It’s been quite a week in the United States. Evidently, it remains dangerous to attend baseball games with your children, or to go to work at all. I find these problems to be deeply frustrating because they do have solutions and there is a growing consensus on what they are and that they need to be implemented soon.
So when I got a call yesterday from a local TV station to talk about what office workers should do to protect themselves from an active shooter in the wake of the horrific violence in Virginia Beach, I agreed to the interview. After sharing the usual platitudes about how everyone should “Run, Hide, [or] Fight,” I offered (what I thought was) a very articulate rant about the need to stop saying the same things after the latest version of the usual tragedies, but rather to do something serious to stop them from happening. Along the way, I offered a ringing endorsement for the use of facts and data to inform the discussion, because I prefer that major policy decisions be based on real things, not our beliefs about things that may or may not be real.
Naturally, my rant, compelling though it was, did not make it out of the editing room. I don’t blame the station for not wanting to touch the third rail of American politics. Perhaps next time a bunch of people get shot….
This brings me to baseball. On Wednesday night, May 29, 2019, a young girl with an orange bow in her hair was hit by a foul ball at a Houston Astros game. This incident overshadowed another one the same night at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, where a Dodgers player hit a foul ball that struck a man in the head.
Just two seasons ago, every Major League Baseball team extended its netting at least as far as the end of both dugouts. In light of recent events, as well as other fan injuries since that time, one might reasonably conclude that the netting still doesn’t go far enough. I have written on this subject in this space before, and I remain personally conflicted.
I like sitting close to the field, I don’t like looking through mesh netting, and I am willing to assume the risk of a ball or shard of bat coming my way. In this respect, my sentiments are the same ones that mystery writer and avid Red Sox fan Stephen King wrote in a Boston Globe op-ed piece before netting was extended in the first place.
On the other hand, going to a ballgame is entertainment, not combat – fans are not supposed to get hurt. In Japan, they have had netting from foul pole to foul pole for years, so this wheel has already been invented.
Because we are talking about baseball, which, at least to me, is important, my strong preference would be for this discussion to be leavened with facts and data. I have written about this before too. The optics of children crying and grown-ups with blood streaming down their faces are horrible, and it pains me as a fan to have to write about this stuff. I assume club and league officials feel the same.
The alternative to talking about how we feel is to discuss what we know. But we fans don’t know much. I don’t know if this girl was the only fan hit by a foul ball in her section at Minute Maid Park, or the 20th. I don’t know where foul balls have entered the stands at any ballpark, or how often they have landed joyfully in mitts or beer cups as opposed to hitting someone and causing injury. This seems important, doesn’t it? Given the proliferation of closed circuit TV cameras that can see every seat, and guest services staff who descend on anyone who may have gotten hit in the stands, I bet the ballclubs have this data, even if it is not compiled exactly this way.
Perhaps they don’t share their data because it would confirm the anecdotal evidence that attendance near the field is more dangerous than it used to be. Perhaps there is a valid business reason they prefer not to share this information even though it would prove otherwise. I don’t know.
Given this state of affairs, the next response to these optics can be based on either law, emotion, or business.
From a legal standpoint, Major League Baseball could do nothing and safely rely, at least for a while longer, on the ‘assumption of risk’ doctrine built into the Baseball Rule. Although cases in different states have chipped away at the rule that baseball clubs are immune from lawsuits by fans struck by balls during the game, the concept remains good law. So Option 1 is to say that as always, fans have the legal duty to watch out for their own safety at the ballpark.
Option 2 is to say that children and old people should be able to see games without fear of injury, these incidents show that this is no longer true, so extend the netting regardless of what the law allows. I continue to see these anecdotes as outliers relative to the millions of fans each year who visit baseball stadiums without incident. So as a basis for a policy change, I don’t like this.
Option 3 is to throw out Options 1 and 2 and just look at the effect of the status quo. Much like with active shootings in public places, we now regularly associate attendance at baseball games with injury and even death. We do this despite the availability of solutions that work in much of the rest of the world. This seems like bad business, if not also morally wrong.
Would I enjoy looking through a screen? Initially, not so much, but I’d get used to it. I would remain a fan who goes to games. I bet some people would start attending games once they know they don’t have to risk getting hit.
So here it is, Adelman on Venues‘ official position on baseball netting:
Extend the netting already, foul pole to foul pole, so we can get back to talking about the game.
I don’t want any more children to be sacrificed on an altar of my supposed unwillingness to watch through a screen. The public’s right to be safe is a greater good than any individual’s right to watch a game exactly the way they prefer.
That’s the gist of what I said about guns, too, in the footage that didn’t make it on the air last night. In case you were wondering about the connection between these issues.