Dome The Dugout Danger

Last week, when he thought he had killed minor league manager Luis Salazar with a line drive into his own dugout, Brian McCann told friends he had no idea how he couldn’t retire, immediately. Today, the Braves announced that Salazar had lost his left eye – and in the context, that’s good news. He can probably manage again, this season.

Monday night in Fort Myers, Boston’s David Ortiz warned all of us on the Sox bench that Brett Gardner of the Yankees was notorious for fouling balls into the third base dugout and urged all of us to move away from the open spaces in the railings and netting protecting it.

This afternoon in Lakeland, Lance Berkman of the Cardinals sent his bat flying onto the screen above where Tigers manager Jim Leyland was sitting. A few innings later Berkman lost his club again and winged coach Rafael Belliard in the Tiger dugout. Next time up, Berkman jokingly handed Leyland a catcher’s mask.

So far, Berkman has the best idea, because while he was kidding around, there is no question that the dangers from balls and bats flying at too-fast-to-duck speeds have been increasing ever since the Matt Keough disaster in the 1980’s and baseball is either going to address it seriously and presently, or it is in fact going to get somebody killed. The Boston dugout was in fact a tense place Monday – the “park bench” in front of it was periodically unoccupied and each time Gardner came up we all scattered.

This transpired once just as Boston batting coach Dave Magadan and I discussed what to do about this evidently accelerating problem, and we agreed on two points. The first was to experiment with a kind of reversed version of those international soccer dugouts with the clear plastic backs that protect players from drunken fans and thrown debris while letting the spectators see what the athletes are doing. In our vague plan, the plexiglas would go not in the back but in the front, replacing the railings and netting and curving neatly back to enclose and secure the players. The thing could be dotted with oblong slits or small circular openings to reduce the claustrophobia and the likely sense of detachment it could create for the occupants. Obviously it would have protected openings at each end. It might not even need to completely overlap with the dugout roof; perhaps it could replace the dugout roof completely.
dugout.jpgBesides the wildly improved safety, the see-through dugout would also solve one of the least well-known problems in the sport: Currently the players can’t see a thing from the dugout. A manager racing out to second base to argue with an ump is almost always doing so purely in faith. Without the railings and nettings to block them, they would all be able to watch the game in which they’re playing. Players trying to make catches would probably have a safer if no less challenging time of it, too.

The drawbacks? You’d need to keep spares, or at least spare components, because the thing would crack often. And the players would feel as if they were no longer part of the game. But the second thing on which the esteemed Mr. Magadan and I agreed: it would be seen as such a departure from tradition that everybody would protest. To which I say: Do you want tradition? Or do you want somebody killed? Because that’s your choice, ultimately.

12 Comments

Great idea, Keith and Dave! The very reason I am just now learning about the game is because I was so scared of getting hit. We had a small field called Pelican when I was growing up and it had a high fence, but every now and then, a ball would find its way. Now, the Alexandria Aces have a larger field over by the park, but I rarely go to the games. I would also avoid them when it was my turn for duty at a sports event…trying to collect tickets or do something safer and farther away from the action! Keith, when your mom got hit by Knoblauch, I kept thinking…this is like my worst nightmare and the very reason I don’t let anyone, “take me out to the ballgame.” As for the fans, my nephew was quarterback for LSU, and we gpt great seats during that time…the 80s! However, all it took was one drunk vomiting right down my spine, to make me turn in my family seat and number 2 jersey! I loved my nephew, but hey, I got a TV! Keep ‘em safe, Keith! We need to ENJOY more and FEAR less~!

Keith,

It is a solid concept, but I also agree the blowback on it would almost be impossible to overcome. The “dome” or casing would have to either be thick enough to avoid support beams, or support beams would have to be in place, in the event of a player tracking a foul ball and leaning into the plexiglass. Either of these options present sight line concerns.

You mentioned replacement pieces for cracks and damage, but there would also be scuffs, smears, scrapes and such that could obstruct the clear view, like looking through old glasses.

I agree with you completely that something has to be done. It is such a tragedy what happened to Salazar, as much because it could have been prevented.

I guess it will be a race between maple bats and dugout danger as to which gets someone killed first.

You know, the same concerns were addressed years ago with hockey, and the nets on the corners protecting the fans. Although, this did come about after someone did get killed by getting hit with a puck. There were the purist that bitched and moaned about the net obstructing the view to the ice, but after a while people just got used to it. People should still have to pay attention to what is going on on the ice or the field, but it did reduce the number of people getting hit with errand pucks. Especially during the on ice warm up, when there is a lot of pucks on the ice, and people don’t really pay the same attention to what is going on on the ice as they do during a game. Take it from someone who has been hit in the face with an errand puck during a warm up at an OHL game, I am glad those nets are there now. All I got was 4 stitches, and a fat lip for a while. It could have been worse. I think it’s great suggestion and MLB should look into it.

Man am I bummed for Luis. I’m left-eye blind since a sledding accident in first grade 51 years ago this week and stories like this necessarily cause me to cringe. I’m all for the idea you’re proposing, especially since it has that nice side benefit of vastly improving the ability of players and coaches to watch the game from the bench.

We started putting fresh baseballs into pitchers hands at the merest suggestion of use after Chapman was killed in 1920; no reason why this absolutely awful — and trust me folks, it’s a pain being monocular — event shouldn’t move baseball to make a change.

A standout memory from my childhood is still the horror of seeing Steve Yeager speared with the shard of a broken bat while in the on deck circle. Baseball injuries have often been freakish & do more to things flying outside the field of play than within it.

It took a minor league coach being killed to finally make 1st & 3rd base coaches wear helmets. I agree that baseball is so rooted in tradition that it will take something drastic to make a change such as you suggest. But I also agree that a man losing his vision should be more than enough to make it happen. Between that incident & the Padres coach having his palate broken it seems to have already been a more than typically dangerous Spring Training season.

Perhaps just replacing the railings and nets with a plexiglass wall of similar dimensions would be a solution? The dome idea offers the ultimate safety, of course, but I think a plexiglass wall would be a good compromise between improved safety and tradition.

Good article, Keith. I fully agree changes are needed to protect players and coaches. I’d never really thought a whole lot about it, it just seemed one of those things that as you got older in the system things got less protective.
When I was a little leaguer, 55 years ago we had chain link barriers in front of the dugouts at all the fields we played in. In junior and senior high school we still had the chain link covering the openings in the dugouts.
Since no one was ever hit by a ball or bat, no one really thought about the significance of the barriers and now seeing this stuff happening and Salazar “only” losing an eye it is obvious that the common sense thing is to put in a barrier of some kind. If not plexiglass then at least substantial netting.
Not all incidents can ever be stopped but those “too fast to react balls and bats” can be limited.
Typical of your own self, good article…

Just hang a net over the thing – a volleyball net would work.
Put some leaves and twigs in it and the boys who hunt can shoot ducks that fly over, or land in the infield. Might liven up the game.
Perhaps shoot at base stealers, too? Bird shot only!

Keith Olbermann never misses an opportunity to denigrate a person over grammatical or spelling errors. He pompously points out how these errors are a reflection of their intelligence (or lack thereof). Well, Mr. Perfect has made a blatant error of his own in the above blog post. He writes:
“Do you want tradition? Or do you want somebody killed? Because that’s your choice, ultimately.”
The problem, however, is Olbermann contends that “traditional” dugouts would eventually “get somebody killed.” Consequently, the choice is not between tradition and somebody being killed but between tradition and saving lives. This new dugout would definitely not work for Olbermann because he should not be anywhere near a glass house.

Keith’s comment about Derek Jeter and the passin of Bob Sheppard is very interesting. Keith,you would be terrific, of only you could get that radical, left-wing, commie nonsense out of your system!

People should still have to pay attention to what is going on on the ice or the field, but it did reduce the number of people getting hit with errand pucks. Especially during the on ice warm up, when there is a lot of pucks on the ice, and people don’t really pay the same attention to what is going on on the ice as they do during a game. Take it from someone who has been hit in the face with an errand puck during a warm up at an OHL game, I am glad those nets are there now. All I got was 4 stitches, and a fat lip for a while. fashionof2012

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