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Another MLB Safety Concern
by Lionel E. Deimel

In recent years, Major League Baseball (MLB) has shown great concern for the safety of people both on the field and off. For example, rules have been promulgated to minimize injuries to catchers by runners attempting to score, and netting has been extended to protect fans from errant balls or bats. One can second guess how MLB has reacted to specific accidents, but the concern for safety seems genuine.

MLB LogoI watched a spring training game recently between the Pirates and the Phillies. The game exposed a hazard that I suspect has never been seriously addressed. A popup was hit toward foul ground on the right side of the diamond. It became clear that the baseball would fall just in front of the stands or just beyond the wall. Its trajectory was taking the ball to the place occupied by the girl seated next to the wall whose job it was to retrieve foul ground balls. As two players headed in her direction, she quickly attempted to get out of the way and take her chair with her. She was only partially successful, escaping injury herself but failing to keep the chair from blocking access to the ball, which fell into the stands. Thankfully, the fielder, who easily could have been injured tripping over the chair, also was unharmed, though, absent the chair, the fly ball might have been playable.

Certain non-players (umpires, base coaches, and ball girls/boys) are necessarily on the field and constitute possible obstacles or injury victims. (For simplicity in what follows, I will refer to the non-players who shag foul grounders as “ball girls,” though some of these people are male.) Umpires and coaches are used to moving quickly to avoid interfering with plays, but only ball girls are encumbered with furniture they need to take with them. This extra burden increases their chance of injury and those of players as well. There is a safety issue here that could easily and effectively be addressed.

Ball girls perform a useful function, particularly as MLB is trying to shorten games. Having people who can remove dead balls from the field quickly keeps the game moving. They could be required to stand or crouch throughout the  game, of course, but that would be insensitive, since they must be ready for action throughout the game, even though they are called upon to act infrequently.

A better approach would be to provide ball girls with spring-loaded jump seats attached to or (preferably) built into the walls dividing the stands from foul ground. The seats could be pulled down for seating. When the ball girl needs to pursue a ball or move to avoid interfering with a play, the seat should automatically snap back flush against the wall. If such a seat cannot be built into the wall, it could be affixed to it, in which case, it should be padded and be without sharp corners, thereby protecting any player who might run into it.

I see only one minor disadvantage of installing jump seats of the sort I have suggested, namely, it requires ball girls to sit in a predetermined position. If this is considered a serious drawback—I cannot imagine that it is—multiple seats could be provided, thereby offering a selection of seating locations for the ball girl

Admittedly, the problem I am suggesting should be addressed is a minor one, but the problem is real. In an era of multi-million-dollar player salaries, the cost of installing jump seats would be vanishingly small. Why not just do it?

                              — LED, 3/3/2019

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