Editorial: Why is MLB still dragging its feet on fan safety?

  • A young child is carried from the stands after being injured by a foul ball off the bat of the Chicago Cubs' Albert Almora Jr. during the fourth inning of a baseball game in Houston Wednesday.

    A young child is carried from the stands after being injured by a foul ball off the bat of the Chicago Cubs' Albert Almora Jr. during the fourth inning of a baseball game in Houston Wednesday. Associated Press Photo

 
Updated 5/30/2019 10:03 PM

A shaken Albert Almora Jr. said Wednesday he'd like to see safety netting "around the whole stadium." The Cubs center fielder might have been exaggerating, caught up in the emotions of the moment, but he's not far off.

Major League Baseball stadiums ought to have safety netting at least from foul pole to foul pole. It is unconscionable that the league doesn't require it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

We made this appeal in 2017, when a 105 mph foul ball off the bat of New York Yankee Todd Frazier struck the face of a young girl sitting behind the third base dugout at Yankee Stadium.

Since then, all MLB stadiums have added netting to the end of the dugout areas on both sides of the field, That is not enough, as the accident that stirred Almora's plea demonstrates.

Almora had sent a foul ball screaming toward the left-field stands in the fourth inning at Houston's Minute Made Park. It struck a girl sitting a few rows off the field about 10 feet past the third-base dugout, where the netting ends. The girl was rushed to the hospital. Her condition has not been released, though she reportedly is recovering. We are left to join Almora in his postgame lament, "Right now, I'm just praying and I'm speechless and I'm at a loss of words."

Apparently, Major League Baseball is, too. It issued a feeble statement on Twitter Thursday. It sent its "best wishes" to the child and her family. It acknowledged the event to be "extremely upsetting," then emphasized the changes clubs made last year to expand netting and "their inventory of protected seats." It promised to "continue our efforts on this important issue."

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Goodness. Is that really an expression of how upset Major League Baseball is about an entirely avoidable situation in which a little girl was struck in the face by a blazing fist-sized projectile?

The league and its slow-moving teams offer a range of excuses for their inaction. Netting would reduce some of the intimacy of the game, they say. Fans know the risks. Fans need to pay attention at all times.

None of this absolves them. As Almora teammate Jason Heyward said, it's purely a question of safety.

"People don't realize how hard it is to react to a baseball," he said. "We go through that. I know they don't get it. But it's that hard to react to it."

If MLB and its 30 member teams really consider this an important issue, it's time to surrender empty platitudes about "continuing efforts" and do something. Japan has. Teams there are required to extend safety netting from foul pole to foul pole, and baseball remains one of the country's most popular sports.

Meanwhile, back here in America, birthplace of the game, hundreds of fans are injured every year by foul balls and broken bats. How "extremely upsetting" does this have to get before the league acts?

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