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.
Besides 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.