Yesterday, during the Minnesota Twins-New York Yankees game at Yankee Stadium, a young girl was injured after a foul ball flew off the bat of Todd Frazier and into the stands along the third base line where she was sitting. In some parks that ball would be stopped because of netting down the line.
There was no netting that far down the line in Yankee Stadium, because (a) Major League Baseball does not require it; and (b) the Yankees have still not committed to expanding it like other teams have.
A few minutes ago, Commissioner Rob Manfred released a statement about the injury:
I’m not sure how baseball can “redouble” its efforts given that its efforts thus far have been to completely delegate the responsibility of expanded netting to the 30 clubs.
This delegation came in December of 2015 when Major League Baseball released its recommendation — not its mandate — that teams provide expanded netting. Teams were “encouraged” to shield the seats between the near ends of both dugouts (i.e., the ends of the dugouts located closest to home plate) and within 70 feet of home plate with protective netting or other safety materials of the clubs’ choice. At the same time, they launched “fan education” guidelines about where to sit and whether or not they’ll be protected.
While these recommendations were better than nothing, they also seemed far more geared toward diminishing the liability of the league and its clubs than actively protecting fans from screaming projectiles.
The stuff about fan education was obviously a creature of an assumption-of-the-risk calculus. It was, essentially, a disclaimer of the “don’t say we didn’t warn you” variety and, as such, was aimed more at shielding baseball from liability over batted ball or bat-shard injuries than at directly shielding fans from such injuries. Even the netting recommendation could be construed as MLB insulating itself from being joined in a lawsuit at a later date if a club were to get sued over a fan injury. A way of saying “hey, we told the Yankees [or whoever] that they should do more, please don’t sue us too.”
It’s one thing to do all of that and walk away, as the league seemed content to do in 2015. It’s another thing to walk back today, as Manfred is, claiming that the league will “redouble” such transparently ineffective efforts. It’s frankly insulting. Yet this is baseball’s approach to the matter. The league is, for whatever reason, afraid to tell its clubs that it has to do something that is so clearly prudent. It, apparently, is waiting for a someone to be killed by a foul ball before mandating netting rather than meekly suggesting it.
Oh, I’m sorry. Waiting for someone else to be killed. Because it has happened before. Absent prudent protections it will, inevitably, happen again.
While Major League Baseball may have been safe from being held responsible for such things due to its ticket disclaimers and assumption of the risk arguments in the past, it won’t be in the future. One would hope it will not take death or debilitating injury of a fan for the league to accept it.