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Here’s the worst take you’ll likely ever see on netting at the ballpark

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There has been much discussion about extending the protective netting at major league parks over the past few years. Many teams have, in fact, extended their netting either voluntarily or in response to Major League Baseball’s “guidelines” encouraging clubs to extend it, issued a few years ago.

There has been no mandate for clubs to do so, however. MLB isn’t requiring extended netting. Some local governments, such as the city of New York, have made noises about requiring extended netting, but as of yet nothing has come of it. Courts which for decades have held that fans assumed all risk of foul balls and flying bats, have started to soften that stance on that somewhat, but there has yet to be any sort of definitive ruling which has forced clubs’ hands.

In light of all of that, it’s wholly inaccurate to characterize the topic of netting at the ballpark as some sort of nanny state or top-down authoritarian effort. It’s a largely organic movement inspired by many factors. Partially it’s about seats being closer to the field and some high profile incidents involving batted balls and flying bats. Partially it’s about the concern of liability on the part of teams resulting from those things. Mostly, though, it’s the result of everyone involved — teams, clubs, players, fans, public officials — realizing that it’s not a good thing for people to be injured by flying projectiles and seeking, in fits and starts, to find the best way to deal with it. Almost all efforts to this end have originated, in fact, with the clubs or leagues themselves, which are of course private entities, not the government or the courts.

But don’t tell that to Johnathan Tobin of The Federalist. He believes that extending netting is tyranny, to be blamed on “smart phones, trial lawyers, and the rise of the nanny state.” He argues that  the effort is depriving fans of good views and depriving teams of revenues from expensive seats which he believes to be depleted once those seats are placed behind nets and made less desirable. He does not, however, note that the most expensive and desirable tickets in ballparks are those behind home plate, which have been protected by netting for over a century. Guess that would mess with his argument.

Most of his argument, though, seems to hinge on (a) fans being responsible for their own injuries at ballgames; and (b) those injuries being an acceptable cost of doing business. It’s a dumb argument on one level, in that he and people who parrot this stuff vastly overestimate their ability to focus on the game 100% of the time and their ability to react to a ball traveling at 100 m.p.h.

It’s also a shockingly callous argument, especially given his acknowledgment of the dire consequences being hit by flying projectiles can have for those who we do not, legally, expect to assume the risk like everyone else and who we’d never expect to pay attention as much as we do or to react to the ball even as quickly as we do: children.

No decent person can look at a picture of an injured child, or anyone else who absorbed the impact of a ball or bat, without compassion. But at the heart of this issue is whether the state ought to regulate voluntary conduct because of the chance that someone might be hurt, particularly when the chances of a mortal injury are statistically insignificant. Records indicate that only one spectator has ever been killed by a ball or bat while attending a professional baseball game. But if you believe it is the obligation of government to prevent even one fatality every half-century, that decides the question.

That’s what happened in ice hockey when a freak accident in which a child was killed by a flying puck in 2002 forced the National Hockey League to erect vast nets at both ends of rinks. There had been no fatalities before that and none since, but it also meant that a great many spectators must now put up with viewing the game through an obstruction.

While it has become cliche to offer “won’t someone think of the children?!” arguments in response to every potential risk, Tobin’s explicit dismissal of the risk to children — including the death of Brittanie Cecil, the girl he references in that second paragraph who died when hit by a puck at a Columbus Blue Jackets hockey game — is twisted. They’re not the ones hiring lawyers or looking at cell phones during games. Tobin’s blanket “hey, you should just pay attention, folks” argument does not speak to them nor should it.

Beyond that, it’s impossible to read this piece as anything other than paint-by-numbers ideological conservatism which cares little for the reality on the ground. It’s all here, really:

  • Fear-mongering about the “nanny state” despite 95% of the effort of extended netting at ballparks being driven by private companies making relatively informed decisions and weighing tradeoffs;
  • Fear-mongering over “out of control trial lawyers” — note his ignorant shoutout to the McDonald’s coffee case at the end, a sure sign of a man who does not know what he’s talking about — despite there being little if any successful litigation related to batted-balls;
  • Rejection of reality — reality in which people, in practice, rarely if ever complain about netting and which teams and players all like it — in favor of some theoretical impingement on “freedom,” which the author believes to be constantly imperiled;
  • Concern over the theoretical profits of corporations despite the fact that there is little if any risk to baseball teams’ profits due to the extended netting. Again: the most profitable and expensive seats at ballparks have always had netting in front of them.

I am the last person who will ever tell someone to stick to sports or to politics or to whatever subject in which the author happens to claim expertise. But if you’re going to inject your political obsessions into a sports story, you had best know what the hell you’re talking about first. Tobin obviously doesn’t in this instance and obviously doesn’t care. And as such, he should be ignored on this topic.

Pete Mackanin doesn’t know if he’ll be back as Phillies manager next year

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Back in May the Phillies gave Pete Mackanin a contract extension covering the remainder of 2017, all of 2018 and created a team option for 2019. Yesterday, however, Mackanin said he had no idea if the Phillies were going to bring him back as manager next season:

“I assume I’ll be here, but you never know. You never know what they’re going to do. So you just keep moving on. I just take it a day at a time and manage the way I think I should manage and handle players the way I think I should handle them. That’s all I can do. If it’s not good enough then … fine. I hope it’s good enough. I hope he thinks it’s good enough.”

Maybe that’s just cautious talk, though, as there doesn’t seem to be any signals coming from the Phillies front office that Mackanin is in trouble. If anything things have looked up in the second half of the season with the callups of Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams each of whom have shown that they belong in the bigs. The team is 33-37 since the All-Star break and is certainly a better team now than the one Mackanin started with in April. And it’s not his fault that they don’t have any pitching.

I suspect Mackanin will be back next year, but Mackanin has been around the block enough times to know that nothing is guaranteed for a big league manager. Even one under contract.

How not to enjoy what Aaron Judge is doing

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Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge has been one of the biggest and best stories in all of baseball this year. While he held promise entering his rookie season, most experts figured he’d provide some low-average, low-OBP power. That he’d be a guy who, based on his size, could send a pitcher’s mistake 500 feet in the wrong direction, but who would probably be shown to have big holes in his swing once he’d been around the league a little bit.

Judge defied expectations, however, and has put together an amazing rookie season. He broke the rookie home run record yesterday with his 50th blast. He still strikes out a lot but so does everyone. He nonetheless has hit for a great average and has gotten on base at a fantastic clip. He has also showed some uncommon resilience, overcoming a lengthy slump in July and August and returning to the dominant form he showed in the first half while helping a Yankees team not many figured to be a strong contender into the playoffs. Such a great story!

Sadly, however, this sentiment, which appeared from a commenter on my Facebook page yesterday, has become increasingly common:

I’ve seen it in a lot of comments sections and message boards around the Internet too, including our own comment section. From yesterday:

This is not exactly the same thing we’ve seen in the past with other breakout home run hitters such as Jose Bautista a few years back. This is not an accusation that Judge is taking drugs or anything. It’s more of a preemptive and defensive diminishment of excitement. And I find it rather sad.

Yes, I understand that past PED users have made fans wonder whether the players they watch are using something to get an extra edge, but it really does not need to be this way. We’ve had drug testing in baseball for over a decade and, while no drug testing regime is perfect, it just seems bizarre, several years after Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa did their thing — and a few years after Alex Rodriguez and others were caught and disciplined for trying to do more — to assume, out of hand, that great baseball performances are the product of undetected cheating. Yes, it’s possible, but such assumptions should not be the default stance, only to be disproved (somehow) at a later date.

The same goes for the juiced baseball, right? Yes, there is strong evidence that the baseball was changed a couple of years back leading to a home run spike, but aren’t all players using the same baseball? It’s also worth remembering that the season Mark McGwire hit 49 homers — 1987 — is strongly suspected of being a juiced ball year as well. It’s a concern that may be based in fact, but it’s a large concern over a fact thrown out with little regard for context to sketch out a threat that is either remote or without consequence.

The point here is not to argue that Aaron Judge is undeniably clean or that the baseball isn’t different. The former is unknown and the latter is likely false. The point is that it’s super sad and self-defeating to qualify every amazing feat you see with preemptive concern about such things. Years and years of sports writers writing McCarthy-esque “Yes, but is he clean?” articles does not require you, as a fan, to do the same. You can enjoy a cool thing in the moment. If it’s found out later to have been tainted, fine, we have a lot of practice in contextualizing such things and we’ll do so pretty quickly, but what’s the harm in going with it in real time?

I suspect the answer to that is rooted in some desire not to look like a sucker or something. Not to find oneself like many did, in the mid-2000s, being told by sportswriters and politicians that they were dupes for enjoying Sosa and McGwire in 1998. But that’s idiotic, in my view. I enjoyed 1998 and all of the baseball I saw on either side of it, as did most baseball fans. When the PEDs stuff exploded in the 2000s I reassessed it somewhat as far as the magnitude of the accomplishments compared to other eras in history, but it didn’t mean I enjoyed what I had seen any less.

Likewise, I’ve enjoyed the hell out of watching Aaron Judge this year. Why can’t everyone? Why is it so hard? Why have we been conditioned to be skeptical of something that is supposed to be entertaining? When your personal stakes are low like they are with respect to any sporting event or form of entertainment, it’s OK to enjoy things while they’re enjoyable and worry about them being problematic if and when they ever become so. And hey, they may not!

I promise you: if Aaron Judge walks into the postseason awards banquet this winter carrying a briefcase that unexpectedly opens and 200 syringes full of nandrolone fall out, no one is going to say you were dumb for cheering for him yesterday. It will really be OK.