8 Facts You Didn't Know About Foul Balls, And Why The Danger Is Rising

RealClear Staff

            

Fans and foul balls have been a part of baseball since 1862. But a rising tide of fan injuries has sparked a class-action lawsuit. Just how dangerous are they?

1. In the Early Days, Fans Couldn't Keep Foul Balls

All that danger, but none of the rewards. That all changed at a New York Giants game on May 16, 1921, when a fan refused to surrender a ball knocked into Polo Grounds seating. Booted from the ballpark, the fan sued for mental anguish and won, prompting the Giants to change their rules and allow fans to retain balls hit out of play, according to foulballz.com.

2. Each Year, 53,000 Foul Balls Are Batted Into the Stands

That's out of 73,000 total batted fouls; 20,000 of them don't reach the stands. Of the balls that are hit into the stands, Many spectators greet them eagerly, lunging or racing for a potential souvenir. Others want to avoid them but can’t react in time.

3. About 1,750 People a Year Are Injured

While the typical injury is minor, like a bruised hand or a bloodied lip, a small number are more serious, and those victims tend to be children. A 6-year-old girl hit by a foul at a Braves game underwent surgery in 2010 after the ball shattered her skull and pushed fragments into her brain. A 7-year-old in Chicago sustained severe brain swelling from a foul liner in 2008. Fouls sent an 18-month-old to a Seattle hospital last season and a 12-year-old in New York to intensive care in 2011.

On just the weekend before the 2015 All-Star Game, a woman was hit by a foul ball at Fenway Park during a Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees game and needed three dozen stitches in her forehead. Stephanie Wapenski (below), a Red Sox fan, was sitting along the third base line with her fiance, a Yankees fan who proposed to her last year at ballpark. Wapenski said she was paying attention, but had no time to react when Yankees' shortstop Didi Gregorius hit the ball in the fifth inning, striking her between the eyes.

"It just came right at me before I could think or react," she said. "It was like it knew who I was and had a vendetta."

4. 3 Fans Have Been Killed

Only one fan has died at a major-league baseball game after being hit by a foul ball -- a 14-year-old boy at a Dodgers game in 1970. Other than that, two fans at minor league games -- one in 1960, one in 2010. And yet there have been numerous close calls.

At a Chicago Cubs game in 2008, A 7-year-old boy was hit by a foul ball and spent a week at the hospital, his brain swelling to the point that doctors considered surgery. he needed to re-learn how to walk and climb stairs because his balance was off kilter. There’s still a small area of his brain that doesn’t get blood.

At Atlanta's Turner Field, at least three serious injuries have taken place in recent years. In 2010, a foul ball fractured the skull of a 6-year-old. Rushed to the hospital, she began vomiting and lapsed into what court papers called a “seizure-like state.” A surgeon stitched up the lining of her brain while inserting 11 metal plates in her skull. She has lingering medical issues. Two weeks later, a 77-year-old woman got hit by a foul popup and lost vision in her right eye. She has endured eight surgeries. Then in 2014, an 8-year-old boy was felled by a foul liner and sent to the hospital.

This season, a 44-year-old woman, Tonya Carpenter, was at a Red Sox game at Fenway Park when she was hit by a flying bat (photo, above) -- another danger to fans. She was sent to the hospital with what were described as "life-threatening" injuries. She is now recovering in a rehab facility.

 

5. Foul Balls Can Come At You at 100 MPH

That means you have about one second to react.

6. Fan Distractions Have Increased Injuries By More Than 10 Percent

Smartphones have been the biggest fan distraction in recent years. Then there are more traditional means of distractions -- consuming concessions (beer and hot dogs) and chatting with seatmates. But foul ball injuries are also becoming more severe because new or renovated ballparks feature seats closer to the field, players are stronger and fans are distracted by loud music and scoreboard pyrotechnics. Fans in newer stadiums sit 7 percent closer to fair territory than at older venues on average.

7. What Teams Can Do (But Haven't Been Doing)

Major League Baseball claims to have zero liability for foul balls. “Stray balls are part of the very fabric of the game,” MLB said in a legal brief filed in 2014 in the case of one fan who sued. Fans “understand there is a risk of being struck by an errant ball.”

That might be changing. On the eve of the All-Star Game, a proposed class-action lawsuit was filed against MLB claiming it did too little to protect fans from fast-moving foul balls and splintered bats. In particular, the suit cited what it said was a need to add netting far down the first- and third-base lines.

The lead plaintiff, Gail Payne, is an Oakland A’s fan who feels vulnerable because her seats in Section 211 in the second deck at O.co Coliseum are not protected by netting. A fan beside her was injured by a foul ball, her lawyer said.

Netting seems to be the answer. But MLB says it has no plans to mandate expanded netting, leaving such decisions to individual teams. MLB did require in 2012 that teams install temporary netting during pre-game batting practice, when multiple balls may be in flight and fans pay less attention.

8. What Can You, the Fan, Do?

Rule No. 1: Bring a glove! Like this kid, who has, like, the biggest glove EVER (and this St. Louis Cardinals player looks either nervous about it or envious, one of the two). Also, be alert (which means watching the game, the reason you're there, right?). When taking a selfie, make sure no one is batting. And above all, don't do what the guys down below are doing.

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