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Baseball – America’s Most Dangerous Pastime?

Just two years ago, after a child was struck by a foul ball behind the third base dugout at Yankee Stadium, Major League Baseball mandated protective netting that stretched between the far ends of each dugout in all 30 big league parks.

But in the wake of another frightening — and eerily similar — incident Wednesday night in Houston, where a 4-year-old girl was struck and injured by a line drive off the bat of Chicago Cubs center fielder Albert Almora, Jr., people inside and outside the sport are asking whether teams should do more and to what extent fans must take responsibility for the safety of themselves and those around them.

The conversation extended beyond Houston and Chicago players, with virtually everyone saying fans’ safety should be the highest priority, but with differing views on how responsibility for it should be shared. The girl injured this past Wednesday night was seated in a section beyond the visitor’s dugout, which was not protected by netting. The Astros released a statement Wednesday night that the girl was hospitalized, and there have been no updates on her condition since.

Before the 2018 season, all 30 major league ballparks extended netting from home plate to at least the far ends of each dugout, though MLB does not mandate specifics. In general, MLB and its teams are protected by what’s known as the “baseball rule,” a warning that they’re not liable for risks fans accept by attending the game. Continued inaction despite a growing number of injury instances has led some to point the finger of this issue squarely at MLB for what they see as not properly addressing the game’s inherent dangers.

Last August, Jana Brody’s mother, Linda Goldbloom, was sitting in an unprotected loge area at Dodger Stadium behind home plate, just above a section that does have safety netting, and got hit by a foul ball. She died four days later. This year, Almora’s line drive hit the young girl on Brody’s birthday, and she saw it as perhaps a message from her mother to again speak out and demand ballpark safety.

On Thursday, Brody told ESPN she considered MLB’s failure to voluntarily increase netting requirements “unconscionable.”

“Fans are still getting hurt by hard-hit foul balls, and MLB has not increased the netting requirements, even after a foul ball caused a brain hemorrhage and my mom’s death,” she said. “We see not only the fans but the players are traumatized by the horror and damage. . . . At least the players earn millions of dollars and they can afford therapy for their trauma.”

She added: “[The] saddest part will be the injured child’s family will hear from the team, ‘Sorry, no compensation for your trauma’ since the ticket states ‘Enter at your own risk.'”

This on going epidemic with-in baseball begs the question that is often asked of the sport as a whole, “When will Baseball adapt to the times?” The sport is one of tradition and unwritten rules that the modern fan and at times players are not aware of. However, what players and fans are aware of is the power that not only do these players generate when throwing a ball, but also hitting a ball.

  • Modern pitchers throw a baseball on average: 90.9 MPH
  • Modern hitters bat speed: 76.6 MPH
  • Speed of a ball off a bat on average: 110 MPH
  • These numbers using Newton’s second law of motion: the average swing imparts 4145 pounds of force to the ball.
  • Modern fans check their phone: Once every 12 minutes
  • An average baseball game last: 3 hrs, 5 min.

This means on average during a game people look away from the field: at least 15 times just to look at their phone, not to mention eat, drink, talk, walk to the concourse, etc. while a baseball could be flying at their heads at 110 MPH, with 4145 lbs of force.

This explains how David Weeks and Robert Gorman’s Death at the Ballpark: A Comprehensive Study of Game-Related Fatalities, 1862-2007 details hundreds of fatalities in the history of a game often thought of as bucolic but rarely brutal. Fans killed by broken bats, errant balls, running players, and other threats account for more than 80 deaths in Weeks and Gorman’s book on baseball to spectators. This is more than all the other major sports (football, basketball, soccer) and NASCAR combined.

The duty to protect the fans is clear, the notice of the danger is clear, the breach of the duty is clear, the causation is clear, and the damage is clear. Yet the Baseball Rule is a shield used beyond a normal defense of waiver. A defense of “waiver ” in SC is not absolute.

Life in general has inherent risks. We all assume a certain degree of risk just be leaving our homes in the morning to go to work or school. Other activities have higher degrees of risk, but does sitting at a baseball game? For example, I went white water rafting in North Carolina. I signed the required waiver of liability because I knew the risk of that sport. However, I am only assuming the risk of the expected potential dangers. I am not releasing the company from liability if they are negligent in maintaining the offered rafts or negligent in hiring, training, or overseeing the raft guides.

Even though the “waiver” form stated the company could not be sued for “any reason,” the laws of most states consider such broad language to be void and of no legal effect. Further, A waiver/release is an exculpatory contract that attempts to excuse or relieve a party, for injuries to a participant that arise out of the known and unknown risks in an activity. This includes the inherent risks that arise from the sports organization’s ordinary negligence, not gross or intentional negligence.

I would argue with the amount of evidence out there of the danger that Baseball presents and the simple solution of netting in the field that baseball teams are not just negligent, but intentionally negligent. They are intentionally choosing the money, over protecting baseball fans. They know the danger and the solution, yet continue to put fans and players at risk. What do I mean by players?

Simple, if the net can keep bats and balls away from the fans, it will also keep fans and projectiles off the field. It is a win/win for everyone other than the owner who has to pay for the net.

A waiver does not excuse gross negligence and no way should it excuse the intentional danger fans and players are exposed too. Baseball it is time to adapt, your waiver is no longer a pass for the damage being caused – especially to a 4 yr. old girl sitting in your seats.

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