10 Degrees: Fan safety is paramount, and baseball is failing badly at it

·MLB columnist

Whenever Susan Rhodes goes for a run, she passes by a park with a baseball field, and anxiety courses through her body. All it takes to remind her of the worst moment of her life – when the barrel of a baseball bat helicoptered into her face and broke her jaw – is the simple sight of a dirt-covered diamond.

"I would never in a million years go to another baseball game," Rhodes told Yahoo Sports on Sunday from her Los Angeles-area home. "Never, never, never. It's a freaky feeling when I even see it. I have flashbacks."

Tonya Carpenter remains in a hospital after being hit in the head with a broken bat at a Red Sox game. (AP)
Tonya Carpenter remains in a hospital after being hit in the head with a broken bat at a Red Sox game. (AP)

The effects of Rhodes' injury – suffered from the spiraling detritus of a broken bat flying into the stands at Dodger Stadium – tormented her for years. And even now, as a Boston-area woman named Tonya Carpenter remains in a hospital in serious condition after getting struck in the head by a catapulting barrel Friday – Rhodes wonders why baseball still refuses to run protective netting around the most perilous areas for broken bats as well as line-drive balls.

"In front of these great seats are netting," Rhodes said. "Why's that OK, but it's not OK to do it everywhere else? Is it greed, or does it take someone to drop dead? Now that she's gonna be OK, I'm worried they're going to try to sweep it under the carpet again."

At every game, teams warn fans about objects flying into the stands, and the assumption-of-risk doctrine in courts has prevented individuals injured from winning lawsuits. (Rhodes sued the Dodgers unsuccessfully.) And it's not like Rhodes was the stereotypical distracted fan tapping away on her smartphone either.

"That's the part that pisses me off," she said. "I was paying attention. It was a base hit. What, am I supposed to have eyes in the back of my head?"

A titanium plate still holds Rhodes' jaw together. She wore braces for three years. "I am so lucky," she said, and when someone whose face was crushed by a giant piece of wood calls herself lucky, it's obvious that ...

1. Major League Baseball needs to stop the excuses and figure out a tenable solution that protects fans and doesn't take away from whatever experience so deeply concerns the league that it actively has blocked the implementation of extended netting.

FoxSports.com on Sunday reported that twice in collective bargaining players advocated for extensions to the netting that currently stretches in front of home plate and to the near end of the dugout. The league, according to the report, worried about upsetting fans in high-priced seats.

Susan Rhodes after suffering a broken jaw in 2008. (Courtesy of Susan Rhodes)
Susan Rhodes after suffering a broken jaw in 2008. (Courtesy of Susan Rhodes)

As Rhodes so astutely pointed out, if the best seats in the stadium are behind netting and nobody complains, how could baseball possibly argue fans in the other seats will find the netting more bothersome? It's a ridiculous conceit, as is the idea that interaction between players and fans would be lessened in any way from the netting. If that's of grave concern, surely made-to-order netting, with either slots in the nets through which fans could seek autographs or nets that could be raised and lowered manually, is a workable option.

Better that at the big league level, and eventually all minor league stadiums, than chance a fatality for something so easily preventable. Safety at the ballpark shouldn't be a topic of conversation the day that ...

2. Brady Aiken and dozens of other amateur players hope to hear their names called in the first round of the amateur draft, which takes place Monday. While Arizona's choice with the No. 1 pick remains unknown – no clear-cut choice exists in what is regarded by the industry as a mediocre-at-best class – the status of Aiken, last year's top selection, is the greatest mystery of all.

The Houston Astros didn't sign Aiken because of questions about the health of his elbow, and he underwent Tommy John surgery in March. Medicals for Aiken were distributed to teams recently, and multiple executives who have seen them said they clarified his status. One of the executives said Aiken's elbow remains "a big concern," even after the surgery.

He could slip out of the first round altogether accordingly, and whether he'll demand an over-slot bonus wherever he is chosen or sign for a fraction of the $5 million the Astros offered him last year is still unclear. Few doubt the talent of a healthy Aiken, who ran his fastball into the upper 90s from the left side during his senior year of high school. The fears about the pitching arm – and particularly of those who need surgery that young – are palpable, though, and it's why many expect the Diamondbacks to go with Vanderbilt shortstop Dansby Swanson at 1-1. The last shortstop to go with the first pick was…

The Astros have called up Carlos Correa. (Getty Images)
The Astros have called up Carlos Correa. (Getty Images)

3. Carlos Correa three years ago, and he's joining the first-place Astros on Monday after the team announced his call-up Sunday night. "He's ready," said a source who has seen Correa recently, a sentiment shared throughout the industry.

Considering the state of shortstop in the American League, where the .662 OPSing Alcides Escobar leads the All-Star vote and Xander Bogaerts and Brad Miller are tied for the league lead in Wins Above Replacement, the 20-year-old Correa could immediately become the crème de la AL. At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, Correa is a monster in the middle infield, reminiscent of a young Alex Rodriguez with off-the-charts makeup reports to boot.

Since his promotion to Triple-A Fresno, he has proven capable not just of hitting for power but spitting on the junk that pitchers commonly feed young players. With 11 walks and just 14 strikeouts in just over 100 plate appearances, Correa's debut is imminent. The Astros, losers of four straight, have ceded the best record in the AL to the Minnesota Twins, who trail the ...

4. St. Louis Cardinals for the best record in the game by four games. At 37-19, the Cardinals' run to the top of the standings without Adam Wainwright is one of the season's best stories, and considering their MLB-best plus-68 run differential, it hasn't been fluky, either.

It's hard to say what has been more impressive: St. Louis' offense (with five .820-plus-OPS hitters) or its pitching (with five sub-3.03 ERA starters and a panoply of standout back-end bullpen guys). Overcoming the losses of Wainwright and first baseman Matt Adams is de rigueur for the Cardinals, whose organizational depth is their hallmark. Someone goes down? There's always a fill-in there to pick up the slack.

They'll hit a slump at some point – the Cardinals' longest skid of the year is three games, and it has happened once – and when they do, the…

5. Pittsburgh Pirates, another organization of tremendous efficiency and production, expect to be right there to pounce. Since an 18-22 start, the Pirates have won 13 of 16, and like the Cardinals, they've got their pitching to thank. Pittsburgh's 3.03 team ERA is about a half-run behind St. Louis but still ranks second in the big leagues, and its offense is the National League Central's best, which is like calling it the brightest gray, but still.

Concerns over closer Mark Melancon's velocity drop have ceded with one earned run allowed in his last 21 1/3 innings, and Andrew McCutchen's 0-for-5 day Sunday followed a 28-game stretch in which he hit .396/.471/.713. Arbitrary endpoints aren't necessary to encapsulate Gerrit Cole's season so far: seven shutout innings Sunday dropped his season ERA to an NL-best 1.73, and his 86 strikeouts against 19 walks in 78 innings, with just four home runs allowed, point to prime production going forward.

The Pirates have built quite the development machine, and Neal Huntington, Kyle Stark and the rest of the brass in Pittsburgh deserve all the plaudits they receive. They hoard prospects and, minus the Dilson Herrera mistake, hold onto them. It's what good small-market teams do, and what the…

6. Detroit Tigers have avoided in building a competitive team for the better part of a decade now. Two victories against the Chicago White Sox over the weekend stopped an eight-game losing streak, their worst since 2005 and the sort that causes panic with more than 100 games left in the season.

The Tigers are still just four games back of the Twins and three behind Kansas City, the sort of deficit that takes one good week to overcome. The Chicken Littles feared an offense that doubled its June home run output with one from the recently somnambulant J.D. Martinez and another from Yoenis Cespedes, who has been the only Tigers hitter getting on base this month.

Detroit's greatest fear coming into this season, its bullpen, has been a strength thanks to Joakim Soria, Joba Chamberlain, Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy. Anibal Sanchez and Shane Greene, on the other hand, have been inconsistent messes, and the Tigers are jonesing for the return of Justin Verlander, which should come this week after he struck out nine in a rehab outing Saturday night. That the Tigers have stayed afloat without him is the sort of positive the ...

Nelson Cruz has been one of the few bright spots for the Mariners. (Getty Images)
Nelson Cruz has been one of the few bright spots for the Mariners. (Getty Images)

7. Seattle Mariners sorely need, because nothing has gone right for the trendy pick to win the AL. The Mariners have the second-worst record in the league behind Oakland, which has a plus-3 run differential compared to Seattle's minus-30.

Here is a list of what's gone really well for Seattle: Felix Hernandez. Nelson Cruz. Carson Smith.

Here is a list of what hasn't: Fernando Rodney seems to have lost his closer's job to Smith amid his personal walkabout to Three Mile Island. Hisashi Iwakuma has spent almost the entire season on the disabled list. One linchpin of last season's tremendous bullpen, Dominic Leone, got traded, and another, Danny Farquhar, has gotten pummeled. Taijuan Walker is not the second coming. Mike Zunino and Dustin Ackley are hitting below the Mendoza Line.

Worst of all is Robinson Cano, who's owed about $208 million over the next 8⅔ years and is hitting .239/.278/320. His .598 OPS is 153rd among 164 qualified hitters. And about half of Bryce Harper's. And lower than the slugging percentage of Harper, Cruz, Anthony Rizzo, Adrian Gonzalez and…

8. Paul Goldschmidt, the most underappreciated player in baseball. Maybe it's because he's in Arizona, and maybe it's because he's the antithesis of a horn tooter, but the 27-year-old Goldschmidt is so good that he should be able to overcome such drawbacks and earn such recognition outside the baseball bubble. Consider:

Player

BA

OBP

SLG

HR

RBI

BB

K

SB

Harper

.326

.464

.706

19

46

48

49

3

Goldschmidt

.343

.468

.657

16

47

47

50

9

More or less the exact same player. While Goldschmidt's average glove at first base doesn't make up for the lack of positional value compared to Harper, he's right there in the NL MVP race, especially with the Diamondbacks hanging around .500 and Patrick Corbin about to join David Hernandez back from Tommy John surgery. The rotation is too squishy to call them a playoff contender – three starters with 4.88-plus ERAs in this era does not a postseason team make – but Arizona has talent to play spoiler if its bullpen can do half of what ...

9. Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances are doing for the New York Yankees. Which is pretty much unlike anything we've seen, even in this time of dominant bullpens. With two more innings and five more strikeouts combined, the pair now have this seemingly inconceivable line on the season: 57⅓ innings, 19 hits, 24 walks, 96 strikeouts, 0.63 ERA.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi is riding his Ferrari and Lamborghini like he's trying to set 0-to-60 records, and it has New York in first place. Betances' 28 appearances are the second most, behind five pitchers with 29 apiece (including Tony Watson and Jared Hughes in Pittsburgh, something worth watching). Miller has pitched in 25.

And in those games, opponents are batting .099 – 19 for 192 – against the Yankees' stoppers. Sixteen singles. Two doubles. One home run, off Miller, by Ryan Zimmerman in May. And that's it. A slugging percentage of .125. Not only are they near-impossible to hit. The hits batters do muster don't go very far. If Miller and Betances threw every pitch, perhaps ...

10. Major League Baseball wouldn't have as much to worry about with objects flying into the nearby stands. Unfortunately, reality gives us the grave cases of Tonya Carpenter and Susan Rhodes to consider, as well as the many who get brained by foul balls because they scream off bats at 100 mph-plus and even the most athletic and astute fans can't possibly have the reflexes to get out of the way.

It's not like this is some vexing issue with which baseball is contending. In Japan, not only does netting extend all the way past the dugouts, ushers blow whistles in the stands when a foul ball is heading toward their section. In Greenville, the low-A affiliate of the same Boston Red Sox who spent the weekend wishing Carpenter well after she was injured in their stadium, nets cover beyond the dugouts on both sides. If a team chooses to stretch netting even further down the line, it's difficult to argue.

This is not an issue worthy of debate because there isn't a single good reason more netting isn't the standard. And it's not one worthy of inaction, either. Case law and culpability should not affect policy when it comes to something as sacrosanct as fan safety. Going to a game shouldn't inspire fear of danger. Fun should be fun, not fun with a caveat.

Baseball will look into this, as it does all issues that affect fan safety, but this needs to be more than a cursory look. It got lucky that Rhodes lives a good life today and lucky that Carpenter seems to be on the road to recovery. One of these days, whether it's a man, a woman or, worst of all, a child, someone is going to get hit with a weapon and not be so lucky. And baseball will have blood on its hands, knowing so much more could've been done.

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