Major League Baseball Fan Foul Ball Fatalities in Context: Soccer, Tour de France and Racing FAR More Dangerous to Fans than Foul Balls

FoulBallSignAfter Andy Zlotnick commented on my Twitter feed and compared baseball to the X-Games and “Reality TV”, as he did in the HBO Real Sports episode I discussed in two earlier posts (PART I and PART II), I started to wonder if baseball really is as dangerous to spectators and players as people keep claiming. The counterargument is predicated on the idea that 1750 fans are injured every year at Major League Baseball games. That’s the number Bryant Gumbel indicated in Real Sports and it’s the number a lot of others also misrepresent. They assume that is the number of fans hit by balls and bats each season. It’s actually the number of fans injured in relation to a ball or bat. That is, fans often injure themselves going for a ball or ducking out of the way of an errant bat.

All this got me to wondering. As it turns out baseball is one of the safest for spectators and participants. With a rounded up number of 2000 fans injured in relation to a foul ball or bat, and considering one fan in 100+ years has died, I started looking at other fan fatalities in other sports.



Soccer is by far the most deadly professional sport. It has riots. Over 800 people have died over the last 20 years as a result of hatred between fans who’ve gone on to pummel one another to death after a match. Baseball fans tend to riot only when their team wins the World Series, and while a few fans have died as a result of riots, we don’t come close to 800 deaths. Granted, these are fans rioting, and it’s not directly associated with fan injuries, but remember the 1750 people identified as being injured at Major League Baseball games includes fan injuries which are bumps and bruises resulting from fights over foul balls. So the comparison holds up. Thus, soccer has the most fan deaths. While fans don’t get killed as a direct result of the game, they do kill one another in droves. Several sources indicate there are roughly 1000 soccer-related deaths since the mid-1900s. The fan-on-fan violence is even growing in intensity according to the Wall Street Journal. Racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and just plain anger over a loss accounts for all the turmoil. Granted, all other sports have their fan-on-fan issues too, but not nearly to the extent of over 1000 deaths.

According to “9 Tragic Tour de France Death” the Tour de France had three fan deaths between 2000-2009. That’s one every 3 years and three times the number of fan deaths the MLB has in over 100 years of playing. Those three are simply the most tragic spectator deaths. There are many more deaths though.

Racing—NASCAR, Indy and Grand Prix combined—account for well over 100 fan deaths since the 1955 Le Mans tragedy which left 81 (some accounts say 82 or 83) spectators dead. Six spectators were killed in 1998 alone. That, in and of itself is six times more deaths than MLB has in a century. Another report indicates more than 520 spectators have died at races…in 25 years. 

As it turns out, golf is the worst. 40000 people find their way to emergency rooms as a direct result of being plunked by a ball or a club. Forty-THOUSAND. Golf has had upwards of 10 deaths in the last 30 or so years too. None of the deaths occurred at a PGA event, but as MLB netting advocates argue, give it time. There are plenty of golf deaths to go around. The sport which truly needs netting is golf (#NetTheLinks).

American football hasn’t had any fan deaths directly related to the game—like players falling on fans, but that doesn’t mean it’s not deadly too. Many fans have fallen and died, been killed by other fans or simply been so drunk they passed out forever.

The NBA has only fan-on-fan deaths, and not many of those either.

The NHL has had the same number of fan deaths directly related to the game as MLB has: 1. Only 1. It’s still tragic, but it’s one. 

The X-Games, as it turns out, have ZERO spectator deaths and only a handful of injuries to fans in any way. Only a few athletes have died. In fact, it turns out to be one of the safest sporting events ever. This contradicts Zlotnick’s assertion in the HBO Real Sports episode.

And “reality television”, the other event Zlotnick alluded to in the HBO Real Sports episode? Not a single fan related death. As far as I can tell, there hasn’t been a single fan injury either.



Mr. Zlotnick’s decision to use the X-Games and “Reality TV” as dangerous activities proves very wrong. No fans have been killed in either event. So when he says baseball isn’t the X-Games or Reality TV, he’s right. While only one is sports-related and actually has fans (X-Games), his tactic is to present something that SOUNDS dangerous, but really isn’t to fans. Rhetorically, this comparison is a logical fallacy, a misleading analogy.FoulBallSign2

The problem with Zlotnick’s use of the X-Games and “reality television” as comparable analogies is he is comparing activities in which one would participate (dodging zingers, as he puts it). Baseball is a spectator sport. Fans are not participants.

In fact, as far as I can tell there’s only been ONE death at the X-Games, and that was a participant on a snowmobile. At least one X-Gamer has died as a result of an injury sustained during practice. No fans have died. The same holds true for reality shows. While several active participants have been injured or died, not one fan has even been injured seriously in direct or indirect connection with a show.

Zlotnick’s rhetoric, in this case, is intended to scare people into believing things which simply aren’t true. That the HBO Real Sports producers didn’t catch these issues is surprising, but it clearly indicates they were looking for sensationalism, not accuracy. Had they been more interested in getting the truth, the show would have been more discriminating in the use of incorrect data and misleading and misrepresented information. Sitting down to watch a Major League Baseball game is more dangerous to fans than the X-Games and “Reality TV”, but it runs fifth or sixth in the list of safest sports for spectators. In reality, Gumbel and HBO Real Sports should have focused on the dangers at soccer matches, golf, and racing, not MLB- and MiLB-level baseball.



Is being a Major League Baseball fan potentially deadly? Yes. There’s no debating that fact. But it is, of the major sports, the least dangerous to fans. In fact, it isn’t that deadly to players either as evidenced in the 2011 article “Ranking Sports from Least to Most Dangerous: Includes NFL, NBA, NHL and Soccer.” There’s been one death in baseball related directly to foul balls and that had more to do with medical incompentence than the ball itself. On May 16, 1970, 14-year-old Alan Fish was nailed in the head wiht a foul ball. He died a few days later, after doctors failed to run the proper tests at the game.

To be fair in my comparisons, there has been a fair amount of fan-on-fan violence resulting in death as connected to MLB. In fact, in the last 15 years there have been at least 20. There have been over 20 falls of fans at MLB games which have resulted in death.

In other words, the real danger to fans of nearly every single sport is NOT directly from the game, but from ourselves. MLB fans falling to their deaths or having been killed by other fans accounts for at least 40 times more deaths in the last 16-20 years than fan deaths directly related to the game (one in 100+ years of pro baseball).

The real danger is us. Fans. Not foul balls or broken bats. Fans. We injure ourselves and kill fellow fans more often than bats and balls.

Let’s put this all in to perspective and proper context rather than being alarmists. Contrary to what alarmists would have us all believe, the REAL enemy of sports is us, the fans. We need to check ourselves. And for those of us who are dedicated Major League Baseball fans, we need to pay attention to the game and to ourselves. We should set the example for all other fans.

Major League baseball is not dangerous to fans in the way the media wishes us to believe.

We are our greatest enemy, not foul balls.

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