The foul ball has a rich history fraught with trouble. Below is a list of relevant dates and events in foul ball history:
- 1884: Baseball abolishes underhand delivery in favor of modern pitching style. This sets the scene for pitches that are harder to hit; this is thought to have resulted in higher foul ball counts.
- 1901 (NL)/1903 (AL): “Foul Strike Rule” becomes official in each league. This rule was/is intended to limit the number of foul balls that can be hit during a plate appearance by making the first two fouls in an at-bat count as strikes. Prior to the rule, players were known to be able to force a walk because they became adept at fouling off pitches when the first two fouls weren’t called strikes. The rule sped up the game and made it so the first two fouls counted against the batter.
- 1908: Michigan Supreme Court rules that a fan who watches from an unprotected area knows they have the potential of being hit by a foul ball is an obvious examples of “assumption of risk.” This is often referred to as “The Baseball Rule”, and becomes a staple of lawsuit defenses.
- 1910: Screwballs, spitballs and other specialty pitches were still en vogue. These pitches led to “small ball” play, but some evidence indicates that there might have been more foul balls during this time than there are today. (http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Deadball_Era)
- 1911-1912: Baseballs are re-invented using a cork in the center for stability. Balls prior to this often became “squishy” after being in play for 100+ pitches. (http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Deadball_Era)
- 1913: Crane vs. Kansas City Baseball & Exhibition Co. This case codified the rules governing spectator injuries, specifically establishing the basis for negligence and what constitutes “assumption of risk”, duty of care, and contributory negligence. The court also rules that teams have a duty of care to the fans and required that some protected seating be available for every game to those who wanted it.
- May 16, 1921: Reuben Berman keeps a foul ball and is escorted out of the Polo Grounds. Sues for emotional distress. Is awarded the ball and $100 (although he asked for A LOT more than that). Fans are allowed to keep foul balls hit into the stands. (The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, 3rd ed.)
- 2000: Roughly the time when new ballparks appear to become more intimate with foul territory looking to shrink by 7% compared to territory space in pre-2000 parks. (http://foulballz.com/bostonredsox/foul-ball-territory-increasingly-intimate-ballparks-good-and-bad-for-fans/)
- 2002 – 2007: Significant growth in “Smartphones” appears to have led to more fan injuries as apps begin distracting fans from games and the dangers of games. Ability to record, photograph, text, call and even play games on these devices may be a major distraction during games. Evidence of use during a game are evident on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Vine and Instragram.