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.