It shouldn’t take an injured little girl to try to wake up Major League Baseball
When a player steps to the plate, there shouldn’t be a thought in his head that he might hurt a fan in the stands with a foul ball. Not even remotely. And parents shouldn’t be concerned that taking their kids to something as seemingly benign as a baseball game might turn into an accident scene. Come on. This is such basic stuff.
If a little girl is crying at a baseball stadium, it should be over a dropped ice cream sundae.
If a man is terrified at a game, it should have to do with last call being just an inning away.
If a baseball player is on one knee praying near home plate, it should be for the hit that will trigger the large bonus in his contract.
Cubs outfielder Albert Almora shouldn’t have been appealing to a higher power that a little girl would get to continue being a little girl. But praying he was Wednesday after a ball that had rocketed off his bat hit a child sitting beyond the third-base dugout at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
Officials haven’t released the condition of the girl, but spectators who were sitting nearby said she was conscious when a frightened man, possibly her father, grabbed her and sprinted up the ballpark steps in search of medical attention.
We shouldn’t still be talking about fan safety in 2019. The protective netting Major League Baseball finally made mandatory before the 2018 season (after years of committed foot-dragging) clearly isn’t enough. Netting should be in place from foul pole to foul pole in the lower bowl, not just from the end of each dugout, as it is now. And the netting should be higher.
When a major-league player steps to the plate, there shouldn’t be a thought in his head that he might hurt a fan in the stands. Not even remotely.
And parents shouldn’t be concerned that taking their kids to something as seemingly benign as a baseball game might turn into an accident scene. Come on. This is such basic stuff.
For years, some of us have been urging MLB to wrap ballparks in protective netting. We have been met with silence. Baseball officials historically have been concerned that netting will affect the ‘‘fan experience’’ negatively. Having sat behind the net near the White Sox’ dugout recently, I can tell you that you forget about it by the time the first batter steps to the plate. It’s that unobtrusive.
The netting is ugly? Too bad. I don’t care if Wrigley Field ends up looking like a burlesque dancer’s fishnet stocking. The safety of the fans, the people who spend the money that pays for the players and the ballparks, is the only thing that matters here.
Today’s players are hitting baseballs harder than their predecessors did. Whether that’s because they’re naturally stronger, because the balls have been juiced or because of pharmaceutical help, no one is sure. But when a ball leaves a bat at more than 100 mph, it’s a threat to human life.
Last year, a 79-year-old woman died after being hit in the head by a foul ball at Dodger Stadium. The ball, off the bat of a Padres hitter, flew over the protective netting behind home plate on the first-base side. Four days after the incident, Linda Goldbloom died of ‘‘acute intracranial hemorrhage due to history of blunt force trauma,’’ according to the Los Angeles County coroner. What says, ‘‘Take me out to the ballgame,’’ more than acute intracranial hemorrhage?
Before teams were required to put up netting from dugout to dugout, about 1,750 people were hurt by foul balls each season at major-league stadiums, according to one study. It sounded like a crime statistic. Yet for decades, courts have sided with teams on the matter of foul-ball injuries. The burden is on the fan, who, by sitting in a seat at a big-league game, implicitly accepts the risk of getting hit by a ball or a bat entering the stands.
With no real incentive to change (other than shame), MLB has been loath to do anything that might have a negative impact on attendance. You know what should have a negative impact on attendance? A dead woman. An injured little girl.
But if history is any indication, people will continue to flock to the most dangerous seats along the lines. It’s a matter of ignorance. They want to catch a souvenir, but most of them have no idea how fast a line-drive foul ball can get to them. And most people don’t pay attention every moment of a game. Blinking scoreboards distract them. The hot-dog guy beckons to them. A foul ball doesn’t care about any of that. It just wants to get where it’s going as fast as it can.
Inside the parks, teams have cute signs that tell fans to be alert for foul balls. They don’t tell them the number of people injured each year by foul balls.
I’ll bet the adult who brought the little girl to the Cubs-Astros game Wednesday had no idea she’d be anything but safe. If there was no netting where they were sitting, it had to mean they were out of harm’s way, right? According to Statcast, the ball Almora hit traveled 160 feet in 1.2 seconds.
Don’t tell me about personal responsibility when baseballs are doing a mean imitation of bullets. Tell me when MLB, once and for all, is going to do the right thing.