Have you heard of Zack Hample? Go ahead, you can google him. I’ll wait.
If you searched his name online, you probably noticed that Yankees slugger Aaron Judge made a great play right in front of Hample on Sunday night during the Yankees-Indians ALDS game three. If you looked a bit further, you may have seen that Hample has compiled a collection of baseballs totaling at least 10,138, per the biography at the top of his blog.
Of course, it’s quite possible you had heard of him before. He made headlines this past June when Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw denied Hample’s request for a Father’s Day baseball, when he could have purchased an identical baseball for under $40. Hample also made headlines in June 2016 when he was upset that he missed out on two souvenir baseballs. /record scratch/ Yes, you read that correctly. The man who has over 10,000 special baseballs was sad that other fans around him got a couple that he wanted. It doesn’t stop there — he’s made a lot of other (mostly negative) headlines, too.
Now, do me a favor, and look at this photo:
That’s Hample in the bright yellow shirt. Can you read what’s on his shirt?
It says MLB.com, and it has the official logo of the website. The only legitimate way to get a shirt like that is to have some sort of recognition by MLB, whether that’s endorsement, or by winning a contest, or something else entirely. Your first guess may be that Hample got his shirt from a random person, such as through eBay. But actually, Hample is endorsed by MLB — the league helped make a 13-minute film featuring him that was released in September of this year.
That is not OK.
Hample has (rightfully) garnered intense dislike from many baseball fans. A glance at his Twitter feed further proves that. His unending persistence to get a ball, any ball — including knocking children out of the way — has won him few hearts.
By acknowledging Hample and giving him recognition, MLB encouraged his craft. He doesn’t need any more encouragement or publicity than he has already received. Instead of continuing to publicize an incredibly well-known ballhawk, the league should have ignored or even condemned Hample’s behavior. In refusing to do so, MLB carried on its apparent policy of ignoring true fans.
Another example of this can be found in MLB’s stadium netting policy... its non-existent policy, that is. In December 2015, Commissioner Rob Manfred released a statement “recommending” that teams extend their stadium’s netting to the beginning of both the home and away dugouts. Comerica Park was already up to that standard, but 10 teams have netting extending all the way to the far ends of the dugouts.
If the far end of the dugouts was an MLB rule, the not quite 2-year-old little girl who was injured at Yankee Stadium last month wouldn’t have been harmed. Her father discussed her injuries:
In his recollection of the episode, the father, Geoffrey Jacobson, described the horror of walking into a hospital room to find his daughter, who will turn 2 this week, connected to tubes and machines. Her eyes were swollen shut, she had multiple facial fractures — including those of her orbital bone and nose — and doctors were monitoring the bleeding on her brain, fearing that it might lead to seizures.
And on her forehead, he said, was an imprint left by the stitches of the baseball that hit her.
The child was sitting on her grandfather’s lap with her family behind the third-base dugout.
You may be thinking that a child that young shouldn’t be sitting so close to the field. Maybe not, but you know what? Nobody should be sitting there with no net.
Yet another example arose Monday when a middle-aged man who was struck by a foul ball at Wrigley Field in August launched a lawsuit against the Chicago Cubs and MLB. The man was sitting “a few rows behind the visitors’ dugout” and he went completely blind in his left eye as a result of the impact.
This past July, Manfred said that there are currently no plans to institute a league-wide netting rule. Former Tigers manager Jim Leyland weighed in on the debate as well, saying “I definitely think they should have the nets.”
As fans we repeatedly see or hear about ballpark-goers getting injured in the stands, whether that’s from a foul ball or a piece of broken bat. The players hate to see such accidents happen, and the MLBPA has repeatedly tried to get a more complete policy on safety netting.
The time for leniency has come and gone. MLB needs to focus less on PR like Zack Hample and more on the PR that’s actual meaningful. The league needs to crack down on fan requests and safety now. Too many people have already suffered life-changing injuries. How much longer will the Commissioner wait?