Major League Baseball ‘will keep examining’ protective netting policy

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Yesterday a child was injured by a line drive foul ball at the Cubs-Astros game. It’s, unfortunately, an old story. Even more unfortunate is Major League Baseball’s old response. From the Associated Press:

Major League Baseball said Thursday it will keep examining its policy on protective netting at stadiums a day after a young fan was struck by a foul ball and hospitalized . . . MLB said in a statement it sends its “best wishes to the child and family involved.” It noted that clubs have “significantly expanded netting and their inventory of protected seats in recent years,” and the league will continue its “efforts on this important issue.”

A reminder on Major League Baseball’s “efforts” on this issue in the past.

In December of 2015 Major League Baseball released a recommendation — not a mandate, just a suggestion — that teams provide expanded netting. Teams were “encouraged” to shield the seats between the near ends of both dugouts and within 70 feet of home plate. 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, the fact that it (a) punted the matter to individual clubs; and (b) stressed the responsibility of fans to protect themselves as opposed to the league mandating protective measures, made those efforts to appear to be far more geared toward diminishing the liability of the league than actively protecting fans from screaming projectiles.

In the wake of the league’s recommendations only a few teams immediately extended their netting, primarily because if you ask a business to do something but say it is not required to do anything, it is not likely to do a thing.

It would not be until September 2017, after a baby girl, just shy of her second birthday, was severely injured after a foul ball flew off the bat of Todd Frazier and into the Yankee Stadium stands along the third base line where she was sitting. The girl suffered multiple facial fractures and had bleeding on the brain. The stitches from the baseball left a mark on her forehead and her eyes were swollen shut due to the impact. She spent five days in the hospital. That, rather than league action, inspired the rest of baseball to extend protective netting. All 30 teams had such extended netting by Opening Day 2018.

That expanded netting is certainly no panacea. There are still large areas of seats which are both unprotected and where screaming line drives may fly. Leagues in other countries, most notably Japan, have protective netting that is far more expansive than the typical Major League team. There is nothing requiring clubs to do more than that what they are doing. Indeed, there is nothing to require clubs to even do as much as they are doing. To the extent Major League Baseball policy has a policy to “keep examining,” it’s not much more than a suggestion.

In the meantime, Major League Baseball will continue to promote the sport by featuring the triple-digit exit velocities of batted balls and pushing fan entertainment and concession options through cell phone apps and video boards which, by design, take a fan’s focus off the field. No word on whether that will be “examined” as well.