York, PA – So I’ve had the opportunity over the past few days to discuss the arising Major League Baseball netting dispute with some friends. These friends are avid baseball fans and played from childhood all the way until high school, just like myself.
When it comes to the MLB and Commissioner Rob Manfred, I wouldn’t say that I’m 100% in favor of the possible course of action that would extend the netting that already covers the few sections behind home plate, all the way down each foul line. Unpopular to contrary belief, I did not completely agree with this seemingly warranted result and my friends just looked at me like I had two heads.
As for why I chose not to “100%” agree? Here’s why…
This isn’t an issue that is all of a sudden new to the MLB, or its fans. In the last two rounds of collective bargaining between the players and the owners (2007 and 2012), the players requested that same netting. Like the one found behind home plate, instead extended from foul line to foul line. This obviously isn’t the owners’ first rodeo. But both times, they said no to the players’ request.
Why is this all of sudden becoming a large issue once again? Simply put, fans along the foul lines at games don’t feel all that safe anymore. A woman attending a Boston Red Sox game in early June was sent to the hospital with life-threatening injuries. She was hit in the head by the jagged edge of Oakland A’s third basemen Brett Lawrie. His bat (maple) shattered on contact with a pitch and sailed into the stands. The woman was struck and the game was stopped as she was taken out of Fenway Park on a stretcher, screaming in pain. Pretty scary stuff. She would eventually recover but this incident has, once again, raised a call for increased safety measures to protect fans sitting in those high-priced seats down the base lines.
Sure… there’s that disclaimer printed on the back of tickets stating that all fans accept the risk of being hit by a foul ball or bat that may fly into the stands. Those same warnings are also posted in the stands. Let’s also not forget that a few years ago, the MLB took action to help cut down on broken bats flying into the stands by issuing regulations for maple bats. That action has since cut down on the number of broken bats each season.
Then there’s the argument that if fans just simply pay attention, they’ll be fine. Here’s where I lost my friends. It only takes a split second for a person to look down, then completely lose track of the ball or bat. That’s all it takes. You also have the possibility of a vendor blocking your view, somebody else standing up to cheer, or a parent trying to corral a young child. OR, you’re simply just holding a conversation with someone and lose track of the game for a few minutes. These things actually happen! My friend’s didn’t want to hear it though.
So what’s the real issue with all of this? The MLB doesn’t want to upset the fans who pay high price to sit in those unprotected seats, and the majority of those fans simply don’t want to be distracted by the netting.
Here’s where my argument prevails…
Where are the highest-priced seats generally located at baseball games? Right behind home plate. Are those seats protected by netting? As a matter of fact they are. Most fans who sit down the base lines feel that if netting is put up they will no longer have access to the players, autographs, catching fly balls, etc. Even with the netting behind home plate, those fans still seem to have access to players. Also, if you’ve ever sat behind the netting (I personally haven’t been fortunate to sit behind home plate at a game), most say that you adjust quickly to it. Oh and another thing… those seats are usually always full.
There has never been a death at an MLB game caused by a bat. There’s been one death since 1970 caused by a fan getting hit by a foul ball, and people have been injured every year because of bats and balls flying into the stands. Similar to the woman in Boston, but majority of incidents aren’t as severe. But, is that what needs to continue to happen for fans to realize that something needs to change?
Just recently, in July, an Oakland Athletics season-ticket holder asked a federal court to protect fans from flying bats and balls by ordering Major League Baseball to extend the safety netting at its ballparks the entire length of the foul lines. The lawsuit seeks class-action status on behalf of all fans buying season tickets in unprotected areas of major league parks, but it is not asking for money. Instead, it’s asking for commissioner Rob Manfred to extend the netting that typically cover only the few sections behind home plate so that they run from foul line to foul line.
The lawsuit may not be asking for money, but it’s also a reminder to the MLB of what may be coming if something isn’t done soon. As I said before, I’m not in absolute favor of this decision being made. I think it will potentially impact the experience of certain fans but if fans can’t understand that it’s only for their safety, just stay in the comforts of your own home and keep the complaining outside of the stadium.
It comes down to the MLB wanting to keep their great fans safe. Doing exactly what they’re supposed to do. Is that such a horrible thing? Besides, I don’t particularly feel that commissioner Manfred wants his league turning into something like that of the NFL. Lawsuit on top of lawsuit. I mean Roger Goodell has done a pretty great job of running the NFL hasn’t he?
If a change isn’t implemented for next season, look for something to be done once the current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2016 season. Relax people… commissioner Manfred and the rest of the MLB know exactly what they’re doing.