This used to be a fairly common sight in baseball games. Before warning tracks became common, before anyone thought of padding, walls were unforgiving, cold, hard concrete. The wreck of Pete Reiser’s career due to a dangerous inability to stay away from the wall has become legendary, but it wasn’t just Pistol Pete, it was Earle Combs suffering a fractured skull and a broken collarbone on the same play, it was Ted Williams shattering his elbow making a catch at the wall in the 1950 All-Star game (Williams said he was never able to swing as well again), and it was dozens of fractures and concussions, major and minor. Sometimes the wall didn’t have to be concrete. In the 1960s, Memorial Stadium in Baltimore had a chickenwire fence. In 1963, Mickey Mantle virtually destroyed his left leg–he broke his left foot, plus tore up the knee–when he jumped into the fence trying to catch a home run drive off the bat of Brooks Robinson. Two days later, columnist Arthur Daley of the New York Times published an idiotic column titled “The Brittle Bruiser.” Mantle was brittle and he did not take care of himself, but when the guy had just had his leg mangled by someone’s cheapass idea of fencing is not the time to accuse the guy of not being able to stand up to the rigors of the long season.
Over time, fences became more standardized. Warning tracks were a feature in every ballpark, and padding became commonplace. It is now unheard of for players to be carried off the field unconscious–but as with so many “retro” features of new ballparks, unpadded walls and the injuries associated with them are now making a comeback due to the presence of plexiglass scoreboards, windows into the stands, such as in Petco’s right-center “Beach” area, and other hardened features in the outfield. For example, in 2007 Matt Kemp separated his shoulder when he fell into such a scoreboard in right field at Dodger Stadium. The occasion for this dispatch is that tonight Yankees center fielder Brett Gardner had to be carted off the field after he fell backwards into a plexiglass window in the outfield wall, a viewport for denizens of the bullpen, at the new Yankee Stadium. It is readily apparent that for an outfielder moving at speed, a hardened window isn’t too different from a hardened wall.
This would seem obvious, so obvious that the decision to place these obstacles in the field of play can only be described as blatant disregard for the safety of the players. Gardner seems to have escaped with little more than a headache, but if such careless design decisions are not rectified in all major league parks, we will someday see someone carried off the field unconscious, or worse. Reiser once hit the wall so hard that he was given last rites. We don’t need to have that play reenacted in modern dress just because someone decided that the bullpen seats couldn’t be elevated or the outfield wall was a good place to sell some animated ad space. Forgoing that revenue would be a small price to pay to avoid that scene.