Posted by: Bob Gorman | October 6, 2010

How Many Foul Balls Enter the Stands?

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.

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.



  1. Hello. I came across this post after googling foul tips. I became curious because I’m interested in determining if certain teams give up more foul tips, and if this can represent a greater danger to the catcher (this thought came from wondering if Joe Mauer would still be catching if the Twins’ pitchers missed more bats). Do you have any data regarding foul tips? Or foul balls that travel behind the plate? So far, I haven’t been able to find any data anywhere (but I am still pretty early in my search). Thanks!

    • Patrick,

      In answer to your recent posting concerning the number of foul tips, I haven’t seen any solid figures on the average number that occur in a game. I’ve been more interested in foul balls in the stands, so I can’t say for sure whether those figures exist or not. It’s something that I haven’t explored much at all.

      Don’t know if this would be of any help, but there have been a couple of recent studies about foul balls in general. The most recent appeared in Bloomberg online. A reporter named David Glovin was delving into it this summer and came up with figures concerning the average number of foul ball injures annually at major league games. If interested, here’s the link for that article:

      There was also a study of where foul balls land that was done by Gil Fried in 2012. Here’s the full citation for that one: Gil Fried, et al, “Don’t Sit There…or There…or There: An Analysis of Ball Park Protection and Foul Ball Injuries, International Journal of Sport Management, Vol. 13, Issue 4, October 2012, 423-443.

      Hope some of this is of help.

  2. Patrick,

    I’ve been working on tracking the average numbers of foul balls for my website (which David cites in his article), but haven’t come across foul tip specific data. My database–based off of Retrosheet data updated yearly–doesn’t appear to track “tips”. Have you checked with anyone over at SABR? They may have much more specific data like that.


  3. […] as bounces, line drives or pop-ups/flies). My calculations echo those of Bob Gorman, author of Death at the Ballpark, from five years […]

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