Should baseball teams be held liable when foul balls injure fans?

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In most walks of life, whether someone is liable to you for injuries caused by alleged negligence is determined by a judgment call: was the harm foreseeable and did they act reasonably to prevent the harm from occurring? That’s a matter for a jury to decide, and the jury can take all of the specific facts of the case into account in making that determination.

Ballpark operators, however, have typically had a safe harbor that shields them from having a jury decide whether they acted prudently. It’s called “The Baseball Rule,” and it’s a legal doctrine which underpins those little “we’re not liable for you getting injured by flying balls and bats” disclaimers on the back of your ticket.

The way it’s usually formulated by the courts is that stadium owners and operators must provide “screened seats for as many spectators as may be reasonably expected to call for them on any ordinary occasion,” and that if they do that, they’re legally absolved of liability. Typically, providing screens behind home plate and around to each side to some degree puts owners in the safe harbor. In that case, it’s a matter of law, not fact, and the judge will usually dismiss the case before it ever gets to a jury.

That rule has been challenged more and more in recent years. It’s still the majority rule across U.S. jurisdictions, but last year, for example, an Idaho court refused to adopt it in the case of a man injured by a foul ball and allowed a jury to decide whether the ballpark owner acted reasonably based on the facts and circumstances of the case rather than to simply dismiss it per The Baseball Rule. Now, in Atlanta, a family is challenging it in the wake of their six-year-old daughter suffering traumatic brain injury from a foul ball at a Braves game in 2010.

I get asked about The Baseball Rule a lot and I’ll admit that I’ve never felt 100% confident about it either way. On the one hand, baseball’s arguments for it are reasonable: fans actually want to catch foul balls and don’t like sitting behind the screen unless they’re right down low. If you put teams in the legal crosshairs for foul ball injuries and/or mandate that they put screens way down the lines teams will have little choice but to either move fans far from the action or block their view, making the product they’re selling — good seats at a ballgame — far less attractive. No one really wins in that scenario.

On the other hand, the ballpark experience has changed quite a bit since The Baseball Rule was first recognized. There are more distractions from game action. It’s far more of a family product than it used to be and you thus get a lot of little kids who can’t be expected to defend themselves from foul balls in the stands. Parks are also far more full and seats behind the screens are far more expensive than they used to be, making that part of The Baseball Rule in which spectators “may reasonably call” for screened seats potentially unworkable. Teams are often forcing people to choose between being out in the bleachers or paying $250 for a screened seat.

I don’t want to turn ballparks into padded cells, but I also think that the risks, particularly to children, of sitting in unprotected seats down the lines are undersold by teams and under appreciated by fans. It’s dangerous down there. Maybe a good step in between letting ballpark operators off the hook completely and making them liable absolutely is to make them warn fans far more explicitly. To actually publicize to fans what can actually happen to you if you’re hit by a screaming foul ball. To make fans actually assume the risk in the form of an actual waiver instead of the assumed one written on the backs of tickets which are rarely if ever read. Perhaps to make people who take young children to games explicitly disclaim responsibility or else not sit in unprotected seats.

As it is now, the warnings are pretty passive and the risks not as well-known as they could be. And the disclaimer system is something of a joke. Making each of these things more rigorous might have some small costs involved — kid-priced seats so as to identify and differentiate those who would sit in dangerous seats with children? A second piece of paper or an usher with a clipboard taking actual liability waivers? — but those costs pale compared to the sorts of liability awards teams might face if The Baseball Rule continues to be eroded.

And they pale even more definitively compared to the price some people, particularly some children, have paid with their health and even their lives.

The Giants are calling up Jae-gyun Hwang

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The Giants will call up infielder Jae-gyun Hwang from Triple-A Sacramento on Wednesday, NBC Sports Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic reports.

Hwang, 29, signed with the Giants as a free agent from South Korea. He’ll earn a prorated salary of $1.5 million in the majors and has a chance to earn up to an additional $1.6 million in performance bonuses.

At Triple-A, Hwang hit .287/.333/.476 with seven home runs and 44 RBI in 279 plate appearances. He has mostly played first and third base, but also spent 17 defensive innings in left field. First base is spoken for with Brandon Belt, but Hwang could get the occasional start at the hot corner or in left field in San Francisco.

Hwang spent the previous 10 seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization. In his final season with the Lotte Giants last year, he hit .335/.397/.570 with 27 homers and 113 RBI.

Report: Pete Mackanin fined Odubel Herrera for attempting to steal despite red light

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CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury reports that Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrera was fined an undisclosed amount by manager Pete Mackanin for attempting to steal a base on Saturday against the Diamondbacks despite being given a red light. Herrera, arguably the Phillies’ best base runner, usually has a green light, but Mackanin felt that Herrera stealing and opening up first base would have prompted the D-Backs to intentionally walk Cameron Rupp to get to the pitcher’s spot in the lineup.

The incident occurred in the top of the sixth inning with the Phillies trailing 3-2. Starter Robbie Ray got the first two Phillies out, but Herrera kept the inning alive with a line drive single to right field. Before the second pitch to Rupp, Ray picked off Herrera in a play that was scored 1-3-4.

According to Salisbury, although Mackanin wouldn’t confirm or deny that he fined Herrera, he did say, “Base running matters.”

This is not the first base running blunder Herrera has had this season. Last week, Herrera ran through third base coach Juan Samuel’s stop sign in an attempt to score the game-winning run. And it’s also not the first bit of contention between Mackanin and his players. There was apparently some miscommunication between him and reliever Pat Neshek last week as well.

The Phillies enter play Tuesday night with baseball’s worst record at 24-51. That puts them on pace for a 52-110 season.