Senators Call on M.L.B. for More Transparency on Foul Ball Injuries


Two United States senators raised questions on Tuesday about whether M.L.B. is doing enough to protect its fans from foul balls, writing a letter to Commissioner Rob Manfred urging him to release data that teams may be collecting on which seats are most vulnerable at their ballparks.

The senators, Richard Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Democrats from Illinois, wrote in the letter to Manfred that making more data about injuries available to the public — and creating an injury registry — would “help evaluate the voluntary safety measures that many teams are implementing.”

“This will provide a more honest public dialogue and help protect baseball’s biggest (and littlest) fans,” they wrote.

The letter comes amid a spate of injuries that came as a result of foul balls in recent months, the latest occurring on Sunday when a woman was hospitalized after being hit in the head by a foul ball at a game in Arlington, Tex., between the Detroit Tigers and the Texas Rangers.

The protective netting in every ballpark was extended to at least the far end of the dugouts before the 2018 season, but the persistent injuries have raised doubts over whether that is enough to protect fans from serious injuries. The baseballs used by M.L.B. are also smaller and harder than in past seasons and are being hit into the crowd with greater frequency than 20 years ago.

With M.L.B. collecting proprietary data on launch angles, exit velocities and landing spots, there have been increasing calls by fan-safety advocates for baseball to compile and present the information on dangerous foul balls to make fans aware of the danger in certain seats. Among that data, Senator Durbin and Senator Duckworth assert in the letter, is the cataloging of incidents that stadium staff members can sometimes be seen logging into a mobile device at the scene.

Since recommending that nets be extended to the beginning of dugouts in 2015, Mr. Manfred, who declined to comment through a spokesman, has consistently refrained from forcing teams to take extra safety measures, leaving the matter in the hands of individual clubs. He said it would be problematic to mandate how far and how high additional netting should be extended because each ballpark is designed differently.

Some have begun to act on their own. On Tuesday, the Toronto Blue Jays became the latest team since June to announce that it would extend protective netting by next season, though the team did not say how far or how high the netting would go.

The Chicago White Sox have extended protective netting from foul pole to foul pole, and the Washington Nationals extended their netting deep down the foul lines last month. The Kansas City Royals, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Pittsburgh Pirates have pledged to extend their netting this season. The Texas Rangers will do so in their new ballpark next season.

Senator Durbin and Senator Duckworth commended those efforts in their letter, but said more should be done.

The letter, citing a 2014 Bloomberg News report that estimated foul balls injured nearly 1,800 fans per season, called on M.L.B. to provide more up-to-date information about injuries — and also to create a fan injury registry — to help evaluate safety measures that teams are taking.

“We need more information to have a fuller picture,” the senators wrote. “We currently rely on media coverage about foul ball injuries, which can lead to misinformation and confusion.”

Baseball was stirred into taking extensive action when a toddler was badly injured at Yankee Stadium late in the 2017 season. A handful of clubs had installed netting that reached the end of the dugouts by then, but before the following season all clubs — including the Yankees — agreed to extend it to the end of the dugouts.

But some data indicates that some of the most dangerous seats may be just past the dugouts. The website FiveThirtyEight, in examining a sample of 580 fouls balls in June, found that every line-drive foul ball with a recorded speed off the bat exceeding 90 miles per hour had landed in an area that was not protected by netting.

Another toddler, who was sitting with her grandfather in seats down the third-base line at a game in Houston, was badly injured in May when she was struck by a foul ball hit by the Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. during a game against the Astros.

If such seats are indeed more dangerous, the senators wrote, fans should be able to see the data behind it.

“Disclosing that information would help inform fans and their families about the safest locations to sit,” their letter said. “We appreciate the effort individual teams have taken so far for the safety of fans. Transparency benefits everyone in making informed decisions and preserves the integrity of the game.”



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