This should be interesting: ESPN reports that a Chicago judge has ordered that Commissioner Rob Manfred, former Commissioner Bud Selig, and current Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem sit for depositions in a lawsuit over injuries a fan suffered in 2017 when he was hit in the head by a foul ball at Wrigley Field.
Major League Baseball had opposed their depositions, claiming — per the article — that “no commissioner or deputy commissioner has ever been deposed in a lawsuit concerning a foul ball injury.” I’ll note that, legally speaking, that doesn’t mean squat. I’ll also note that it takes a certain insular and privileged mindset to believe that that kind of argument matters all that much outside of your own organization, but I suppose that comes with the territory of running a business that is immune to all manner of legal process the rest of the business world isn’t.
The crux of this lawsuit — and, presumably, of the depositions — is about why Major League Baseball has never mandated extended netting. Instead, as we have noted many times in the past, the league has merely recommended netting, leaving it up to the teams. I’ve speculated in the past that such a move was an effort to insulate the league from legal liability. That the league believed if it made a hard and fast rule on netting it would be responsible for fan safety in ways it never has been considered to be before. I guess we’ll see via this lawsuit if that pans out.
Just to review, though:
In December of 2015 Major League Baseball released a recommendation — not a mandate, just a suggestion — that teams provide expanded netting. Teams were “encouraged” to shield the seats between the near ends of both dugouts and within 70 feet of home plate. At the same time, they launched “fan education” guidelines about where to sit and whether or not they’ll be protected. While these recommendations were better than nothing, the fact that it (a) punted the matter to individual clubs; and (b) stressed the responsibility of fans to protect themselves as opposed to the league mandating protective measures, made those efforts to appear to be far more geared toward diminishing the liability of the league than actively protecting fans from screaming projectiles.
In the wake of the league’s recommendations only a few teams immediately extended netting, primarily because if you ask a business to do something but say it is not required to do anything, it is not likely to do a thing.
It would not be until September 2017, after a baby girl, just shy of her second birthday, was severely injured after a foul ball flew off the bat of Todd Frazier and into the Yankee Stadium stands along the third base line where she was sitting. The girl suffered multiple facial fractures and had bleeding on the brain. The stitches from the baseball left a mark on her forehead and her eyes were swollen shut due to the impact. She spent five days in the hospital. That, rather than league action, inspired the rest of baseball to extend protective netting. All 30 teams had such extended netting by Opening Day 2018.
The fan in this Chicago lawsuit was injured in 2017, after the recommendations but prior to most teams reacting to the girl’s injuries at the Yankees game. The fan in Chicago permanently lost vision in his left eye and suffered multiple facial fractures.
In any event: if I was deposing Manfred, Selig and Halem, my first question to them would be what prompted the league’s 2015 recommendations. Then I’d ask why they were just recommendations and not mandates. Then, when they presumably said “all ballparks are different and we can’t make hard and fast rules about how to set up features in every ballpark,” I’d ask them about every other ground rule that applies to the various parks in the league and ask what MLB has to say about them. Note: they mandate quite a lot from park-to-park in some instances. It can be done.
Anyway, I feel like it’d be a fun bunch of depositions, but no one ever asks me to go to those anymore.