© 2024 WGLT
A public service of Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Major League Baseball Players Call For More Safety Measures After Foul Balls Hit Fans


The biggest stars in baseball take the field in Cleveland tonight for the annual celebration of Major League Baseball the All-Star Game. But several scary incidents have marred the first half of this baseball season. Fans have been hit by foul balls, and players are calling for greater protection. Ben Bergman has more on that from Los Angeles.

BEN BERGMAN, BYLINE: Last month, less than a year after a woman died after being struck by a ball at Dodger Stadium, a teenager was hit in the head as she got up to use the restroom. Here's how it sounded on SportsNet LA.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: A foul just beyond the protective netting.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: A pretty good advertisement for more netting.

BERGMAN: The 13-year-old suffered a concussion. That was not long after a woman was hit during a White Sox game and two separate incidents at Houston Astros games. A woman broke her jaw, and before that, a 2-year-old suffered a concussion and internal bleeding. This season's injuries have left players distraught and calling for more protection for fans. Here was the Cubs' Kris Bryant on ESPN.


KRIS BRYANT: I don't know what we can do. I mean, let's just - just put fences up around the whole field. I mean, it's so sad when you see stuff like that happen. And any safety measure we can take to, you know, make sure that fans are safe, we should do it.

BERGMAN: The players union has repeatedly called for more netting in its contract negotiations, but the league, which wouldn't comment for this story, has always rejected their proposals. Owners have been seen as reluctant to ruin the view for their highest paying patrons. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said recently that while fan safety is important, it's difficult to adopt uniform standards because every ballpark is different. Last season, all big league teams did expand netting to at least the far end of the dugouts, but they should reach all the way to the foul poles, as is the standard in Japan. That's according to John Eric Goff, a physics professor at the University of Lynchburg who studies the science of sports.

JOHN ERIC GOFF: The netting is definitely insufficient.

BERGMAN: Foul balls are nothing new. Goff says what's changed is batters have become more powerful. The seats have gotten closer and fans are more distracted, often looking down at their smartphones.

GOFF: It takes one second for the ball to travel 130 feet, and that's just past the netting in a lot of Major League Baseball parks.

BERGMAN: And minor league ones, as Dina Simpson knows all too well.

DINA SIMPSON: I thought, oh, if a ball comes my way, I'm just going to catch it or duck, you know? But in that moment of chaos, your brain's not even processing what's happening before that ball has come at you.

BERGMAN: Simpson was sitting just behind the netting at a Lake County Captains game outside Cleveland two years ago with her three kids and husband.

SIMPSON: Yeah. I heard him say, Dina, watch out, except he didn't even get to finish the sentence. Before I knew it, the ball smacked me in my right eye directly.

BERGMAN: Simpson says she ended up permanently losing vision in that eye and will never go to another game again. She says she never got any help from the team. The Captains general manager, Neil Stein, told NPR he couldn't talk about the incident, but he told Cleveland's Fox 8 that Simpson and all fans are adequately warned to pay attention to balls leaving the field.


NEIL STEIN: We have stickers on the back of our seats about fan safety, about paying attention at all times. We have it on our ticket back language.

BERGMAN: That tiny disclaimer on the back of tickets, whether the minors or the majors, is known in tort law as simply the baseball rule. It says if you buy a ticket, you assume all risk and danger that are part of the game. Commissioner Manfred said recently the league was unlikely to require more netting this season. Still, five teams - the Cubs, Dodgers, Rangers, Pirates and Nationals - now say they will extend netting on their own. For NPR News, I'm Ben Bergman in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ben Bergman