In April HBO Sports with Bryant Gumbel did a program on fan safety at baseball games. One of the more interesting things they looked at was reaction time to a speeding foul ball. With the help of Washington State University, they set up a scenario where male and female volunteers of all ages were seated behind plexiglass while a pitching machine located 75 feet away fired baseballs traveling 95 mph at them. (They determined that the distance was typical of the closest exposed seating at MLB parks and that the speed was typical of how fast a line drive foul travels.) What they found was truly frightening. While some subjects giving their full attention to the ball were able to get out of the way in time, a good many froze and did not duck. Almost all of the subjects would have been struck if their attention was even slightly diverted, such as when eating a hot dog or conversing with the person seated next to them. It’s simply unreasonable to expect the typical fan to pay attention every second there’s action of the field. And even if you do, many of us do not react in time to get out of the way of a screaming line drive. Click this link to see this segment of the show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miiahEyxSTI
Renowned horror novelist and lifelong Red Sox fan Stephen King published an op ed piece in the April 10 edition of the Boston Globe in which he objects to the newly-extended safety netting at Fenway Park. Mr. King, who has season tickets on the second row near the Sox dugout, is really upset that the new netting now protects this area of the ballpark. “I feel terrible about the netting,” he states. “It’s one more step toward taking the taste and texture out of the game I care for above all others. The bottom line? That net feels like paying good money to sit in a cage.”
Now, I admire Stephen King. I’ve read nearly everything he’s published (sorry, I just couldn’t get into the Dark Tower series) and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a writer. But I have to say that his argument against the extended netting is weak at best.
In defense of his position, Mr. King raises two points that one usually hears from opponents of netting. These points may, on the surface, sound reasonable, but in actuality are completely wrongheaded.
First, Mr. King plays the numbers game. While he agrees that some injuries are quite serious, he dismisses this concern by stating that “almost 74 million (emphasis his) fans attended MLB games in 2015, so the chances of being struck by a piece of bat or a foul line drive are pretty slim. Right up there with being struck by lightning, I’d say. Maybe even less, if the fan is paying attention.”
This line of reasoning is totally misleading. First, 74 million tickets were sold in 2015, but far fewer actually attended the games. More importantly, this figure includes the entire ballpark, even those areas where it is highly improbable, if not outright impossible, for a foul ball or errant bat to enter. Areas such as those seats behind home plate which have had protective screening for over a century and seating in the upper decks and outfield where balls rarely, if ever, go and where bats never land. If one wants to get a true picture of the real danger from bats and balls, then look just at the field level seats along the first and third base lines (referred to in the netting industry as “the Danger Zone”), not the entire ballpark. I have season tickets to my local minor league ballpark and I can assure you that fans in these areas are in serious danger of being struck by a ball or bat. During a game at the end of last season, a friend sitting next to me almost had his head taken off by a line drive foul. And, in that same game, two fouls went screaming past us, striking food kiosks along the concourse and a fan across home plate from us was struck on the shoulder by a line drive foul. To make matters worse, a fan seated near first base was nearly struck by a ball when the pitcher overthrew the first baseman in a pickoff attempt. (Fortunately, team ownership recognized the danger to fans and this season full netting has been extended to the far ends of both dugouts.)
In addition, I believe there are far more injuries in those areas than people realize. Almost two years ago, a journalist for Bloomberg.com wrote an article on the dangers from foul balls at major league games. The number he came up with was an average of 1,750 per season, not including injuries from bats or thrown balls or injuries at minor league games.
This figure was derived from a statistical formula and is not the actual number of injures. Why? Because MLB refuses to track fan injuries. All organized ball would have to do to get an exact count is to survey ballpark first aid stations. Even then, I suspect it would be an undercount, because many of those hit by a ball or bat to not seek medical attention, which was the case when I was struck on the forehead by a foul ball about 15 years ago.
The second point Mr. King raises is of the blame-the-victim variety. It is the responsibility of the fan, he asserts, to pay complete attention. If he or she is injured, then it is his or her fault, because anyone can duck a bat or ball if they know it is coming.
Here’s what is misleading about this argument. First, some seats are closer to home plate than is the pitching mound. In those cases, there may not be sufficient time for one to react. Just look at the number of pitchers struck by batted balls each season to get an idea of how little time there is to get out of the way of a screaming line drive. In addition, people react to danger in different ways. Some have quick reaction times and can dodge the ball or bat, others freeze or panic and do not move in a way that protects them.
But the real fallacy with this argument is that, while in an ideal world everyone is paying attention every time there is action on the field, that is not the case in reality. Does Mr. King pay attention every second he’s at a game? He refers to his seating area as a “neighborhood” since he’s had these same seats for years. He knows the folks around him, talks to them, even greets food and drink vendors that regularly come by his seat. Is he being “neighborly” between innings only, or is he sometimes distracted while the game is going on? I suspect the latter. As a season ticket holder, he is obviously an aficionado of the game, as am I. But I have to admit that there are times during the game when my mind wanders or my attention is distracted. For the casual fan, probably the majority of those attending an average game, isn’t it even more likely that he or she is not paying attention to every play on the field? In addition, many venues do everything in their power to distract fans from the game. It’s almost as if the game is secondary and it’s the entertainment in the stands that’s more important. At my ballpark, for example, there is wi fi for those who want to use their smartphones, fans are encouraged to take selfies and send them in to be posted on the large outfield screen at the end of the game, and the team mascot wanders throughout the stands interacting with the spectators. Believe me, much of this activity occurs while the game is in progress. So in these instances, who’s the most responsible for a lack of attention to the game, the fan or the ballpark?
Yes, Mr. King, fans should pay attention. But people are people and it’s simply not realistic to expect them to devote their full attention to the game every moment they are there. This is especially true of children, those most likely to suffer severe injury when struck by a ball or bat. Do you really believe that your irritation with the protective screening trumps fan safety? Really? I say that if the netting protects even one fan from suffering a life-altering injury, even if he or she is paying attention or not, then it is well worth it.
(Note: A modified version of this response appears in the April 18 edition of The Boston Globe)
What follows is a list of some of the serious injuries from balls and bats suffered by fans at major and minor league games during the 2016 season. It is by no means a comprehensive list:
A Kansas City Royals fan, sitting along the third base line just beyond the newly extended netting in Kaufman Stadium, was struck in the face by a foul ball on April 3. The ball hit him above his upper lip, causing him to lose consciousness for several moments.
A woman was struck in the eye by a foul ball during an April 15 game at Tropicana Field between the Rays and White Sox. The ball passed through the gap left for television cameras between the original netting and the newly extended netting. The victim was removed by stretcher and taken to an area hospital for treatment. Several days after the incident, the Rays added netting to cover the gap.
A woman was struck in the face while trying to catch a foul ball at an El Paso Chihuahuas game on April 20. She was transported to a local hospital as a precaution.
A 6-year-old boy was severely injured when struck on the head by a foul ball during a Charlotte Knights game the weekend of May 14. Although the Knights had extended the safety netting to the far ends of the dugouts this season, the family was seated in the first row on the third base side just beyond where the new netting ended. The child sustained a skull fracture and a concussion which required hospitalization in an intensive care unit for several days. Said the attending physician, “If you get hit in the head with a baseball going a hundred miles an hour, you can sustain skull fractures; you can sustain internal bleeding in your head that can possibly be fatal.”
A male fan seated five rows back from the third base visitors’ dugout was struck in the face by a piece of broken bat during a game at Fenway Park on May 14. He sustained a two-inch cut above his right eye, but was able to leave the game without assistance.
Although the second edition of Death at the Ballpark was recently published, my research into game-related fatalities continues. What follows are deaths that I have uncovered since the publication of the book in the fall of 2015. Readers of this blog are encouraged to send me any additional fatalities that are not included in the book or on this list.
John O’Grady, 13, was playing street ball in Chicago, IL, on September 23, 1870, when he was struck on the abdomen by a batted ball, resulting in his death moments later.
Charles Glenn, center fielder for Cedarville College (now Cedarville University) in Ohio, collided with the shortstop as both pursued a fly ball in a game against Wilberforce University in Springfield, OH, on May 12, 1903. Glenn sustained a fatal skull fracture while the shortstop, knocked unconscious by the blow, recovered.
Harry Edward Rickerds, 14, died moments after suffering a heart attack while running from third base to home plate during a game in Frederick, MD, on June 9, 1907.
Frank Phillips, 9, was struck on the mouth by a baseball during a game in Pittsburgh, PA, on June 22, 1908. The blow caused a hemmorhage that physicians were unable to stop. The youngster passed away at a Pittsburgh hospital in mid-July.
Houston Wilson, a pitcher on a town team in Sulphur, OK, was struck on the head by a batted ball during team practice on June 16, 1909 and died a few hours later.
Walter C. Holiday, acting as gatekeeper during at game in Galatia, IL, against a team from Thompsonville, IL, on September 11, 1910, was shot and killed by Joseph Wiggins while attempting to collect the 15 cent admission charge from the assailant. Wiggins fled the scene of the crime before he could be arrested.
James Purcell, 2, was eating peanuts during a game in New York City in early May 1912 when one of the nuts entered his lungs. He was rushed to an area hospital where physicians tried for a week to remove the pieces from his lungs. The child passed away on May 7.
Finis Townsley was struck on the head by a pitched ball during a game in Jonah, TX, on June 13, 1912. He continued to play, but shortly after the game became ill. He passed away at his home the following morning.
Clarence Stearns died from a brain hemorrhage at his home in Winnebago, MN, on September 20, 1913, as a result of two beanings he received while playing ball that summer. Stearns had played with the St. Paul Colts of the Class C Northern League earlier that season before joining a semipro team in Sheridan, WY.
Walter Hilenski, 13, died moments after he was struck over the heart by a pitched ball during an elementary school game in Salem, MA, on May 23, 1923.
Felipe Carrera, 45, umpiring a game in Victoria, TX, in mid-July 1931, was shot in the stomach by 21-year-old player Ramon De Leon over a disputed call. Shots were also fired at De Leon’s two brothers during the resulting melee. De Leon was arrested and charged with murder when Carrera passed away on July 17.
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.
Ten-year-old Lane Rodgers was one among a group of youngsters playing in a 76-team baseball tournament in Tupelo, MS, on June 13, 2015, when heavy storms struck the area. As he and others ran for the safety of a nearby concession stand, a large limb fell and struck him on the back of his head just as he was passing under a tree. One of the parents who was a physician administered CPR until paramedics arrived and took the child to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
Kaiser Carlile, 9, bat boy for the Liberal (KS) Bee Jays, an amateur team playing in the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, KS, was struck on the head by a bat swung in practice during a game on August 1, 2015. Although the child was wearing a batting helmet, the blow resulted in his death the following day.
Sixty-year-old Gregory Murrey tumbled from the upper deck at Turner Field during the seventh inning of an Atlanta Braves game against the New York Yankees on August 29, 2015. Murray, who fell some 40 feet into the seating area behind home plate, was administered CPR before he was rushed to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.
The Jackson County (Missouri) Legislature passed a resolution on January 19 urging the Kansas City Royals to extend safety netting to the far ends of the dugouts. While this nine-member elected body has no administrative control over Kaufman Stadium and therefore cannot require extended netting, this action is significant nonetheless in putting pressure on the Royals to improve fan safety. The Royals, in response, stated that the team is conducting a “feasibility study” to determine if extended netting is warranted. Interestingly, newly-appointed County Executive Frank White, an All-Star second baseman with the Royals for 18 seasons, was instrumental in securing passage of this resolution. The Jackson County Legislature is to be congratulated for being the first representative body in a major league city to recognize the importance of fan safety.
MLB has just issued its “plan” for extended safety netting. The press release is as follows:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – December 9, 2015
MLB ISSUES FAN SAFETY RECOMMENDATIONS
Fan Safety Initiative Leads to New Netting Recommendations for Next Year
The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball has issued recommendations to all 30 Major League Clubs aimed at enhancing the safety of fans attending Major League Baseball games, while also preserving the interactive elements that are integral to the baseball fan experience.
The recommendations — which resulted from a review that began earlier this summer — include the following:
- Clubs are encouraged to implement or maintain netting (or another effective protective screen or barrier of their choosing) that shields from line-drive foul balls all field-level seats that are located between the near ends of both dugouts (i.e., the ends of the dugouts located closest to home plate, inclusive of any adjacent camera wells) and within 70 feet of home plate. The Commissioner’s Office has retained a consultant specializing in stadium architecture and protective netting to assist interested Clubs in implementing this recommendation.
- Although Clubs already provide warnings to fans about the dangers posed by batted balls and bats entering the stands and the need to pay attention to the action on the field during each at-bat, the Commissioner’s Office recommends that Clubs continue to explore ways to educate their fans on these issues and is providing Clubs with resources to assist them in this area.
- The Commissioner’s Office will be working with the Clubs and online ticketing sellers to identify ways to provide customers with additional information at the point of sale about which seats are (and are not) behind netting.
Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. said: “Major League Baseball prides itself on providing fans in our ballparks with unparalleled proximity and access to our players and the game taking place on the field. At the same time, it is important that fans have the option to sit behind protective netting or in other areas of the ballpark where foul balls and bats are less likely to enter. This recommendation attempts to balance the need for an adequate number of seating options with our desire to preserve the interactive pre-game and in-game fan experience that often centers around the dugouts, where fans can catch foul balls, see their favorite players up close and, if they are lucky, catch a tossed ball or other souvenir.
“I am confident that this recommendation will result not only in additional netting at Major League ballparks but also draw additional attention to the need for fans who make the choice not to sit behind netting to be prepared for the possibility of foul balls and bats entering the stands.”
# # #
This plan is, of course, totally inadequate. Not only is safety netting not extended far enough, it is not even required. I’m sad to say I’m not surprised by this response to fan injuries. MLB won’t make any significant changes until it starts losing some lawsuits. As long as baseball continues to receive near blanket protection under the antiquated “assumption of risk” doctrine, it has no real incentive to do anything more. Let’s just hope no one has to die before organized ball gets serious about the problem of fan safety.
The second edition of Death at the Ballpark has now been published and is available for purchase directly from the publisher, McFarland, or from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. This new edition is a complete revision of the earlier one. It includes all of the incidents found in the first edition as well as some 1,200 additional fatalities.
On July 13, 2015, a class action lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against Major League Baseball. According to the law firm handling the suit, “The nationwide class action seeks to change current MLB rules and practices, including requiring the MLB to retrofit all existing major league and minor league indoor and outdoor ballparks to extend protective netting from foul pole to foul pole by the beginning of the 2016-2017 MLB season. Relief sought also stipulates that all future ballparks intended to house major or minor league baseball games need to include at minimum this amount of safety netting. Plaintiffs also seek to create a program to study spectator injuries in an effort to continually reevaluate whether additional measures should be taken, so that precautionary measures can continue to evolve as the sport continues to evolve.” (http://www.hbsslaw.com/cases-and-investigations/cases/Major-League-Baseball-Season-Ticket-Holders).
On October 5, Major League Baseball filed a motion with this same district court asking that the suit be dismissed, stating the usual argument that the dangers to fans from foul balls and bats are widely known and that spectators are adequately warned about these dangers. A hearing on this motion is set for November 13.
In the meantime, fan injuries continue to mount. To date, the firm has identified at least 74 serious fan injuries since the suit was filed. (http://www.hbsslaw.com/newsroom/Injuries-Mount-As-Players-and-Commentators-Warn-MLB-That-Another-Fan-May-Die).
The recent death of 60-year-old Gregory Murrey after falling over an upper deck railing at Turner Field has raised awareness of one of dangers of the modern large-capacity ballparks. While fans have died from falls in the past, it’s really been in the last 50 years that there has been a spike in such fatalities. And with good reason: today’s mega-stadiums are much larger and higher than those in earlier decades. What follows is a list of these fatalities from 1969 to the present, including suicides.
|8/5/1969||Memorial Stadium, Baltimore||George Shramek, 24||Jumped from upper deck during batting practice|
|7/22/1971||Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh||Gary Pettitt, 22||Fell while jumping from one exit ramp to another|
|8/24/1971||Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia||Glenn Shober, 37||Fell through opening where left field scoreboard was lowered when not in use|
|4/18/1972||Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh||Joseph Farrell, 17||Fell while jumping from one exit ramp to another|
|8/29/1979||Olympic Stadium, Montreal||Michel Bergeron, 28||Climbed a glass wall and fell 10 feet into the visitor’s bullpen|
|7/13/1980||Shea Stadium, New York||Bruce Winick, 28||Jumped from 5th mezzanine level to street below after arguing with a friend|
|7/19/1982||Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati||Lora Schneeman, 21||Fell 35 feet from the upper deck to first row of lower level seats|
|6/6/1984||Candlestick Park, San Francisco||Anthony Perry, 30||Fell from upper deck while yelling at the Giants as they left the field after a loss|
|5/1/1985||Shea Stadium, New York||Mark Leddy, 21||Fell while sliding down the rail of an escalator|
|5/16/1986||Comiskey Park, Chicago||Edward Joyce, 53||Fell while sitting on upper deck railing|
|4/24/1989||Shea Stadium, NY||Norine Cusick, 46||Committed suicide by climbing to the top of a 120 foot foul pole and jumping while stadium was empty|
|4/27/1989||Royals Stadium, Kansas City||Mike Wurzer, 20||Tried to do handstand while walking down aisle and flipped over upper deck railing|
|8/13/1991||SkyDome, Toronto||Kenneth Piery, 39||Fell seven stories while jumping from ramp to ramp|
|8/13/1993||Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh||Clifford Toolerton, 75||Fell down stairs while walking to his seat|
|4/25/1999||Yankee Stadium, New York||Francisco Munoz, 37||Fell while riding on escalator hand rail|
|9/17/2003||Pacific Bell Park, San Francisco||Todd Adams, 35||Fell over railing 25 feet to sidewalk outside of park|
|7/29/2004||Miller Park, Milwaukee||James Kolata, 48||Fell while riding on escalator hand rail|
|4/15/2008||Shea Stadium, New York||Antonio Nararainsami, 36||Fell while sliding down escalator hand rail|
|5/21/2008||Turner Field, Atlanta||Justin Hayes, 25||Fell while sliding down stair railing|
|5/14/2010||Miller Park, Milwaukee||Stuart Springstube, 51||Fell over railing while reaching for a batted ball during batting practice. 15-foot fall resulted in his death from brain hemorrhage three weeks later|
|5/25/2011||Coors Field, Denver||Robert Seamans, 27||Fell while sliding down stair railing|
|7/7/2011||Rangers Ballpark, Arlington||Shannon Stone, 39||Fell over railing while attempting to catch a foul ball|
|8/12/2013||Turner Field||Ronald Homer, 30||Fell over upper deck railing into the players parking lot; Was ruled a suicide|
|8/29/2015||Turner Field||Gregory Murrey, 60||Fell from upper deck in the stands behind home plate|
What follows is a list of some of the serious injuries from balls and bats suffered by fans at major and minor league games during the 2015 season. It is by no means a comprehensive list:
A man was struck over his right eye during an April 11 game at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. The blow resulted in an inch and a half gash just above his eyebrow.
A woman standing behind home plate during an April 20 game at PNC Park in Pittsburgh was struck on the back of the head and knocked unconscious when the force of the foul ball pushed the protective netting back against her.
A boy seated near the first base-side dugout was struck on the head by a checked-swing foul ball during a game at San Francisco’s A. T. & T. Ballpark on May 3.
A woman was struck in the face and near-fatally injured by the barrel of a broken bat during a game at Fenway Park on June 5.
A woman and a child were injured by foul balls at a New Jersey Jackals game played at Montclair State University on June 13. Both were taken to a local hospital as a precaution.
A young boy was stuck on the upper chest near his left shoulder by a foul ball during a Philadelphia Phillies game on June 19. He was taken to the hospital for observation.
A man and a woman were struck by the same line drive foul ball during a Marlins game on June 28. The woman, who was seated in the first row along the right field line was hit in the face when the speeding ball ricocheted off the railing in front of her seat. She was removed by wheelchair and taken to an area hospital for treatment and observation. A man sitting near her was hit on the head by the same ball. He received treatment at the stadium first aid station.
A woman was knocked unconscious when a pop foul ball struck her on the right side of her head during a Lynchburg (VA) Hillcats game on July 4.
A single mother of two was struck in the face by a foul ball during a game at Miller Park in Milwaukee on July 6. Surgery was required, during which two titanium plates were placed in her head. She sustained permanent nerve damage on the left side of her head and severe injuries to her left eye.
A women was struck between the eyes by a foul ball during a game at Fenway Park on July 10. The injury resulted in over 30 stitches.
A woman was struck on the head by a foul ball during a South Bend (IN) Cubs game on July 21. She had to be carried from the stadium by EMS personnel and was transported to a local hospital for treatment.
A 10-year-old girl was stuck in the face by a foul ball during a game at Durham (NC) Athletic Park on July 31.
A single mother of two was struck between the eyes by a foul ball during a Frisco (TX) RoughRiders minor league game on August 14. A week after the injury, she underwent nine hours of reconstructive surgery.
A woman seated behind the home team dugout during a Detroit Tigers game on August 21 was struck on the head by a foul ball. She was treated at the stadium first aid station before being transported to a local hospital for further treatment.
A woman seated behind the camera well along the first base side of Wrigley Field on August 21 was struck in the left side of her head by a line drive foul ball and had to be removed by stretcher and taken to a local hospital as a precaution.
An elderly couple attending a Miami Marlins game on September 6 were struck by the same foul ball. Seated along the left field line some 200 feet from home plate, the line shot off the bat of a Mets player first struck the woman on her right eye before it ricocheted and hit her husband on the top of his head. Both were treated at the stadium first aid station before being reseated behind the protective netting near home plate.
A man was struck on the left shoulder by a line drive foul ball during the first inning of a Red Sox-Blue Jays game at Fenway park on September 9. He left his seat after he was hit, but later returned holding an ice pack to his injured shoulder.