The manuscript for the second edition of Death at the Ballpark has been completed and is now in the hands of the publisher. It is a complete revision of the first edition which includes over 2,000 fatalities, more than twice as many as were listed in the first edition. McFarland, the publisher, expects the book to be available for purchase later this year. For more information, visit the McFarland website at http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/book-2.php?id=978-0-7864-7932-0.
There are two recent studies that underscore the danger to fans from foul balls. Gathering data from several major league parks and using a mathematical model vetted by five mathematicians and statisticians, journalist David Glovin estimates that some 1,750 fans are injured by foul balls at major league games every year. His findings can be found on the Bloomberg website at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-09-09/baseball-caught-looking-as-fouls-injure-1-750-fans-a-year.html. When one factors in the number of minor league, collegiate, high school, American Legion, and other amateur games that are played each season, the danger to spectators is significant.
In a study entitled “Don’t Sit There…Or There…Or There: An Analysis of Ball Park Protection and Foul Ball Injury Risks,” published in the International Journal of Sport Management (October 2012, pp. 423-443), researchers led by Gil Fried at the University of New Haven (CT), confirmed that the field level seating areas along the first and third base lines are the most likely to have foul balls hit into them.
On April 15, 2008, New York Mets’ fan Antonio Nararainsami, 36, fell to his death at Shea Stadium when he slipped off a stationary escalator handrail he was attempting to slide down. According to police, Nararainsami was leaving the game with his daughters and a cousin about 10:00 p.m. when he fell and landed on the escalator at the loge level over 30 feet below. He was taken to New York Hospital Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.
Anthony Giraudo, 18, and Taylor Buckley, 18, got into a fight outside the gates as they were leaving a San Francisco Giants game at A.T. & T. Park about 9:45 p.m. on May 9, 2008. Buckley allegedly punched Giraudo on the side of his face, knocking him to the ground. Giraudo’s head striking the pavement caused “traumatic brain injury.” When the victim died after being removed from life support the next day, Buckley was arrested and charged with “involuntary manslaughter.” Buckley is scheduled for trial in 2010.
During the 8th inning of an Atlanta Braves-New York Mets game on May 21, 2008, Justin Hayes, 25, was attempting to slide down the handrails of the club-level stairways behind the home plate area of Atlanta’s Turner Field when he slipped and fell about 50 to 60 feet, striking both the railing and the concrete field-level landing below. He was rushed to Grady Memorial Hospital where he died a short while later of head injuries.
Deshun Glover, 8, was fatally electrocuted while standing in a rain puddle near a light pole at the baseball fields in Reid Park, Tucson, Arizona, on the evening of July 25, 2008. Initially thinking the child had been struck by lightning, an investigation later showed that he was killed by “a faulty circuit breaker” and a “ground fault” resulting from an improperly insulated splice in a steel junction box.
Playing catch before a game in Arnold, Missouri, on July 31, 2008, 13-year-old Tanner Boynton glanced away momentarily and was struck on the neck below his ear. The blow knocked him unconscious. A coach administered CPR before an ambulance arrived and took him to a local hospital. He died there about 2:30 p.m. the next day.
Alberto Patino, 11, was struck on the chest by a ball during an after-school game in Compton, California, on September 12, 2008. “He had trouble breathing and then he collapsed,” reported the assistant coroner. The youngster had complained of chest pains shortly before the accident. He was administered CPR before being taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.
A fight shortly after an Angels game in Anaheim on April 6, 2009, resulted in the death of Brian Powers, 27. He was found on the fourth level of the right-field pavilion stairwell “unconscious and bleeding from the head.” He was rushed to an area hospital where he died two days later. According to witnesses, Powers was “fighting with another man when a third man came from behind and punched the victim’s head, causing him to fall and hit his head on a concrete step.” Surveillance photos of the two assailants were released and the men turned themselves in for questioning.
Little League baseball coach Jacques Lee died of heart failure on a ball field in Hesperia, California, on April 9, 2009.
Harry Kalas, 73, Hall-of-Fame broadcaster for the Philadelphia Phillies, died from atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease shortly before the start of a game in Washington Nationals ballpark on April 13, 2009. He was found unconscious in the broadcast booth about 12:20 p.m. and was rushed to George Washington University Medical Center where he died about an hour later.
Jonathan M. Sikora, 39, collapsed in the outfield during a game at Trevor Park in Yonkers, New York, on April 19, 2009. Sikora, who had a history of heart problems, had run the bases just prior to taking his position on the field. He died before reaching an area hospital. His cardiologist later said the victim suffered from “severe heart disease.”
In a high school game in Lebanon, Missouri, 16-year-old Patrick Clegg from Waynesville High School, was struck on the back of the head just below the helmet on the evening of April 21, 2009. The blow to the brain stem caused swelling of the brain. He remained in a coma on a respirator until he was declared brain dead on April 23. He was taken off the respirator the following day.
On April 28, 2009, Jeff Taylor, Sr., 48, a professor at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, was pitching batting practice to his son Jeff, Jr., on the school’s ball field when his son hit a line drive that struck the elder Taylor on “the lower jaw or neck.” He fell, tried to rise, but then collapsed. His son and an EMS crew from the university administered CPR, but the injured man was pronounced dead on arrival at Lynchburg General Hospital.
Nine-year-old Eliyahu Daddah was struck on the neck by a ball batted by his brother while the two were playing in the backyard of their home in Long Branch, New Jersey, on May 1, 2009. His 10-year-old brother was using an aluminum bat at the time. The local medical examiner later said the youngster died from “blunt force trauma.”
Chelal Gross-Matos, 12, and Jonathan Colson, 11, were struck by lightning while playing catch shortly after a storm-cancelled Little League game in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, on June 3, 2009. According to witnesses, the bolt of lightning hit Gross-Matos directly then “transferred to the other boy.” CPR was administered and both youngsters were rushed to a local hospital where Gross-Matos was pronounced dead. Colson remained comatose for nearly a month before making a slow recovery that included relearning how to open his eyes, eat, talk, and walk. He was finally sent home more than three months later.
A fight between two groups of men which began over seats in Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park led to the beating death of David Sale, Jr., 22, in the parking lot of McFadden’s Pub on July 25, 2009. Sale was attending a bachelor party with friends when an argument broke out with a group of men from the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia. The disagreement flared again inside McFadden’s, which is connected to the ballpark. After the two groups were ejected from the restaurant, a brawl ensued in the adjacent parking lot. Three assailants allegedly beat Sales to the ground. A final kick to the victim’s neck resulted in “a tear to Sale’s left vertebral artery in the neck that caused massive bleeding into his brain and spinal column.” One witness described the fatal blow as a “brutal kick, as if it was a football and he was attempting to punt my friend’s face.” Sales also suffered from injuries that “caused significant internal bleeding in his liver, spleen, pancreas, kidneys, and bowel.” Sale died about an hour later at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital from “multiple blunt-force trauma injuries and hemorrhaging of the brain and spinal column.” The assailant who allegedly kicked Sale “in the head and neck area at the end of the melee when he was down on his hands and knees in a barely conscious state” was charged with first-degree murder. Two others were charged with third-degree murder and “conspiracy to commit a homicide.”
On July 29, 2009, Jeff Wood, 15, arrived for practice with the Valley High School baseball team in Orderville, UT, complaining of a side ache. After sitting out a short while, he assumed his position in center field to shag flies. A line drive struck him on the side, causing him to collapse on the field. An off-duty sheriff’s deputy performed CPR within 30 seconds after the youngster collapsed. He was rushed to Kane County Hospital in Kanab, UT, where attempts to revive him were not successful. An autopsy did not reveal the cause of death.
Thirteen-year-old Brady Lee Frazier, St. Regis Falls, New York, died May 8, four days after a line drive struck him on the head during baseball practice at St. Regis Falls Central School.
During batting practice at Miller Park, Milwaukee, on April 25, Stuart Springstube, 51, fell over a railing while reaching for a batted ball. The 15-foot fall to the ground below resulted in the fan’s death from a brain hemorrhage on May 14.
Andrew Cohn, 15, covering first base for his Camden County, Georgia, recreational league team during a May 15 game in Jacksonville, Florida, died shortly after colliding with a base runner. Cohn was in the act of catching the ball when the runner crashed in to him, knocking them both to the ground. The youngster attempted to rise, but fell back down. When he stopped breathing, CPR was performed. He was pronounced dead on arrival at an area hospital.
Wendy Whitehead, 39, was attending an independent United League Baseball game between the San Angelo, Texas, Colts and the Amarillo, Texas, Dillas on the evening of June 11 in San Angelo. She and her husband were seated behind the third base dugout near the end of the protective screening. In the bottom of the 8th inning, a Colts batter hit a line drive foul that curved around the screening and struck Whitehead in the throat. Her husband, a vascular surgeon, attempted to resuscitate her. She was rushed to a local hospital where she was placed on life support. She died the following day.
Douglas Johnson, 54, from Greensburg, PA, and a friend were viewing the Cleveland Indians “wall of fame” in Gateway Plaza before an Indians game on June 12 when a 400 pound inflatable slide being used by children in an adjacent area fell on the two of them. Johnson, suffering from severe back pains and cuts to his arms and legs, was examined by Indians medical personnel before being taken to the Cleveland Clinic. He was treated for several broken bones in his back, then returned to Greensburg two days later. On June 20, Johnson suddenly collapsed at home and was rushed to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead three hours later. An autopsy revealed that Johnson had died from a blood clot in his lung caused by the slide falling on him.
Thomas Adams, 16, was catching during practice in the gym of the Blessed Sacrament School in Paterson, NJ, on December 3 when he was struck on the chest by a pitched ball. Although he was wearing a chest protector, the blow caused him to collapse moments after throwing the ball back to the pitcher. According to the boy’s uncle, he stood and said, “I can’t breathe” before he collapsed. Paramedics were unable to revive him and he was transported to the local hospital where he died. Cause of death was speculated to be commotio cordis.
Robert Seamans, 27, died on May 25, a day after he fell and struck his head while sliding down a staircase railing in the outfield seating area of Coors Field known as the Rockpile.
During a Little League game in Winslow, AZ, on May 31, 13-year-old Hayden Walton was struck over the heart by a foul tip off his bat during a bunt attempt. According to one witness, “he took an inside pitch right in the chest. After that he took two steps to first base and collapsed.” He was rushed to a local hospital, but died the next day.
Just after completing his first practice with the Seacoast Mavericks of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League in Rochester, NH, on June 6, Adam Keenan, 20, suddenly went into cardiac arrest and collapsed. CPR was performed and he was rushed to an area hospital, but attempts to revive him failed. An autopsy revealed that the young man had an enlarged heart.
Austin Earl Bowman, 13, was at bat during a Babe Ruth League game in Gillette, WY, on the evening of June 7 when an errant pitch struck him on the left side of his batting helmet near the temple. He was air-lifted to the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper, but died of a subdural hematoma on June 8, twelve hours after the beaning.
Shortly after an American Legion game in Helena, MT, on June 16, the Rev. Wayne A. Fisher, 78, leaned against a protective net that was not attached at the bottom and fell face-first nearly nine feet onto the dugout steps below. He was unconscious for several minutes, but regained consciousness before being taken to an area hospital. He was later airlifted to a hospital in Great Falls, where he died on June 28 from injuries sustained in the fall.
During the second inning of a Texas Rangers game in Arlington on the evening of July 7, fan Shannon Stone, 39, fell over the railing in the left field lower reserve seating area while attempting to catch a ball tossed into the stands by Rangers’ outfielder Josh Hamilton. Stone fell headfirst through the gap between the seats and the outfield wall, landing on the ground about 20 feet below. Although conscious when first reached by emergency personnel, Stone died on the way to the hospital.
On October 5, 2011, Gregory Green, 17, was pitching batting practice to a teammate at Ribault High School in Jacksonville, FL, when a line drive ricocheted off the metal frame of the protective screening and struck Green on the head as he was ducking to get out of the way. He was rushed to a local hospital where he died on October 9, three days after the accident.
University of Rhode Island pitcher, Joseph Ciancola, 20, collapsed suddenly after a pre-season workout. He was rushed to an area hospital where he died three days later. An autopsy performed the following week was inconclusive as to cause of death. Team officials said that Ciancola did not appear to be ill at any time during the workout.
On August 16, 2012, an unidentified male fan collapsed during the bottom of the seventh inning of a Chicago White Sox -Toronto Blue Jays game in Toronto. The game was halted for several minutes while the fan was given CPR and taken from the Rogers Centre to an area hospital. Police announced after the game that the fan had died in the hospital of suspected cardiac arrest.
On June 3, 2012, East Carolina University fan Lazarus King “Kay” Stallings III, 68, was struck in the face by a line drive foul as he sat in the stands along the first base side of Boshamer Stadium in Chapel Hill, NC, during an NCAA regional playoff game between the University of North Carolina and St. John’s University. Stallings lost his right eye and was hospitalized of and on during the summer, but appeared to be recovering when in early September he was readmitted to the University of North Carolina Hospitals. He died September 13 of a brain aneurysm resulting from the initial injury.
Maureen Oleskiewicz, 28, and her brother Martin were eating hot dogs in Wrigley Field’s right field bleachers shortly before the start of a Chicago Cubs-Cincinnati Reds game on May 5, 2013, when she suddenly fell to the ground without any indication she was in distress. When emergency medical personnel were unable to revive her, she was rushed to an area hospital. She was kept alive until the morning of May 7 so that her organs could be donated. An autopsy by the Cook County medical examiner’s office revealed that she died from a lack of oxygen to the brain caused by choking on a hot dog. Alcohol consumption was determined to be a contributing factor.
Eight-year-old Dylan Williams was injured on July 16, 2013, when a thrown ball struck the youngster on the right side of his head and neck during practice in Union City, IN. He was rushed to a local hospital before being transferred to one in Indianapolis. He died on July 17 from “blunt force trauma.”
Just before the start of an Atlanta Braves-Philadelphia Phillies game on the night of August 12, 2013, Ronald Homer, 30, fell over the 42-inch high upper deck railing at Turner Field 85 feet to the players’ parking lot below. The unconscious man was rushed to an area hospital where he died from blunt force trauma shortly after arriving.
Alex Newsome, 11, was pitching batting practice at his middle school in Wilmington, NC, on the afternoon of April 11, 2014, when a line drive struck him on the head. Although the young left-hander was pitching behind a protective screen, his delivery caused him to lean outside the netting. CPR was performed on the youngster until an ambulance arrived. He was transported to an area hospital where he died a little after 9:00 p.m. that evening.
Zacharie Schaubhut, 15, was pitching during a game in Bemidji, MN, on May 24, 2015, when he was struck by a batted ball. The youngster was taken to a local hospital before being airlifted to a hospital in Fargo, ND. He passed away later that same day.
The commtio cordis death of a Little League batter on May 31, 2011, prompted a comment from a reader of this blog about the effectiveness of safety equipment for children. First, let me say up front that I am not a physician. What knowledge I have about the issue of baseball safety has come from the readings I have done in my research on baseball-related fatalities. Therefore, my opinions are those of an informed layperson, not a medical expert.
There are a number of recent studies on the issue of safety baseballs and chest protectors and the prevention or decrease in incidents of commotio cordis. A 2001 study of safety baseballs published in the May 2002 issue of the journal Pediatrics (“Reduced Risk of Sudden Death from Chest Wall Blows (Commotio Cordis) with Safety Baseballs,” Mark S. Link, et al, pp. 873-877) concluded that “safety baseballs reduced (but did not abolish) the risk of sudden cardiac death. More universal use of these safety baseballs may decrease the risk of sudden death on the playing field for young athletes.” (This study, I might add, was based on an animal model using young pigs, not a human one.)
Similarly, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concerning safety baseballs and faceguards (“Evaluation of Safety Baseballs and Faceguards for Prevention of Injuries in Youth Baseball,” Stephen W. Marshall, et. al, February 5, 2003, pp. 568-574) concluded that “Reduced-impact balls and faceguards were associated with a reduced risk of injury in youth baseball. These findings support increased usage of these items; however, it should be noted that the absolute incidence of injury in youth baseball is low and that these equipment items do not prevent all injuries.”
The news on chest protectors has been much less encouraging. A study of commercially-available chest protectors reported in The American Journal of Cardiology (Joseph J. Doerer, et. al, March 15, 2007, pp. 857-859) found “that almost 40% of commotio cordis deaths in young competitive athletes occurred in the presence of chest barriers”,” concluding that this fact “raises the critical consideration of whether chest protectors that effectively abolish the risk for commotio cordis can be manufactured. Improvements in the design and composition of chest protectors are necessary to enhance the safety of the athletic field for our youth.”
Finally, commotio cordis fatalities are not just a baseball problem. Other sports, including football, hockey, and lacrosse, have had their share of commotio cordis deaths as well. And while it is an event that happens mainly to children under 18, adult fatalities from blows to the heart have also occurred.
With the death last week of a fan who fell over a railing trying to catch a ball tossed to him by a player, I’ve had a number of questions concerning how common this sort of fatality is. Based on what David Weeks and I found while researching our book, Death at the Ballpark, there have been 22 fall-related fatalities at major league parks since 1969. Only one of these (other than the recent death) was due to a fan pursuing a ball in the stands. On April 25, 2010, at Miller Park in Milwaukee, fan Stuart Springstube, 51, fell over a railing trying to catch a batted ball during batting practice before a Brewers-Cubs game. He fell some 15 feet to the field below, which resulted in his death from a brain hemorrhage three weeks later.
The remaining 20 deaths were due to a variety of reasons. Three were suicides, three were fans jumping from exit ramp to exit ramp, seven from sliding down or sitting on railings or escalator handrails, three by leaning over or running into railings, one by climbing over a wall, one was by doing a handstand in the upper deck, one by tripping and falling down exit stairs, and one by falling through an opening for the scoreboard. As one can see, most of these deaths were due to risky behavior on the part of the fan and thus were thoroughly avoidable. And in many of the cases, alcohol was involved.
Clearly the type of fatality that happen last week is very rare indeed. I would hate for MLB to overreact by prohibiting players from giving balls to fans. It has engendered considerable goodwill among fans and many have now come to expect it. If MLB feels it needs to do something, tell players to hand the balls to fans, but don’t restrict the practice entirely.
If you ask Major League Baseball, you’ll be told that MLB doesn’t know how many fans are injured yearly from foul balls. (In my opinion, there’s a reason why MLB doesn’t know, but that’s a matter for a later posting.) However, in a fan injury lawsuit a few years ago (Jane Costa vs. The Boston Red Sox Baseball Club), the Red Sox did produce a spreadsheet detailing the number and nature of foul ball injuries at Fenway that occurred during a five-year period in the 1990s. According to a summary included in the appeals court decision (I have been unsuccessful in acquiring a copy of the spreadsheet itself), the number of injuries ranged from a low of 36 to a high of 53 per season, “with a substantial number requiring medical attention.” Some of these injuries were from fans chasing foul balls, but others were from fouls striking fans. In addition, according to one expert witness, the plaintiff in this case was sitting 141 feet from home plate and the ball that struck her was traveling a minimum of 90 miles per hour, or 132 feet per second. In other words, the injured fan had no more that 1.07 seconds to get out of the way of the ball. As the appeals court wrote in its ruling, “avoiding injury from a ball hit into the stands sometimes may be close to impossible.”
After running across this case, I became curious as to how many fouls enter the stands in an average game. I thought, why not keep a count of the number during games I attend in the 2010 season? And I did just that. To be counted, the ball had to be foul (thus no homers) and it had to enter the stands. I included all levels of play, from the minors (Class A Daytona Cubs and Greenville Drive and AAA Charlotte Knights) to the majors (Florida Marlins and Atlanta Braves). I did not distinguish between looping fouls and line drives and I did not factor in ballpark layout, such as the size of the foul territory or the arrangement of protective netting.
Here’s what I found: in the 166 innings (20 games) I attended, there were 405 fouls that met my criteria. The average per inning of play was 2.44. The greatest number of fouls was 27 during five innings of a Charlotte Knights game on August 26 (5.4 fouls per inning). The lowest number was eight during 8 1/2 innings of a Charlotte Knights game on April 15 (.09 per inning). The sample was way too small to sense whether time of year or time of day were factors. For example, while the April 15 Knights game saw only eight fouls, three days later there were 21. While this project was hardly scientific, it was interesting.
In July, the Detroit Free Press did a very similar one-day project. During a Tigers game at Comerica on July 22, they had a crew of 22 spread throughout the park tracking balls that entered the stands (including fouls, homers, and balls tossed to fans from the field). Of the 46 fouls that game, 32 met the paper’s criteria of entering the stands. Of these 32, 23 were from batted fouls. The average for this 8 1/2 inning game was very similar to what I found: 2.7 per inning.
I plan to continue this project next season, making one major modification. I will note whether the foul was of the looping variety or more of a line drive. It is the line drive that poses the most danger to fans.
For more than a century, ballpark owners have enjoyed nearly automatic protection from injury lawsuits under the legal doctrine known as “assumption of risk,” or what some refer to as “the baseball rule.” Under this doctrine, the courts have held that the dangers inherent in baseball are widely known and that fans therefore assume the risk in attending games. Stadium owners do have a “limited duty” to provide reasonable protective measures in the most dangerous areas of their parks and sufficient seating in the protected areas for those who typically may want to sit there, but baseball is not held to the same patron safety standards as other businesses. At the same time, some courts have applied the doctrine known as “contributory negligence.” Basically, this doctrine holds that if a fan, fully aware of the dangers of the game, is injured while sitting in an unprotected area, he has, by assuming such risk, contributed to his own injury and is therefore not entitled to recovery of damages.
Because of the changing nature of the game and the venues in which it is played, more recent cases have sought to refine the traditional “assumption of risk” defense. These cases, in effect, have redefined “limited duty” to mean more than just screening behind home plate and warnings on the back of tickets and the safety announcements before games. The most recent example of this change is the New Mexico Supreme Court ruling in an injury lawsuit brought against the City of Albuquerque and the Albuquerque Baseball Club, i.e., the Albuquerque Isotopes.
The parents of a four-year-old child brought suit against the city, which owns the stadium, and the Isotopes after their son was struck on the head by a batted ball during pre-game batting practice while the family was eating in the picnic area located in fair territory just beyond the left field wall. The stadium does not have protective screening around this picnic area and the picnic tables are perpendicular to the field, so that fans seated at the tables do not face the field. The plaintiffs argued that because of this design, fans are not focused on the game. In addition, they were not given any warning that batting practice had begun.
The district court in which the case was first heard applied the traditional “limited duty” requirement, granting summary judgment to the defendants. The Court of Appeals reversed this judgment “on the ground that, under the particular circumstances alleged, there are issues of material fact precluding summary judgment,” thus rejecting a strict “limited duty” doctrine. The state Supreme Court reversed the appellate court’s rejection of a limited duty rule. In doing so, the New Mexico Supreme Court adopted a new limited duty rule which states that “an owner/occupant of a commercial baseball stadium owes a duty that is symmetrical to the duty of the spectator. Spectators must exercise ordinary care to protect themselves from the inherent risk of being hit by a projectile that leaves the field of play and the owner/occupant must exercise ordinary care not to increase that inherent risk.” The case has been referred back to the district court “for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.” If the plaintiffs win this lawsuit, it will be a further limitation on the assumption of risk defense. Stay tuned.
Cubs’ outfielder Tyler Colvin was severely injured by the barrel of a broken bat as he ran from third to home in a game against the Florida Marlins on September 19, 2010. While Colvin was hospitalized as a precaution against a collapsed lung, the more serious threat in such an incident is the blow to the chest itself. It is not that uncommon for a blunt object striking the chest in the area of the heart to result in ventricular fibrillation, a life-threatening condition known as commotio cordis, or concussion of the heart. It does not have to be a very hard blow to cause commotio cordis and aid has to be rendered quickly for the victim to survive. Some studies have shown that a ball (or other blunt object) traveling as slow as 40 mph can cause commotio cordis. Since even a child can throw a baseball at that velocity, it is especially dangerous for youngsters who are struck on the chest. In fact, commotio cordis is one of the leading causes of death among young baseball players ages 5 to 14.
In my research on game-related fatalities, I have found 41 bat-related player fatalities and 14 bat-related fan fatalities. Some of these involved blows to the head, others to the chest. Only one of these was the result of a broken bat. On April 27, 1940, Charles S. Jones of Hampton, NH, was watching four friends having batting practice. When the batter fouled off a pitch, the bat broke near the handle. The barrel of the bat struck Jones over the heart, causing almost instant death, a sure case of commotio cordis.
With bats exploding at what appears to be greater frequency, my fear is that it is only a matter a time before a player or fan is killed during a major league or minor league game.
No one knows for sure how many fans are injured every year by foul balls entering the stands. Major League Baseball claims not to know, although detailed information on all types of fan injuries is kept by every first aid station at every major and minor league park in the country. If organized ball really wanted to know, all it would have to do is survey this data. And it can be done, even within the restrictions governing patient privacy imposed by the HIPAA regulations.
Interestingly, the Boston Red Sox did such a survey several years ago. The Sox were being sued by a fan who had been injured by a foul ball (Jane Costa vs. The Boston Red Sox Baseball Club, 61 Mass. App. Ct. 299). In its defense, the club produced statistical data showing just how common foul ball injuries were. In effect, the Boston Red Sox were making the traditional “assumption of risk” argument that has protected ball teams for over a century (even though, in Massachusetts, the courts have abolished the use of “assumption of risk” as a positive defense). Basically, “assumption of risk” argues that everyone knows that balls and bats frequently enter the stands during a game. As long as “adequate” measures are taken to protect fans, such as protective screening behind home plate, the club is not liable if a fan is injured by a flying object while seated or standing in an unprotected area. There are some limitations to this legal defense, but typically the courts have ruled that fans have assumed the risk of attending games and the club’s responsibility to protect them is limited.
The Red Sox produced a spreadsheet of foul ball injuries covering a five-year period in the 1990s. The club found that injuries ranged from a low of 36 to a high of 53 per season. While many of these were from fans chasing foul balls, quite a few were from balls striking the fans. (By the way, I have access just to the summary of the case. If anyone knows were I can acquire a copy of the actual spreadsheet, please let me know.) The courts ruled in favor of the Sox.
So why, if the Sox could do this sort of survey, doesn’t Major League Baseball do one for every team? MLB keeps all sorts of detailed statistics, including those on broken bats, so why not fan injuries? I have a theory as to why and I call it “the ignorance is bliss” defense. Baseball doesn’t know because it doesn’t want to know. By turning a blind eye to the issue, MLB can claim it simply isn’t aware that there is any serious problem concerning foul ball/flying bat injuries. Once it has the data, though, MLB will be forced to address the issue or be held liable for not doing anything about it.
What are your thoughts on this matter?