Screaming foul balls, errant hockey pucks and Luis Salazar

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We learn this morning that Luis Salazar seems to have avoided brain damage as a result of the wicked foul ball that tore into the dugout yesterday. He has multiple facial fractures, but he’s recovering in an Orlando hospital.

That incident reminded me that I wasn’t wrong to feel really vulnerable when I was at spring training games last week. Most of the time I was in the press box, but I’d spend at least part of every game down low along the lines, just beyond the screen so that I could get some good pictures. Whenever I had my face down to mess with my phone or my camera or to take a note or whatever, I had a strong compulsion to look up because I was painfully aware of how fast a ball could find its way to my head.

The incident also reminded me of Brittanie Cecil. She was the 13 year-old girl who was killed by an errant puck at a Columbus Blue Jackets game in 2002.  I certainly had her in my mind last night when, hours after the Salazar incident, my brother and I went to see the Jackets play the St. Louis Blues. As always, I noted the netting on each end of the ice that wasn’t a standard part of hockey arenas before Cecil’s death and realized that heavy, fast-moving projectiles and fans can be a dangerous combination.

I’m not alone in thinking about that. Indeed, it prompted a reader — Rob B. — to write in yesterday putting voice to what a lot of probably feel:

When I read the posts about Josh Beckett and the San Diego coach being hit last week, I could not help but think about Mike Coolbaugh.  I also thought about 4 year old Luke Holko, who was attending a Mahoning Valley Scrappers game in 2009, when he was hit in the head by a foul ball.  Additionally, I thought about Tyler Colvin who was impaled by a broken bat this past September and Denard Spann’s mother who was hit by his foul ball last March.

Last year, I read the book about Mike Coolbaugh, “Heart of the Game: Life, Death, and Mercy in Minor League America” by S.L. Price.  Of the many interesting items in that story, one that stood out was the idea that the players all seemed to be aware of the inherent dangers of being hit by a ball or bat.  From what I remember, there were many people interviewed who mentioned that they kept a watch out for family members at the ballpark and made sure that they kept themselves behing the protective netting.

Ever since I read that book, I have attempted to make sure that my family and I are seated in areas where our safety is increased.  With regards to the more affordable Minor League, we try to sit behind the netting.  When we go to the more expensive Major League Stadiums, we tend to sit in areas which place us farther from the action.

When we went to games at Durham, Brooklyn, and Frederick, all great stadiums where most of the fans are incredibly close to the action, we saw many balls hit hard into the stands and most of the attendees did not have gloves to attempt to protect themselves.  We also saw a number of broken and intact bats fly into the stands.

When we went to the Futures At Fenway games last summer, we were seated close to the field, but not behing the screen.  Luckily, I brought my glove with me, since I had to catch a line drive foul that was heading for my younger son.

It is shocking to me that Major and Minor League Baseball have not put more safety features in place to protect the players and the fans.  I understand that it may take away from some esthetic part of the game, but the alternative is incredibly costly.  I just hope that MLB and MiLB do something, quickly, before there is another Mike Coolbaugh or another Luis Salazar.

You can’t make anything 100% safe. Accidents and incidents happen. There is no such thing as total protection, and I don’t think that should be the overriding goal of those who operate ballparks and arenas.

But nor should anyone dismiss the idea of added safety, and perhaps the Salazar incident should prompt us to think about what, if anything, can be done that can provide a reasonable measure of protection to those so close to the action.

In the meantime, if you find yourself low and close at the ballpark, for God’s sake, pay attention.

Dodgers owner Mark Walter is involved in a scandal

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The Dodgers last owner, Frank McCourt, was a mainstay of the gossip pages. The new administration has been pretty drama free since taking over five years ago. That is, until now.

Multiple outlets, ranging from the New York Post to the Wall Street Journal, have been reporting on a scandal brewing at Guggenheim Partners, the multi-billion investment firm led by Mark Walter, its CEO. Walter is also the head of Guggenheim Baseball Management, the offshoot of the firm which owns the Dodgers. Walter is the Dodgers’ named owner — the “control person” — as far as Major League Baseball is concerned.

The scandal does not directly relate to the baseball team. Rather, it involves allegations that Walter bought a $13 million Pacific Palisades home for a younger female executive named Alexandra Court:

In the past 24 hours, the company has pushed back on multiple reports that CEO Mark Walter will step down; its chief investment officer has claimed on CNBC that there’s “no tumult” at the company; and Guggenheim has denied reports on a real-estate blog and in the New York Post that Walter bought a California mansion for a younger female executive at the company.

The denial regarding who bought the mansion is a bit too cute, though, as the company only denies that Walter bought it or owns it. In fact, the mansion is owned by a holding company that also bought Walter’s personal residence in Malibu. Billionaires don’t go to closings at title company offices, of course. They buy houses through companies and LLCs and trusts and stuff. As such, the claim that Walter didn’t buy the house may be technically and legally true but entirely misleading all the same. For what it’s worth, The Wall Street Journal has reported that Walter and Court, have a “personal relationship,” though Walter, who is married, and the company deny this. Court is on an extended leave of absence.

Walter and Guggenheim are denying that Walter is going to step down as CEO. That remains to be seen. The question for our purposes is whether, if he steps down from Guggenheim Partners, he would necessarily have to step down from Guggenheim Baseball Management and thus relinquish control of the Dodgers. I suspect not — they’re distinct legal entities, and his departure from Partners would be unrelated to stuff having to do with the baseball team — but you never know. It’s not like he put up $2 billion of his personal dollars for the team. There are likely a lot of strings attached and contingencies involved to the arrangement.

Something to watch.

R.A. Dickey may retire

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Braves starter R.A. Dickey had a nice outing against the Nationals last night, allowing two runs over eight innings to pick up his 10th win on the year. After the game, however, he hinted pretty strongly that it was his last home start and, based on the schedule, one of the last couple of starts of his career. Dickey:

I’d be lying to say I didn’t have some emotions about it. This could be my last start ever at a home venue. But we’re going to make that decision at the end of the season and see how I feel and what goes on there.

The data points for the decision: though he’ll turn 43 next month, he’s still a useful major league pitcher. Last night’s win evened his record at 10-10 and pushed his ERA down to 4.32, which is around league average. He’s also subject to a team option for $8 million for 2018, which is eminently reasonable for a league average starter, especially one as durable as Dickey is. Last night was his 30th start and 2017 is the seventh straight season in which he’s pitched 30 games (he started 29 and came out of the pen once for Toronto last season). If he wanted to pitch, he’d certainly have a gig.

The data point against the decision. Family. Dickey:

If I did not continue to play, it would be because our family decided it wasn’t the best thing. I’ve dragged my kids all over the world playing baseball for 21 years. You know, there comes a time they deserve their dad to be around.

Dickey has four kids, aged 15, 14 and two who are younger. Based on my personal experience, once your kids are teenagers, you start to realize that your time with them is finite in ways you never really think about when they’re younger. It would be totally understandable, then, if he decided to walk away from $8 million and baseball in order to spend more time with them.

Part of me, though, selfishly wants to see Dickey keep going. He’s a knuckleballer, man. There aren’t many of them.