Attention Baseball: put up more nets

Tyler Kepner is impressed with the safety measures at Turner Field:

Turner Field is the second ballpark the Yankees have seen this season with protective netting that extends beyond the norm. Every stadium has a tall screen behind the plate to protect the fans from hard-hit foul balls. Here in Atlanta, the Braves also have a shorter screen, maybe eight feet off the ground, running in front of the seats behind the on-deck circles on either side of the plate . . . Such safety measures make sense, and should be in place at every ballpark.

Kepner cites the death of Mike Coolbaugh as a cautionary tale, and notes how quickly baseball would act if the unthinkable happened and a fan was killed by a foul ball. Such a thing is not unthinkable in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, however. That’s because a thirteen year-old girl was killed by an errant puck during a Columbus Blue Jackets hockey game seven years ago. That incident led to the implementation of mandatory netting at either end of the rink in every arena. Before the incident there were all kinds of arguments against putting up such nets. Afterward, those arguments lost all currency.

The same applies to baseball. I’m sure people can construct all kinds of arguments as to why they shouldn’t extend protective netting down the lines. But in light of how big, strong, fast and, above all else, close Major League batters are to the fans these days, none of those arguments are enough to overcome the sheer logic and prudence which dictates putting up some nets.

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Comments

  1. Jack Marshall said...

    Spoken like a good lawyer. I still like the assumption of the risk principle. If you aren’t going to be ready for the screamers, sit someplace else. Once they start putting up barriers, it will never stop until the whole fild is surrounded by plexiglass. I believe the only fan ever killed by a batted ball in Fenway Park was a young girl sitting in the centerfield bleechers, hit in the head by a home run by Bob Tillman when she wasn’t looking.

  2. Craig Calcaterra said...

    I’ll agree with the principal that you have to be aware if you’re sitting down there, I’d also say that relying on assumption of the risk principles to get out of liability for an injury or a death is way more lawyerly than doing things that might keep baseball from ever having to resort to that defense to begin with.

    I think I’m particularly sensitive to this in light of the Blue Jackets incident. I understand that people have different views of it.  I think, though, that if I ran a team, I’d run the nets a bit farther down the line than they’re usually run now.

  3. Luis said...

    I played and now coach HS baseball and throw BP every day and I am GLAD to have a screen to protect me/ When I go to minor league games and see how close and unprepared people are for the balls that may come their way, I cringe. Professional athletes hit the ball HARD! Assumption of risk is a nice term, but when some child or mother or father gets hit and gets hurt or worse, then teams will start to extend the nets. Kudos to the Braves for doing this.When I go I sit behind the net or far enough away to avoid a line drive.

  4. Jim Casey said...

    The assumption of risk is printed on every ticket, and there are signs in every ballpark warning people to be alert, not only for balls, but for bats as well. MLB wants people to have as many opportunities to get balls as possible, that’s why they told players a few years ago to toss the balls into the crowd after the 3rd out of each half-inning was recorded.

  5. Aaron Moreno said...

    The clauses on the ticket are meaningless other than to discourage people from suing in the first place. Assumption of risk only goes so far when you’re negligent.

  6. Craig Calcaterra said...

    True, Aaron.  While my point here (for once) wasn’t to cast things in legal terms, it is worth noting that Brittaney Cecil’s family got a $1.2M settlement from the Blue Jackets and the NHL, and there are assumption of the risk disclaimers on those tickets too.

  7. Jack Marshall said...

    I’d love to know how many serious fan injuries there have been from batted balls. My impression is amazingly few, and if the injuries are increasing in frequency, I’ve missed it. Can’t the Blue Jackets tragedy be fairly regarded as a fluke accident, without it becoming the justification for excessive risk aversion?

    I guarantee that once barriers are put up in part of one ballpark, lawsuits will force barriers in virtually all parts of all ballparks. I worked a long time for the Trial Lawyers association…this is how they operate. And I’m sure the measures will prevent a few serious injuries and even a death or two over the next several decades. (Yes, I’ll be theoretically glad if that theoretical death prevented is me, or a loved one, or Craig). But the experience of attending a game will be diminished for millions.

    I’d rather see better education of the fans about dangers (like mandatory features about stadium safety run on the scoreboard between innings; special designation of dangerous areas so there truly is informed assumption of the risk) and even helmets made available for adults sitting close and mandatory for kids is the low seats, then see ball parks turned into outdoor hockey arenas.

    But this discussion has me convinced that this is exactly where we are headed. And as I look out at the rubber-surfaced park next door with the safety swings and the low jungle gym, I heave a sigh…

  8. kramer said...

    The liability issue if a tragedy happened (like it did in Columbus) isn’t really the point, is it?  Isn’t the point of this to try to prevent something like this from happening to begin with, no matter how unlikely?

    Sure, if it did happen there would be a lot of talk about who was liable for what and assumption of risk and all that, but isn’t it preferable to avoid it all together?  If there are particularly vulnerable or at risk seats at the park what’s the harm in extending the nets a little farther down. 

    Id prefer to extend the nets and then argue about whether they are necessary until the end of time than to see another little girl die, even if it’s a 1 in a million chance.

  9. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Jack is absolutely right about how the trial lawyers work, and he’s even putting it in kinder terms than I might if I were to go on at length.  I’m a lefty who is against most tort reform measures that get introduced, but my experience defending lawsuits really opened my eyes to the cyncism and opportunism of the plaintiff’s bar.  There’s something very wrong when someone gets excited—- and I mean it; they get excited—when a new theory of liability or new defective product is discovered.

    That said, if I were running a ballpark, I’d put up more nets.  Maybe that’s inconsistent with my view of the trial lawyers, but I kind of don’t care.  It only takes one ball to make these legal and jurisprudential arguments rather meaningless.

  10. Jason B said...

    “even helmets made available for adults sitting close and mandatory for kids is the low seats?”

    Sitting in 95-degree heat in a helmet would ruin a game for me about 7,000 times more than having to watch the game through a nigh-invisible net.

    Just sayin’.

  11. Aaron Moreno said...

    Tort lawyers are boatloads of fun. However, nets are cheap, life isn’t. You can complain about the extremes, but a few nets aren’t that extreme.

  12. Jason @ IIATMS said...

    What about protection from the business end of a shattered bat, helicoptering into the stands?

    Yet another vote for netting.

  13. Jason F said...

    I’ve felt for a very long time that creating more of a barrier between the field of play and the stands would benefit the game, and not just from a fan safety perspective. It bothers me to no end that front-row fans are not content with getting first dibs at pop fouls and balls tossed by players—they reach over the railing for ground balls (even ones in play) and occasionally interfere with fielders. I know they have a “right” to the ball if it’s destined for the seats, but to me the game should come first.

    What would be so wrong if we put hockey-style glass up around the perimeter of the field? Fly balls that would have made the stands would still do so. Future Bartmans would not be able to tangle with future Alous. Fielders could still toss balls into the seats after the third out (or second, Milton Bradley). And as an added bonus, we could standardize the top of the outfield fences to make for cleaner home run calls.

  14. Ross said...

    “Future Bartmans would not be able to tangle with future Alous.”

    And future Alous wouldn’t have the opportunity to even make a play on the borderline ball near the wall.

  15. Chris G said...

    Why stop at baseball?  I have been driving past a golf course and had a ball bounce off the hood of my car. If I had had my family in tghe car and it had hit the windshield instead of the hood, there could have been four, or more, people dead.  Living is a risk and in all the years we have been on the planet, no one has ever gotten out alive.

  16. Jack Marshall said...

    Jason…nothing would be “so wrong”, just as nothing would be so wrong in NBA games with barriers preventing players from flying into fans’ laps. Just makes the game less interesting and fun, that’s all. No player dives into the stands to catch a ball. No low fence in right filed at Fenway…no Dewey Evans home run save (just a saved double off the..yechh…plexiglass)

    Don’t you think at least knowing what the number of spectator injuries are would be should be part of the discussion? The “if it saves one life, it’s worth it” mindset pretty much wipes out car racing, puts us in tanks instead of automobiles, and bans commercial fishing, coal mining and high rise construction.

  17. Wooden U. Lykteneau said...

    Jack – I go to 75-80 games a year, and I would guesstimate that I see five fans get clocked by line-drive fouls, and that’s in minor-league ballparks where few players are strong/fast enough to pull a ball foul.

    Granted, most of the time it’s from the fan not paying proper attention, but unfortunately, it’s also usually a 7-9-year-old kid that doesn’t know that he ought to be paying extra-close attention when it’s a RHB and he’s sitting on 1B side or vice-versa.

    Never mind what you see in major-league parks: Butterfingered never-weres deflecting the ball. I always keep score, so I always sit behind HP, which I think ought to be a requirement for anyone with an infant or toddler.

  18. Aaron Moreno said...

    Like I was saying, taking to the extreme gets us nowhere. Jack, Chris, do you guys look before crossing the street? When you drive, do you try not to hit pedestrians? Risk exists, but that doesn’t mean you don’t get out of the bed in the morning. Try to be more reasonable.

  19. Richard in Dallas said...

    @ kramer – First, I want to challenge your math.  You said that such an accident resulting in death is a one in a million chance.  If one were to accur every ten years, and there are 30 major league teams, which probably average 2.5 million fans per season, that would make the odds of you being killed at a MLB game 1 in 750,000,000.  I think there is a MUCH greater probability of having a fatal fall in the bathtub, so I would assume that to prevent that from happening, we should no longer bathe, or install a harness that would prevent us from falling and dying. 
    Just as I don’t like a net in front of me when I’m watching a sporting event (it makes me dizzy, and it’s hard to take pictures with an auto-focus camera), I would HATE IT if everybody stunk like they live in a third world country, and NOBODY’S putting a harness on ME!  Require a signed waiver of liability when purchasing tickets for seats in a high risk area. Wouldn’t that have more teeth in court, Craig?

  20. Jason F said...

    Ross—

    Future Alous would not be able to get to that ball if the ball’s trajectory had it destined for the stands. We lose the play where a corner outfielder or catcher dives into the seats to make a spectacular catch, but we also lose the fan reaching onto the field of play to interfere with a player or kill a rally by forcing a ground rule double.

  21. Jack Marshall said...

    Wooden..how often are they actually injured? I was hit in 1969 by a line drive by Lee Maye (the Senator, not the Red without the “e”). It was a bad bruise for a week. But I wasn’t really hurt.

  22. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Who’s talking about stuff all around the field? Kepner’s article mentions low nets exetending down beyond the on-deck circles, which doesn’t even take it to the dugouts. Alou’s play would have been unaffected with such nets, as would homers over the short wall at Fenway.

    Screaming foul balls represent a danger that a popup doesn’t.

  23. Wooden U. Lykteneau said...

    I don’t know, Jack. I’m not so insensitive to question the extent of injury of children that are bawling because they just got hit by something that’s a third the size of their face. But I now have a better idea as to what kind of parent would let them sit there.

  24. Jack Marshall said...

    Aaron…but in the area of risk prevention there IS no extreme, only an endless slippery slope to no-risk absurdity. I look both ways when crossing the street, and a fan can look both ways when watching a game. If I don’t look both ways and step in front a car, it’s my fault. OR we can direct that all cars go 10 miles an hour or less at all times and have pedestrian catchers, to save the lives of those pedestrians who don’t or won’t look when they cross the street.

  25. Jason F said...

    Jack—

    I agree that the close proximity of NBA fans to the game and the players is neat, but I don’t see many NBA games disrupted by fans reaching onto the court to grab loose balls. Basketball is also free of dangerous projectiles like foul balls and bat fragments (our original topic here), although there is quite a bit of risk involved in catching a diving Shaq.

    I don’t buy, however, that placing some sort of barrier between the fans and the field ruins the game. We already have netting behind home plate, and fans pay good money to sit behind that screen. Hockey fans do the same to sit behind the glass (and now the net). It would take some getting used to, but I think it would improve the quality of the game.

  26. Chris G said...

    Aaron,

    I do try to minimize risks.  That’s why I pay attention when I go to a baseball game.  That’s why I didn’t take my kids to a game until they were old enough to pay attention.  What’s not reasonable in acknowledging the risks that exist everywhere in life? I just don’t believe in letting the risks overwhelm common sense.  I’m a lot safer at a baseball game than I am in a car.

  27. Will said...

    I think I could live with 5 feet or so of net along the foul lines. That should stop the most dangerous bats and liners.
    However, I firmly believe that if you’re sitting in the danger zone it is your responsibility to watch the field.

  28. Aaron Moreno said...

    Now, we understand that we should take care of ourselves, but what about others? You look before you cross the street, but do you hit the brakes before you hit a pedestrian? Why do you do that? It’s not because you’re worried about damage to your car or the potential legal consequences. You may say so afterwards, but that’s not what goes through your mind at the time. You can reasonably take care of yourself AND take care of others.

  29. Brad said...

    Jack:  I don’t get the Gary Busey joke, I admit, but I fully agree with the Jason to whom you were responding.  Wearing a helmet to sit in the stands sounds absolutely horrendous. 

    Also, having a bunch of “education” foisted upon us as fans about how to avoid getting brained by a foul ball would negatively impact the game more than the simple, obvious solution of a net or plexiglass.

    You may be right that lawyers would jump all over the lawsuits if adding “some” protection (a net) implied that “full” protection should exist, but in my extremely I-am-not-a-lawyerly opinion, you aren’t right.  There already is protection behind the plate, and thus I don’t see how the argument changes by adding additional protection when you go from “some” protection to “some more”.

    I also don’t think that in-game fan-player interactions are good.  The Bartman-Alou incident was the most extreme negative example, and while it can be exciting to see a guy reach into the stands to make a play, it can be really lame to see a player bitching and moaning about fan interference too, and it detracts from the play in my opinion.  Putting up barriers which could be leapt into/over to make plays could make it more exciting without the element of suck that fan interference introduces.

  30. Kramer said...

    @ Richard – 1 in a million is more of a figure of speech than some kind of researched risk assesment.  The point was that there is a chance even if it is miniscule.  Maybe I’m more sensitive because I was living in Columbus when that tragedy happened and I remember how awful it was.

    I’m not supporting plexiglass domes or anything else like that.  I just think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to extend the nets a little further down the line so that a screaming foul bad doesn’t plunk some kid in the head who looked away for a few seconds.  That’s all.  I have trouble seeing the harm in that even while I acknowledge that it doesn’t seem to have been much of a problem in the past.

  31. Andy H said...

    I always sit behind home plate where there is a net, because I have small kids and also because I couldn’t catch a line drive even when I was a kid standing on the field with a glove.

    But I think Jack is right – how many major and minor league hockey and baseball games go on each year, and how many people are hurt?  While it’s easy to forsee someone getting seriously hurt or killed, it just doesn’t happen much.

    That said, one stadium set-up for the minor league team in Myrtle Beach was dangerous, in my opinion – Myrtle Beach:
    http://www.myrtlebeachpelicans.com/bbt/seatmap/

    They have a picnic area down the right field line, but it juts out almost right to the foul line.

  32. Richard in Dallas said...

    Kramer – You’re right, it’s not that bothersome to protect ourselves, from a practical standpoint.  The thing that bothers me is that there is some feeling that we, as fans, need to be “protected”.  I don’t need my coffee cup to tell me the contents are hot.  It’s what I ordered for crying out loud!  I don’t need a sticker on my bicycle to tell me to be careful, and to wear a helmet.  I don’t need a law to tell me to wear a seatbelt, or a condom!  I think maybe that the time has come to let Darwin do his work, as it were.

    In Arlington, there are signs (about the size of small speed limit signs) that say “Beware of Flying Objects” with a picture of a ball and a bat.  Other than the netting behind home plate, that is all the protection anybody needs….

  33. Wooden U. Lykteneau said...

    I’m curious as to how those signs will improve people’s reaction times to those of major-league athletes. A foul ball can come off a wooden bat at 90mph+ yet there are seats less than 100’ away from HP without netting. That’s roughly one (1) second to react, assuming (A) you’re expecting it (B) nobody deflects the ball in the interim (C) the ball is travelling in a straight line. Maybe some folks are aware of those variables, but I suspect the VAST majority are not, as we’ve already seen here.

  34. Will said...

    Over the weekend, I visited the Eisenhower Presidential library, which had an interesting display of sports memorabilia. One item was a memo which said that when the President went to a Senators game, the Secret Service stationed one of the Washington players in front of and to the left of Ike with a glove to protect him from any batted balls.

  35. RJK said...

    How did we end up discussing assumption of the risk in a premises liability case?  The law on such matters is frankly well-settled and has been so for several hundred years.  AOR really doesn’t come into play in such cases.  Frankly, I always found it somewhat odd that the NHL had no screens behind the net, despite the fact that pucks frequently end up in that area.

    If we change the nature of the stadia, i.e. lessen the foul territory, bring the seats closer or locate the concession areas in locations still subject to foul balls, then I suppose we change the duties owed to the licensees/invitees. 

    As such, I suspect that it will become the configuration of the particular stadium that will mandate the type of protective barriers that should be required, as opposed to a league-wide edict.

    Here in Columbus, OH, the netting behind the plate runs from (essentially) the inside edge of each dugout, effectively doubling the area of the netting.  Frankly, it seems reasonable to me.  I don’t think the team owes a duty to protect against all hazards, instead only to protect against reasonable hazards. 

    I don’t know if it’s still true, but when I went to a game in Mobile, AL a few years ago, their netting covered essentially the entire area from 1st to 3rd.  That greatly reduced the enjoyability of the game for me in an otherwise nice park.

    By the way, on that Jackets case, the team and the NHL still have a pretty nice subro. lien on the med-mal claim as Children’s really should have run the MRI.

  36. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Good point RJK.  If only a lawyer had recognized that earlier . . .[ahem].

    Interesting on the Children’s/NHL thing.  Even more interesting considering the close relationship between Nationwide and Children’s (it’s not Nationwide Children’s Hospital) and Nationwide’s ownership of the arena and stake in the Jackets. One wonders how hard anyone is fighting on that subrogation claim!

  37. RJK said...

    Craig-

    Good point also.  I had thought about that (cozy) relationship.  One thing I don’t know though on the Jackets/Cecil case is who paid the money.  The team?  The NHL?  SMG (the arena mgt. co.)?  If the 3 entities split it up somehow, then it wasn’t the tort that precipated a change, but instead PR.  Which I suspect may actually be the true catalyst for change (despite the claims to the contrary from ATLA or whatever the hell its called now).  No team wants to be known for its dangerous venue, tort claims or not.

  38. JK said...

    Say what you want about Plexiglass, but us Twins fan’s wouldn’t give up when we had in back in 91!

    And I’m sure that every Brave (Craig) fan, would absolutely hate the stuff.

  39. yakamashii said...

    I live in Japan and watch about a hundred games a season in ballparks that have tall, rigid wire fences all the way around the field.

    It sucked at first, but I got used to it.  It’s just part of the game.  It really doesn’t affect my enjoyment of the game after three seasons.

    What get obnoxious, though, are the ushers armed with whistles and the “Please be careful of foul balls” announcement that follows each and every foul ball hit into the stands.

    It’s the American in me that doesn’t like being told what to do or told what to fear.  I have to say that fences are hardly as obtrusive as the announcements and whistles and that parks in the States would do well to put them up.

  40. Jack Marshall said...

    See Craig? It’s not just the nets to the dugouts! The fences are coming! The fences are coming!

  41. Brandon Isleib said...

    I’m listening to Kaplan’s Torts MP3 review for the bar exam at the moment.  Seems fitting.

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