After the awful incident in Houston last May when a foul ball off the bat of the Cubs’ Albert Almora Jr. hit a little girl in the head, teams began to discuss extending protective netting past the end of dugouts, where they were located beginning the 2019 season.
Commissioner Rob Manfred, in an interview with CNBC Wednesday, said that all 30 teams will have some form of extended netting in place for Opening Day 2020:
The protective netting will extend “substantially beyond the end of the dugout,” Manfred told CNBC at the league’s winter meetings in San Diego.
Manfred said seven or eight clubs will extend the netting all the way to the foul poles, with another 15 teams extending it “down to the elbow” areas of playing fields.
“The reason for that is, when the stadiums jut away, you have to run cables over the playing field to go all the way to the foul pole so it’s a very difficult structurally to do,” Manfred said. “And then we had a group of clubs who were already well beyond the dugout any they are going to continue in that mode.”
Technically, there is no rule forcing teams to extend the netting, but after the league office met with each club, both parties decided to make the move.
“There was no rule passed or anything like that,” Manfred said. “We just went out, talked to the clubs, made the case that extending netting was the thing to do, and the clubs individually responded in a positive way.”
The four photos below show the Wrigley Field netting on the third-base side. I took them during the game last August 20.
Photo 1 shows the netting extending to the outfield end of the third-base dugout. Photo 2 shows the “elbow” that Manfred refers to in his comments. Those “jogs” exist in several ballparks, including Minute Maid Park in Houston. The Astros extended their netting to where that “elbow” exists in their park, shown here:
Photo 3 in the gallery shows where the end of the netting is attached in the left-field corner, on a tall green post. Photo 4 is a closeup of that attachment. It’s similar on the right-field side, except on that side, the wire that holds the end of the netting is attached to the corner of the upper deck below the seating area.
This is all a good thing. This will prevent almost all of the injuries to fans that we have seen in recent years at several ballparks, including last year at Guaranteed Rate Field and in 2017 at Yankee Stadium. Fans were injured by foul balls at Wrigley Field, prior to the current netting setup, in 2015 and 2017.
I have reached out to the Cubs for comment and will either update this article or post a new one when they reply.
UPDATE — I received the following statement from Cubs spokesman Julian Green late Wednesday afternoon:
Given the unique design of the walls along the playing field which are landmarked, we are still reviewing options that provides the safest and enjoyable environment for our fans.