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Ex-commish Vincent hails ChiSox plan on netting

Their relationship was anything but a bromance during Fay Vincent’s three years as the commissioner of baseball and there hasn’t been a rapprochement since. But Wednesday, when asked by ESPN’s Outside the Lines about the Chicago White Sox plan to extend safety netting to the foul poles, Vincent expressed unqualified support for the initiative of team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.

“Jerry is very smart — I don’t often agree with him, but he’s right.” Added Vincent: “He is a lawyer, he is careful and he is very wise.”

Vincent, also a lawyer, weighed in on the future of the rule on which Major League Baseball has relied for decades against liability lawsuits over fan injuries. Since 1913, every ticket to a major-league game has contained a disclaimer saying the holder of the ticket assumes all the risks inherent to the game. Called “the Baseball Rule,” it has made it nearly impossible for fans injured at games to successfully sue ballclubs or MLB.

“The future of tort law is in favor of more safety, more reasonable protections,” said Vincent. “Could I see a court overturning the ‘Baseball Rule’? Assumption of risk doctrines as in baseball, where fans attend games at their own risk have been cut away.”

Vincent said he doesn’t recall having any serious discussions of netting extensions during his tenure from 1989-92, but he shared two other stories from the ’90s.

Shortly after Atlanta’s Turner Field opened, Vincent said, he was with longtime Braves owner Ted Turner, who asked him if he thought the owner’s box needed protection. As Vincent and Turner chatted on the field, Turner’s then-wife Jane Fonda was in the box. Vincent recalls looking in that direction and telling Turner the box was dangerously close to the action and that safety measures were warranted or someone could get killed.

As Vincent recounts, Turner described Vincent’s conclusion as “B.S.” and added that seeing the game through vinyl netting or plastic would be “like having sex with a condom.”

“I said, it’s to save your life,” said Vincent.

At the 1991 World Series between the Twins and Braves, Vincent said, he, his daughter and American League President Bobby Brown were among those in the commissioner’s box when a foul ball was hit toward them. Brown, a former eight-year major league player, had a glove with him and as the foul approached, he placed it face down atop his head and ducked.

Then Vincent’s daughter, 23, got hit on top of her head by the ball and had to be taken for first aid treatment. She was able to return to her seat in about half-an-hour, but had the imprint of the ball’s seams on her head. And before she could identify herself on a visit to a physician the next day in Massachusetts, the doctor said he’d watched the game on TV and saw the commissioner’s daughter get hit. She explained that it was she.

As for how current commissioner Rob Manfred might best proceed to get all MLB owners to do as Reinsdorf has done, and commit to netting extensions to the foul poles, Vincent said, “He could say to them, ‘I encourage you to do it, I could order it, but I’d rather you do it on your own.'”

Said the former commissioner: “The fewer things you have to require as commissioner, the better.”

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