Red Sox and MLB to address Fenway Park safety


The Red Sox and other MLB teams will discuss the methods of improving fan safety at the meetings in Dallas November 18-19, the emphasis has long been on improving player safety with fans being almost a secondary issue.

Will the king wear a plastic crown?

The catchy (to me) phrase above is something that has twirled around in the dark recesses of fading memory for years. The title is a simple segue into a topic that is, one that usually creates a big yawn and is quickly passed over for the more splendid articles on trades that will never happen, free agent signings that will eventually be a disaster and contracts being debated that have numbers that would have the recipient have a checkbook balance similar to the GNP of some countries. So let’s talk Ted Williams.

Williams is one of my favorite baseball topics and in 1958 TSW won his fifth batting title with a .388 average. A remarkable feat for anyone, but at age 38 a truly amazing one. A mere six hits away from the magical .400. But changes were in the works and it all came down to that famous line in the movie The Graduate: “Plastics.”

Baseball would institute batting helmets for the 1959 season, but these were not what we see today, but plastic inserts to be worn under the cap. How would such a dramatic shift impact Williams? It certainly did as Williams’ batting average shrunk by 60 points. So Williams finished with a rather pedestrian .328 average that was good enough for another title – his sixth and last – beating out teammate Pete Runnels.

Sports have always attempted to improve the safety conditions. Even basketball has instituted shatter proof backboards. Rule changes in the major sports, equipment improvements and significant upgrades in medical and training procedures are easy to trace through the history of our major sports.

The plastic insert was replaced – eventually – with a batting helmet. If you wished to continue using an insert you were grandfathered in – such as spitball pitchers were (Bless you, Burleigh Grimes) when that pitch was banned. Bob Montgomery of your Boston Red Sox was – I believe the last to use one.

Tragedy results in change. Coaches wear a helmet after the occasional unfortunate accident results in death or disability. Rule changes regarding unprotected players – the Buster Posey Rule – is in place for catchers and eventually will be for position players.

The Red Sox added padding to their outfield after Fred Lynn had several attempts in 1975 to run through walls. The dirt warning track has long been a red flag warning players that you are in a danger zone.

Are fans considered as valuable as players?

The last few seasons at Fenway Park and certainly other parks have brought fan safety to the forefront after a series of highly publicised injuries. Netting behind the plate has long been used, but now some serious upgrades are needed. The use of maple over ash has resulted in an increase of shattered bats. Players are stronger, pitchers throw harder and those two factors certainly led to disaster. Balls leave bats at speeds exceeding 100 MPH.

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Considering MLB attendance, injuries are rare to fans but horrific. A solid bat or a splintered one means death’s doorstep if things go wrong – really wrong. The proliferation of electronic devices and even the pace of baseball is a contributing factor – pay attention, folks!

On the agenda for baseball is just how to improve fan safety. A smart business does not wish to put customers in danger so the executives have it on their agenda for the meetings in Dallas later this month.

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The issue should not be money. Extra netting and other changes for fan protection are not as big a budget breaker as a free agent that gets 20 million a year for contributing little. The real players will be the insurance companies who will demand changes simply over liability issues. Expect those changes to be approved and implemented.