Schmuck: New safety netting is likely coming to Oriole Park, and it's about time

The Orioles have remained strangely silent while six more major league teams indicated over the past week that they will extend safety netting beyond their dugouts to protect their most vulnerable fans from flying bats and foul balls. But it seems highly likely that the Orioles will follow suit before Opening Day 2018.

Why there is still any question about the issue is a mystery, since Major League Baseball appears to be leaning toward the baseball-wide mandate it should have imposed long before last week's ugly incident in which a child was severely injured by a 105 mph foul ball at Yankee Stadium.


In fact, it's hard to find anybody inside the sport who is against extending the nets that have protected fans in the seating areas behind home plate since the 19th century.

"I know the players want the netting," longtime Orioles team physician Bill Goldiner said, "and I know the trainers want the netting and I know the coaching staffs want the netting and I know the physicians want the netting and I know, personally, I want the netting."


So, why aren't the Orioles and the Maryland Stadium Authority announcing this week that they are making plans to improve fan safety behind the two dugouts, where the most dangerous line drives and thrown bats are most likely to go?

Nobody is saying. Calls and emails seeking comments from high-ranking members of the front office about whether the club is considering additional netting went unreturned.

But Goldiner said Tuesday that those plans are being made and that the nets almost certainly will be going up sometime after the end of the regular season on Sunday.

"Conversations have been going on for at least a couple of months, actually before the All-Star break," Goldiner said, "where we've had conversations with the Maryland Stadium Authority and the people in baseball operations, and we've been discussing the types of netting. We've looked at some preliminarily and some designs. And it was decided some time around the All-Star break that it was best to be done at the end of the season."

The reason Goldiner is willing to talk openly about the issue is because he has long been a passionate proponent of extending the nets and was one of the members of baseball's medical advisory committee which recommended three years ago that former baseball commissioner Bud Selig order that change be made in all major league parks.

Soon thereafter, MLB issued a recommendation that clubs extend netting at least to the side of each dugout nearest to home plate and within 70 feet of home plate, a standard the Orioles had already met both at Camden Yards and at their spring training home, Ed Smith Stadium.

"Many team physicians, myself included, felt that was inadequate," Goldiner said. "Prior to that, though, there had been discussions amongst team physicians and at meetings with representatives of Major League Baseball that Major League Baseball should perhaps put a requirement that netting be extended all the way to the ends of the dugouts. This was something that was supposed to be under consideration over the last couple of years."

Though the Orioles are a codefendant in a lawsuit filed by a woman who was badly injured by a flying bat at Camden Yards in 2016, the club's reluctance to make any change in the view from the prime season-ticket sections is probably more about the preference of their best customers.


Back in June 2015, after a fan at Fenway Park was serious injured by a broken bat, this same discussion took place and I went into the stands at Oriole Park to ask season-ticket holders whether they wanted a net to protect them from foul balls. There were strong feelings on both sides and was significant resistance to the concept.

And there was what seemed to be a strong reaction from new commissioner Rob Manfred.

"When you have an issue like this, an incident like this, you have to go back and re-evaluate where you are on all of your safety issues and trust me, we will do that," Manfred told reporters at the time.

Six months later, MLB released the recommendation that largely left it up to clubs to decide how they would address the issue.

Last year, the Major League Baseball Players Association made known the players' desire for more netting and higher railings at major league parks, but none of that ended up in the new collective bargaining agreement.

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Which brings us again to last Wednesday, when television cameras caught the awful incident at Yankee Stadium and the terrified reactions of third baseman Todd Frazier, who hit the ball, and veteran teammate Matt Holliday, who was literally crying at second base.


The optics aren't the important thing when a young child is facing a long recovery from a horrific trauma, but it appears that this latest incident is going to spur a much more decisive response from Major League Baseball. So far, about half of the big league clubs have either installed more netting or have announced that they will this winter.

The Orioles are not officially one of them, but it appears that they will be soon.

That would be good, because this is no time for net neutrality.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at