Five Changes For the Fans
When I left Sports Illustrated in 1986, I knew I’d be spending as much time in the stands as in the press box. So while baseball scribes like SI’s Tom Verducci suggest ways (see: lowering the mound) to improve play, I have my own five recommendations to enhance conditions for fans.
- Every time a pitcher throws a beanball — a pitch issued with the intention of striking a batter, at times on the head (bean) — I know just what the writers upstairs are thinking: “It’s part of the game,” or “He had to establish the inside part of the plate.”
In the stands, though, I find myself cringing. Consider what Adam Felder wrote in theatlantic.com: “Throwing a baseball at 90 miles per hour or more at another human being qualifies as ‘assault with a deadly weapon.’ It’s only between the foul lines that a violent felony is instead viewed as enforcing the game’s unwritten rules.”
Once intent is established — and admittedly, that won’t be easy — arrest pitchers who throw beanballs. If managers ordered the actions, they too should be arrested.
This is a legal field with no precedent that I know of. With a future that is uncertain, there’s a way to improve the present. It seems unfair to warn the first offending pitcher and eject the one who retaliates. Therefore, warn both benches at the start of the game and throw out the first headhunter. Though they’re usually not suspended, some pitchers guilty of beanballs have had to sit for as long as 10 games. Let’s make the suspension mandatory and increase it to 20 games. Players will have the right to appeal.
- To avoid beanbrawls, suspend any batter who rushes the mound for the same 20 games, with appeals allowed.
- Extend the protective netting in the stands from foul line to foul line. After two near-fatal accidents — a women hit by a bat fragment, a man struck by a foul ball — the commissioner’s office in 2015 recommended protective netting that extends from the backstop 70 feet to the near edge of each dugout. Every team had compiled or already had the recommended netting at this writing, and the Twins, Royals and Nationals had extended the netting to the far side of the dugout. That’s not enough. In 2014 alone, according to Bloomberg News research, 1,750 fans were injured at major league ballparks — some sitting well beyond the dugouts. In a useful precedent, hockey extended netting beyond the glass after a fan was killed by a puck.
- Ban the “kiss cam,” that obnoxious roaming camera whose images are shown on the scoreboard, while it settles on couples and fans yell at them to smooch (a man with a woman not his wife might object). The National Security Agency couldn’t have done this invasion and distraction any better. If baseball doesn’t end the practice, a fan should go to court on privacy grounds.
- Play all World Series games in the afternoon. Thus will youngsters and oldsters enjoy the game in real time. Thus will the Fall Classic resume its blissfully transgressive effect on workplaces and schools. And here’s the kicker: Afternoon games won’t have significantly lower TV ratings than night games. If you don’t believe me, Google “The National Past(bed)time” for a Sports Illustrated column on restoring daytime Series games by Jane Bachman Wulf.
This column is adapted from Jim Kaplan’s new book, “CLEARING THE BASES: A Veteran Sportswriter on the National Pastime” (www.levellerspress.com). Kaplan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.