Chicago Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. dropped to one knee during the fourth inning last May, hands over his face in horror. He had just watched a foul ball fly off his bat and strike a 2-year-old girl in the head, fracturing her skull. The incident, every baseball hitter’s nightmare, was not a one-off. Last month, a fan was hit during a Chicago White Sox game and another during a Los Angeles Dodgers game.
Last year, a 79-year-old woman died from a foul ball that flew over the netting behind home plate at Dodger Stadium. This season has seen a number of foul ball injuries, reigniting a debate about whether to extend protective netting at baseball stadiums. Kris Bryant, Almora’s teammate on the Cubs, wants to see more safety precautions taken. “It’s so sad,” Bryant said to an ESPN reporter after the May 29 game at Minute Maid Park. “I don’t know what we can do. Let’s just put fences up around the whole field. They think any safety measure we can take to make sure fans are safe, we should do it.”
Still, as more people are injured, players and fans continue to push for better safety. In 2018, all 30 MLB teams extended their netting around home plate. The Major League Baseball Players Association has twice called for netting from foul pole to foul pole, modeled after Japanese baseball stadiums. But there’s been resistance, including the argument that netting would obstruct the view of high-priced seats. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has also said that while fan safety is important, it would be difficult to adopt uniform standards.
“They’ve made tremendous strides in the last four years in terms of the amount of netting in ballparks,” Manfred said Monday during an interview with ESPN’s Mike Golic. “The way They’ve achieved that is we have work with the clubs individually, recognizing that each ballpark is different in terms of the way it’s laid out; so in terms of the infrastructure that’s in place and we have constantly encouraged them to make improvements.”
So far, the only team to undertake the pole-to-pole safety precaution is the White Sox. The Dodgers, Washington Nationals, Texas Rangers and Pittsburgh Pirates all plan to extend their stadium netting this season. Manfred said he expects more discussions about netting extensions at all parks to happen in the off-season.