There are things that hurt more than a crushing playoff loss. Getting hit by a 100-plus mph foul ball is one of them.
With the regular season over and the return of October playoff baseball, NBC News reports that at least 808 people have been injured by flying baseballs since 2012. This number is approximate. Major League Baseball and its 30 teams refused to release numbers. Only four of the first-aid agencies that service baseball stadiums provided NBC solid figures. Reporters had to piece together the rest from news reports, social media posts and lawsuits, and their end figure is likely conservative.
Most of these incidents, which include some cases of people hurting themselves while trying to catch baseballs entering the stands, do not result in serious injury. But examples of substantial harm are horrifying and still too common. A case in which a wayward baseball severely injured a girl at Yankee Stadium in 2017 persuaded all teams to extend netting to 70 feet either way from home plate, to the end of each dugout. Last year a 79-year-old grandmother died after a ball struck her at Dodger Stadium.
Some teams, including the Nationals and the Orioles, have installed extensive netting that reaches nearly to the foul polls. The White Sox have netting that reaches the foul poles, like in Japanese stadiums. But 16 teams still have netting that extends only from dugout to dugout. Eight of those teams have announced plans to install extended netting by next season. That leaves eight teams with no public plans to protect their fans sitting beyond the dugouts – and a handful of others that have extended netting only a bit farther.
Opponents of extended netting argue that people occupying close-in seats should closely watch the action at all times. Yet in some cases, with only about a second to react, even attentive fans would have a hard time avoiding a ball hurtling at them. And even the most devoted baseball fans find their attention wandering at times. “There are so many other things going on around the stadium, advertisements, stuff on the video board, the mascots running up and down the seats. There are vendors. There are a lot of other things that are competing for your attention,” Nationals star reliever Sean Doolittle said in June. “It’s unrealistic to say, ‘Oh, you should just pay attention to the game.’ Come on, man. We’ve created this experience for fans, and I think we have an obligation to make sure that they stay safe.”
Because every stadium is built differently, Major League Baseball has shrunk from imposing a stringent pole-to-pole netting standard. But with batters hitting more foul balls than ever, baseball’s leaders have to demand more.
The Washington Post