Maybe someone else has to die.
Maybe another fatality would give baseball the kick in the pants it needs to require protective netting that extends down the foul lines in every ballpark.
Clearly, it’s not enough that a 4-year-old girl was struck and injured by a foul ball last month in Houston, a frightful experience that left Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. visibly shaken. If that horrific accident didn’t inspire a new policy from commissioner Rob Manfred, you have to wonder if anything will do the trick.
Anything short of another death.
Sunday at Dodger Stadium, a young woman was struck in the head by a foul ball and taken to the hospital. Dodger Stadium happens to be the venue where a 79-year-old woman was struck by a foul ball in August and died from her traumatic head injury four days later.
On Sunday, Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger placed his hand on his head and gasped as he stared into the stands where the young woman sat, just beyond the protective netting. “I saw it literally hit her face,” he told reporters afterward. “It was tough.”
That’s essentially what MLB tells fans who might be struck by a projectile traveling over 100 mph.
The disclaimer has been around since 1913 and it’s printed on every ticket: MLB and its teams are not liable for the “risk and danger inherent to the game,” including the possibility of injury. Printed signs and public announcements advise fans to stay alert and look out for balls entering the stands.
Good luck. Especially if you’re close to the action without netting in front of you.
After a rash of fans were injured by foul balls in 2017, Manfred recommended that all 30 teams extend their protective netting to at least the far end of each dugout. Teams initially were reluctant, although all eventually complied.
They’re apparently unenthusiastic about extending the netting further and riling some customers.
“We do have fans that are vocal about the fact that they don’t want to sit behind nets,” Manfred told reporters earlier this month, adding that the 4-year-old girl’s injury has revived the issue. “Because safety is so important, I’m sure that conversation will begin and continue in the offseason.”
Baseball’s leader is failing to lead. Kudos to the Chicago White Sox and Washington Nationals for not waiting. They have sprung into action and should be imitated by the other 28 clubs — whether Manfred acts soon or waits for another tragedy.
Last week, the White Sox announced they will extend protective netting all the way down the foul lines to the foul poles, making Guaranteed Rate Field the first MLB ballpark with that level of protection. The Nats followed suit two days later, announcing that upgraded netting will be installed and expanded at Nationals Park during the All-Star break.
“Over the past few weeks, we have seen several fans injured by bats and balls leaving the field of play at other stadiums,” Nats owner Mark Lerner wrote in a letter to fans. “I could not help but become emotional last month watching (the 4-year-old-girl) hit by a line a drive … Further extending the netting at Nationals Park will provide additional protection for our fans.”
Of course it will. And Lerner said the new netting is knotless, making it more transparent than the traditional version currently at the stadium.
There’s no excuse for teams that refuse to take similar action.
Fans who complain that more netting will ruin the experience should tell that to the 4-year-old’s parents and the deceased 79-year-old’s daughter. Tell it to other spectators who have suffered injuries, some serious. Tell it to fans in the vicinity of a ball that is scorched and enters the section like a bullet. Paying attention to your surroundings only goes so far in those instances.
“I would assume that would be a smart decision,” Bellinger told reporters when asked about extending netting.
Manfred should seek counsel from a counterpart. After a deflected slap shot struck a 13-year-old girl in the head during the 2001-02 season. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman ordered teams to install netting to protect the crowd behind each goal. Just as in baseball, the move was controversial, with some fans arguing that netting spoils the view.
“After three minutes, people won’t know it’s there,” Bettman said at the time. He was right.
Two days after being struck by the puck, the 13-year-old girl died from complications stemming from her injury. Her death spurred Bettman to action.
Manfred shouldn’t require the same motivation.
⦁ Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.
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