Why it’s ‘staggering’ that baseball hasn’t done more to protect fans from foul balls

JUDY WOODRUFF: A second sports story tonight,
but of a different nature. Major League Baseball is at its halfway point
for the season, marked by the annual All-Star Game last night. Even as players are smashing a record pace
of home runs this season, John Yang looks at lingering questions around the league about
other line-drive hits that injure fans. In addition to the White Sox, the Washington
Nationals are in the process of extending protective netting. Both teams say the added protection will be
in place for their next home games later this month. Jeff Passan covers baseball for ESPN. He joins us now. Jeff, thanks so much. This incident in Houston in May, this is not
a new phenomenon. As we say, the woman actually died at Dodger
Stadium last year. Why did this incident in Houston become the
catalyst for this discussion now? JEFF PASSAN, ESPN: I think it was because
a small child was the one involved in this. I was down on the field that day. I was about 25 feet away from Albert Almora
when he hit that ball. And you could see almost instantaneously he
saw it going for the girl, and it’s like his eyes lasered in on her. And when he saw it hit her, he was crestfallen. He was heartbroken. The whole stadium went silent. And right after the game that day, Kris Bryant,
Chicago Cubs star, says to me, “We need netting around the whole stadium.” Albert Almora follows by saying that, Kyle
Schwarber. The entire Chicago Cubs team is saying, this
is a problem. We don’t want to be the people causing these
sorts of injuries. And it’s significant, I think, that you say
the Washington Nationals are doing it and the Chicago White Sox. The Chicago Cubs haven’t done it yet. Houston Astros haven’t done it yet. Those are the two teams that were involved
that day. And the paucity of teams coming and saying,
we’re going to make this a priority really is staggering. JOHN YANG: And I want to make — follow up
on that point, because you say the netting is going up only in a handful of ballparks. Why are teams so reluctant to take this step? JEFF PASSAN: I wish I had a good answer. I have asked clubs. I asked the commissioner of baseball, Rob
Manfred, yesterday that very question: Why haven’t you, as the person who is the shepherd
of this sport, as the person who’s in charge of selling this game to fans, and saying,
we want ballparks to be safe, we want your experience to be great, why haven’t you said
to teams, everyone is going to put up netting at some point? Why don’t we just get that out there right
now? And I’ll be honest. There are no good answers. And that’s the part of it that I really still
don’t understand, how a grouping of companies in Major League Baseball that are worth about
$40 billion, when you put them all together, can put themselves at risk for this bad of
public relations, and the fact that we’re even talking about this still a month-plus
after it happened. JOHN YANG: Manfred in this piece talked about
fan resistance. But the most expensive seats in most ballparks
are behind the plate, which are covered by netting. And the NHL has now had netting up behind
the goals since the 2002-2003 season. And it’s had no effect. What do you make of that? JEFF PASSAN: It is a giant ocean of illogic. The idea that these remarkably expensive seats
that go for $1,000 have a worse view because of some netting than seats that would be on
the side, it’s just not true. Your eyes adjust. Anybody who has sat behind netting before
knows that. What it is, is there a few people out there
still who want to catch foul balls. That’s what this comes down to. When you’re in a baseball stadium, balls get
hit into the stands, and it is some people’s dream to catch a foul ball. And to all of those people, I ask the question
— and this is not a rhetorical question — I ask the question, would you rather go and
spend $5 or $10 for a stamped official Major League Baseball or watch a child get hurt? That is the value proposition we’re talking
about right here. And I understand catching a foul ball is a
great experience and all. But if I’m trying to balance a kid or an adult
or anyone potentially getting hurt with catching a foul ball, I don’t think that’s a very difficult
choice to make. JOHN YANG: Jeff Passan of ESPN, thanks so
much. JEFF PASSAN: Thanks for having me.

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