Dear Baseball: Add nets, now

Gene Mueller's Blog

Many things decide the outcome of a game. Competitions are games of inches, we are told, often decided by someone's stellar play or occasionally, an unforced error.

Baseball can avoid the latter next season by adding netting down the foul lines at stadiums.

A foul ball screamed into the stands at a Twins/Yankees game in New York one afternoon last month, severely injuring a young girl.  A Chicago fan is suing the Cubs after a ball hit him in the eye at Wrigley. He may be permanently blinded. It happened at Miller Park, too, when a woman behind the a dugout got smacked, suffering serious injuries in 2015. A Bloomberg analysis says as many as 1,750 fans a season get hit by balls in the seats.

Sure, the fine print on the back of the standard ticket gives MLB absolution and puts the burden on patrons to be aware. But does the game really want to see its fans--especially kids--getting maimed in the seats? Not everyone has their eye on the ball--the modern baseball experience comes complete with distractions galore including that one in your pocket or purse called the cell phone. Modern parks sport dazzling scoreboards and ribbon displays, not to mention designs that put fans far closer to the action than ever before.  No other sport exposes fans to this sort of danger--hockey, perhaps, but even the slow-moving NHL installed netting behind its goals after a teenage fan died of a head injury after getting hit by puck at a Columbus Blue Jackets game in 2002. It took the league all of three months to make the change. Sure, there's nothing but short glaas separating us from frozen, vulcanized rubber between the red lines but those sitting behind the goals can rest assured they won't be taking a slapshot to the melon while they're rutting through their nachos, looking for that last jalepeno pepper.

Yes, some fans will beef about obstructed views but nets have been up behind the plate for ages, with nary a beef from paying customers. Your eyes get used to it. And, when the final out is logged, you'll still have full use of both of them. The same can't be guaranteed now.

Things happen. Life is random. Lack of action on this very fixable issue is what amounts to the ultimate unforced error by a game many of us love. MLB made many changes to invigorate a dormant fan base over the decades (Google "Bud Selig baseball renaissance") but needs to be proactive to prevent a tragedy just waiting to happen. Some teams took action on their own. An off-season mandate is in order if clubs don't voluntarily hang nets down the lines.

Adding replay, tweaking playoff formats and speed-of-game revisions are tough calls. Anything that bolsters fan safety isn't.

Nets now. The call isn't even close. 

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