Welcome to the tenth edition of Around the Horn, a recurring op-ed with a satirical slant that riffs on whatever’s recently noteworthy in baseball. Think of it as a stripped down Last Week Tonight or Daily Show in a column format with recurring segments about the good, bad, and ugly in the world of America’s pastime. Additionally, as often as possible, we’ll end with an interview as well.
There’s a lot to discuss, so let’s get right to our first segment:
Our Main Story
For the most part, baseball is harmless. The game thrills and exhilarates, devastates and disappoints, and brings fans together as a community, all while serving as arguably the greatest metaphor for life. However, the harsh reality is that hard-hit balls flying off bats at speeds over 100 mph like missiles into stands full of mostly attentive, but many unsuspecting fans… demands our attention.
In truth, it demands action as well.
As hard as it is to watch this, it’s unquestionably harder to feel responsible for it:
Last night in #Houston, a young girl was injured when hit by a foul ball. #Cubs player Albert Amora Jr. was shaken up after the incident. Our thoughts and prayers are with the child as she recovers. (@NBCSChicago) pic.twitter.com/yZl1kQR17F
— KGET 17 News (@KGETnews) May 30, 2019
Albert Almora Jr. did what he was supposed to do. He took a healthy rip at a 2-2 breaking ball meant to jam him, turning on it quickly and lining it to his pull side in order to drive in some runs. Unfortunately, he roped that ball into the stands, where it hit the head of a young child.
The look on Almora’s face, coupled with his reaction, spoke volumes. It’s hard not to believe he genuinely thought the damage done to that little girl was the permanent kind. After all, another fan already died last year from the blunt force trauma of being hit in the head by a foul ball.
The fact this little girl was still breathing is likely the only thing that allowed Almora to stop holding his own. After all, no child comes to a baseball game for this:
Look at her face.
Look at the little girl, orange bow in her hair, fear in her eyes, pain and suffering evident.
Look at her and tell me Major League Baseball doesn’t need to extend netting from foul pole to foul pole at every stadium.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) May 30, 2019
Extending the netting from foul pole to foul pole seems like a logical move. Baseball in Japan and Korea mandate this very thing. Many will grumble that it obstructs the view, which is neither true nor the point. The netting has never been less obtrusive, and technology continues to make it even less so. After all, there’s a reason the seats behind home plate are the most expensive. If the view was truly “obstructed,” those seats would be less desirable, not more.
MLB is lucky that little girl will be able to go to a baseball game again someday. Then again, it’s fair to wonder the extent of her trauma and whether or not she will ever want to attend again. Fan safety should be a priority.
Some may argue that if you pay attention to the game and bring a glove, you’ll be fine. Players are throwing and hitting the ball harder than they ever have before. Plus, the chemical composition of today’s “rabbit ball” is designed to reduce drag. The launch angle revolution has resulted in far fewer grounders in play. Seats are closer to the field of play than they’ve ever been, and let’s be honest—in today’s digital media age, good luck keeping everyone off cell phones whenever fans feel there’s a lull in the action.
Lest you think this near tragedy was an isolated incident that rarely happens, note that a Bloomberg study in 2014 concluded that foul balls injure more than 1,700 fans every season. No one should have to fear for the safety of his or her children during a family outing to the ballpark.
MLB has not been indifferent to this issue, extending netting to the far end of each dugout before the 2018 season, and some teams have extended netting even further. MLB has preferred to let teams decide for themselves, but at what cost?
Still, there are those that refuse to be swayed, and their reasons are ridiculous:
Serious(!) suggestions in lieu of MLB netting from my callers:
– an invisible forcefield
– airbags in seats
– football helmets on kids/old people
– giant plexiglass sheets
– a ball with GPS in it that turns into a ragball when it crosses into the stands.
— Julie DiCaro (@JulieDiCaro) June 2, 2019
Look, it’s not even easy for the actual players on the field expecting these lasers coming at them.
Shed Long — a 23 y/o major league baseball player, in peak physical condition, wearing a glove, 175 ft from home plate — didn’t play this cleanly & was left shaking his hand in pain.
But tell me again how grandma in section 119 just needs to “pay closer attention to the game” pic.twitter.com/8NuYtMQbKh
— Levi Weaver (@ThreeTwoEephus) May 30, 2019
Fortunately, Japan seems to have figured out the solution:
— Matt Winkler (@1MatthewWinkler) May 31, 2019
If you want to sit near the field sans netting, the option is available to you. And you’ll be wearing a helmet and glove just to be safe while you enjoy the game from your “excite seats.” The trained ushers and constant signs of danger warning fans would go a long way to combat the distraction that sets in with baseball’s pace of play problem.
Admittedly, you know the danger when you purchase a seat to watch a game. And if you didn’t, the “assumption of risk” is printed on your tickets to remind you. Nonetheless, you aren’t thinking of the danger because there are so many moments in a baseball game where literally nothing is happening; additionally, catching a baseball game is considered more of a leisurely activity. It’s not like you’re on edge sitting in the front row, hoping the performer juggling swords didn’t have one too many drinks the night before. Nothing like losing an eye as a souvenir for attending the carnival.
Except, in baseball, it’s not a sword flying at you, but rather a bat.
— TribLIVE.com (@TribLIVE) March 8, 2016
Ten teams have done the right thing and run netting down the lines. More plan to do so. Every team in baseball should do the same before it’s too late and a child loses a life.
Out of the Park
A Look Beyond the Boxscores for the Best in Baseball This Week
Derek Dietrich has officially proven that the bat drop might be a louder statement than the bat flip:
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) May 28, 2019
Where Baseball Got Caught Looking
The Tampa Bay Rays are one of baseball’s better teams. They’ve done a tremendous job scouting and developing young talent, and they’re in a class of their own when it comes to competing with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox on a fraction of the payroll.
That’s why it’s borderline criminal that only 5,786 fans recently attended a home game on a day the big league team was out-drawn by three of its own minor-league affiliates on the same night. This was the lowest announced attendance for a major league game this season and the smallest ever “crowd” at the Trop for a Rays game in 22 years. For reference, the team drew 6,509 to a September 2017 game against the Minnesota Twins as Hurricane Irma was bearing down on the region. Apparently, fans felt the only way the Trop would be an exciting place to be is if the threat of natural disaster loomed.
Maybe it’s the Montreal rumors, or perhaps it’s the fact that the franchise has a habit of letting core players go, and that makes it hard to market them and draw better crowds. However, the Rays keep finding ways to win with a new cast of characters every few years. College football teams rotate players seemingly every year or two, and their crowds don’t suffer because of it. The Rays deserve to play in front of a fanbase that wants to cheer them on, whether that’s in Tampa, Montreal, or a satellite station on the moon for all I care.
Anything would be better than watching them play in front of a smaller crowd than a charity softball event nobody except your uncle Rich wants to go see.
Clint Frazier‘s seventh inning was one for the ages.
— David Mendelsohn (@BigBabyDavid_) June 3, 2019
There’s only one response I can think of for that…
And that’s the ballgame for this week!