Bryce Harper's injury a case of Dodgers' negligence

Stephen Dunn

The outfielder appears to have gotten off lightly, but that doesn't absolve the Dodgers of putting a hazard in the outfield.

The Dodgers should be ashamed of themselves. Different ownership, bigger wallet, same, stupid values. Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals right fielder and the greatest young star in the game, was forced to leave the game with a jammed shoulder and lacerated neck when he ran face first into the plexiglass scoreboard in right field in pursuit of a fly ball off the bat of A.J. Ellis. Harper was able to leave the game under his own power; agent Scott Boras later reported (via Adam Kilgore) that the outfielder had received 11 stitches but did not suffer a concussion. Nevertheless, the risk to Harper, to any outfielder who plays in Dodger Stadium, is appalling. And it's not the first time that this has been an issue.

On April 9, 2007, Matt Kemp, then 22 and starting what would have been his first full season in the majors, suffered a separated shoulder in a collision with the same scoreboard. Writing about it at the time, I said, "Who was the genius who installed the nice, soft scoreboard over the outfield padding in Dodger Stadium's right field? Whoever it was, they killed Matt Kemp. Welcome to Team Darwin, geniuses." A day later, I added, "Matt Kemp hit the DL after ‘mildly' separating his right shoulder by colliding with a Plexiglas scoreboard in Dodger Stadium's right field. If U.S. policymakers could forget Vietnam in 30 years, it's not surprising that the Dodgers could forget Pete Reiser in 60. Both developments are offensive."

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Six years later, it's still offensive. Kemp, who had started the season on one of those torrid streaks that would later make him an MVP candidate, missed 17 games. Given his career since you can't say that there was any lasting damage. With luck we'll be able to say the same about Harper. Still, there easily could have been; just because both players got off with minor damage doesn't make it any less apparent that an unpadded section of outfield wall is a bad idea. As the allusion to Reiser suggests (see Mike Bates' upcoming post on Reiser for more), there was a time before warning tracks and padding when running into concrete walls at full tilt was an occupational hazard for ballplayers. Reiser's career was destroyed by those walls, and quite nearly his life as well -- at one point he was given last rites in the clubhouse -- and Hall of Famer Earle Combs' career was significantly shortened due to fractures, including of the collarbone and skull.

Those days are supposed to be in the past, but the Dodgers, in their brilliance, have resurrected them on a small portion of their outfield fence. No doubt some genius in the ad sales department said, "Hey, more signage means more revenue, and what are the odds a player ever runs into it? It will happen every six years at best, more than an acceptable risk and one that is far outweighed by the rewards." This may sound like an unlikely case of mustache-twirling villainy, and maybe that's so, but the alternative to calculated cupidity in this case is uncalculated stupidity. For me, the former is somehow easier to take than the latter.

Given the gap between Kemp and Harper, one injury every six years seems about right, but the risk is hardly worthwhile if it costs the game even a single day of a Matt Kemp or Bryce Harper -- or, for that matter, a Roger Bernadina, Endy Chavez, Collin Cowgill, or the fringiest fourth/fifth outfielder you can name.Other ballparks have unpadded features in their outfields as well, and I question the existence of all of them. I like an old-fashioned, hand-operated scoreboard as much as the next guy, and if your art installation involves a set of rotating machetes, I'll applaud that too, but neither should be in a place where an athlete running at full tilt should be able to run into them. I could care less what their aesthetic appeal is, or how many sponsors one can get for a video scoreboard.

The Dodgers' scoreboard is just one of the more obvious examples of putting other values ahead of player safety. Simply put, it has zero business being in the field of play at all. To paraphrase an old Peter Gammons line, "If Bud Selig were still alive, this would never have happened." Nevertheless, the commissioner or his proxies should direct the Dodgers to remove the scoreboard immediately. They already contributed to Harper's injury; to allow it to continue would be to implicate the whole of MLB as well.

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