The Reds, Padres and Mariners announced today that they would be expanding protective netting at their ballparks, while the Rockies said that they were in talks to set official plans to do so. The announcements came one day after a young girl was struck by a line drive at Yankee Stadium and hospitalized.
After the 2015 season, the league gave teams a set of recommendations indicating that netting reach to the ends of both dugouts, but those were only recommendations, not requirements. This has left teams to make their own decisions about how much of their parks are protected, and most have chosen not to protect much beyond the area directly behind home plate. Only 11 teams—the Cardinals, Pirates, Mets, Phillies, Braves, Nationals, Astros, Rangers, Royals, Twins and Red Sox—have extended netting in place right now.
Commissioner Rob Manfred claims that the variations in stadium layouts would make it difficult for the league to issue one set of mandatory conditions for protective netting—an idea that he cited when the recommendations were released and one that he has repeated several times since, including in a New York Daily News interview two months ago, after another fan was hit by a foul ball at Yankee Stadium, and yesterday, following this latest incident.
“It remains an ongoing discussion in the industry,” Manfred said yesterday on the subject of netting, with a 2-year-girl in the hospital after being struck by a ball traveling at 105 mph. “We gave some guidelines two years ago, and what we have done since then is that we have encouraged the individual clubs to engage in a localized process, look at their own stadiums—every stadium’s different—and to try to make a good decision about how far the netting should go in order to promote fan safety.”
While it’s true that every stadium is different, it’s also true that those differences do not preclude MLB from being able to design requirements that would protect fans from projectiles leaving the field of play at more than 100 mph. (There are broken bats to think of here, too, which can be even more dangerous than foul balls.) The message from the commissioner should not be that teams can “try to make a good decision” that will “promote fan safety.” Teams should not be simply trying to make this decision; they should be making it. They should not be promoting some abstract idea of fan safety; they should simply be keeping fans safe. And if they can’t or won’t do that on their own, MLB should be requiring them to do so.