watching balls go in the stands … because I did not want to turn around and see a young kid get hit. Because I did a couple of times. It makes you sick to your stomach to see that.”
After several fans were injured by foul balls during the 2017 season, MLB ordered teams to extend the netting behind home plate to the far edge of each dugout.
But there are still far too many fans in the line of fire, especially when there’s clearly a greater risk of being seriously injured these days.
Look around and see how many fans are texting and not paying attention to the gmae.
“There’s all sorts of things going on,” Braves catcher Tyler Flowers said. “It’s a challenge to be attentive for an entire game, especially when you’re talking about kids. There’s no way they’re going to be paying attention the whole game. C’mon, it’s boring between pitches.”
C’mon, baseball, there’s no need for this carnage. Do the right thing.
Before someone else dies.