The introduction of Mottl's bill will have served a useful purpose if it generates new interest in the problem of sport violence. The bill figures to meet resistance in Congress, which has generally adopted a hands-off policy toward professional sports regulation, but the Subcommittee on Crime of the House Judiciary Committee has scheduled hearings for later this month. Predictably, most professional sports officials denounce the bill, arguing sanctimoniously that they can police themselves. They're right that they can. What they haven't yet proved is whether they will.
OFF THE WALL
Anyone who thought the walls in all major league ball parks were padded, or built so as to prevent outfielders from suffering serious injury, learned otherwise last week when Ruppert Jones of the Yankees lost his footing in centerfield and slammed into the plywood fence in the Oakland Coliseum. Jones hit the fence with a thud that could be heard in the dugout some 400 feet away. Unconscious for several minutes, he suffered a severe concussion and a separation of the right shoulder that requires surgery. He's out for the year, but he's lucky he wasn't hurt even worse. Ironically, just half an hour before the game, Oakland Manager Billy Martin told reporters, "I met with the new owners all afternoon, and one of the first things we're going to do here is to pad the outfield walls."
It would be tempting to many to make a scapegoat out of cheapskate Charlie Finley, who owned the A's until last week, or the Oakland politicians who run the Coliseum, but the fact is both the American and National League offices have ducked the issue of safe walls, leaving them up to the individual clubs. As a result, some parks have padded walls, others do not. A number of parks have plywood walls that are supposed to give on impact. Oakland's is one such. Others have wire fences. Atlanta had a wire fence until Brian Asselstine broke his ankle in 1978 when his spikes caught in the mesh. Now the Braves have Plexiglas with padding on top. Tiger Stadium has padding on the walls, but there is an auxiliary scoreboard that juts out dangerously in leftfield. Wrigley Field has brick walls covered with ivy, which the National League office says would be "impossible" to pad.
But what's really incredible about all this is that the Major League Players Association, aside from a complaint now and then, has never moved effectively to protect its own members by insisting that there be safely padded walls everywhere. Indeed, its Safety and Health Committee no longer exists. But after Jones was carted off to the hospital, Marvin Miller, executive director of the association, said the committee would obviously have to be reinstated. He also vowed that the association would "move rapidly." Move rapidly to do what? To file a grievance in the Jones case, said Miller. Moreover, said Miller, there could be a lawsuit. The possible charge? "Extreme negligence."