Nearly all aspects of baseball can be quantified, including baseball stadium injuries to fans. David Glovin, in a recent Bloomberg article, tackled that challenge and found that about 1,750 fans are injured every year by batted balls. Most injuries are caused by the roughly 53,000 foul balls that reach the seats.
Many foul balls are relatively harmless high popups that drift into the stands, and provide fans with plenty of time to react either to catch it, or duck out of the way. However, other foul balls are line drives that leave the bat around 100 m.p.h. To perhaps illustrate the differences in reaction time, pop ups almost never become hits, deeper fly balls become hits about 15% of the time, and line drives become hits about 70% of the time (home runs excluded). Fans along the infield foul lines may have barely one second to react to well-hit line drives, as an 80 m.p.h line drive travels 117 feet per second.
While catching a foul ball is the aspiration of many who go to a baseball game, there are many spectators not paying attention to every single pitch or who are too young to adequately protect themselves. The Bloomberg article has many cautionary tales about children who have been injured in recent years by foul balls.
Baseball stadium owners have no liability for batted ball injuries to fans if adequate precautions are taken. Adequate precautions has long meant using a screen to protect fans immediately behind home plate. A batter fouling a pitch straight back would provide fans with just a split second to react if there was no netting around home plate. So while this precaution is sensible, the Bloomberg article makes a convincing case that more precautions should be implemented, even if the Baseball Rule currently does not mandate it.
Certainly, adding more nets would increase the cost to stadium owners, but perhaps a more important factor would be how fans would react to more nets. There is also a potential that adding nets in some stadiums could lead a court in the future to mandate their use, though this possibility exists already. With the slow-moving nature of change in baseball, it seems very unlikely that any protections to reduce baseball stadium injuries will be added soon.
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