Foul Territory: Who Suffers the Most Foul Ball Injuries?


Players, coaches, managers, fans, and the media all assert that children are the most at risk of foul ball injuries at baseball games. This is commonsense. We understand that children are more fragile and more easily distracted than adults, thus the risk posed to them will be greater. In past articles, I’ve advocated for special family sections in all Major League Baseball parks; and if MiLB follows suit, all the better. That recommendation has gone ignored by MLB Commissioner Manfred.

The idea of a family area that moves ALL children out of the hot zones for foul balls and errant bats seems like a commonsense no-brainer too. Families with children can be seated in the outfield boxes, still well within reach of their favorite players and even still in range of very long foul balls that gives a person seconds to respond rather than milliseconds.

Children at Higher Risk of Foul Ball Injury?

One of the major premises of the Gail Payne et al. lawsuit against Major League Baseball, and MiLB by extension, is the assumption that children “are at most risk” of injury. Again, the simple fix is to move children to the outfield box seats into a family specific section, or at least ban children in the hot zone areas in each ballpark.

The attorneys in the Payne et al. case assert that “Spectators are also actively misled that these areas of the ballpark are safe”—despite the evidence to the contrary (that the average human reaction time is sufficient and that signs are posted all over warning of the dangers of foul balls and loose bats.

The complaint argues that “Considerable research supports the proposition that children are particularly vulnerable. A child has a slower reaction time,” sit lower in seats that may offer an obstructed view, and are less familiar with the game and more prone to distractions from technology. They further assert that “Children are also at more risk due to their relative head size.” (These all make sense, but again, this is even more reason for family sections in each park.)

Listing Foul Ball Injuries: Misleading Numbers

To illustrate the dangers of foul ball and errant bat injuries, the amended complaint includes a list of 142 injuries under the heading of “An epidemic of injuries.”

Of these 140+ citations—which includes bats and a thorough sampling of both MLB and MiLB injury instances—men got nailed by a foul ball 39 times, women were struck 47 times and children account for 25 of the reported injuries.

Of the fans who were reportedly struck by a bat or shard of a bat, only six (6) men were found to be hit, while eight (8) women were. Not one child was hit in this sample size by the attorneys for Payne et al.

What’s rather telling about these 140+ instances is that eight (8) of the examples of bat “injuries” actually didn’t injure anyone. In one instance the fan caught the bat AND got a kiss for doing so.

Other issues with these examples, problems that diminish the power behind the assertions, is that three (3) of the cases of foul ball “injuries” to men are reports that they were “almost” hit or smoked. This number for female fans jumps to eight (with at least two instances in which a mother was hit because she protected her child). Of the 140+ instances the lawsuit lists, two of these include examples of children “almost” being hit.

As my Army drill sergeants and my father and older cousins always reminded me: “Close” (or “almost”) only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

Foul Ball Injuries and Children: Parental Endangerment?

What is the most disturbing aspect of these examples is how the attorneys point out all the injuries to children. Of the 25 children smoked by foul balls in this list, one was 18 months at the time. That deserves to be emphasized: 18 MONTHS. Another is described as a “toddler.” The oldest in this list was 11. When looking into the details of these injuries—again, these span MLB and MiLB games—nearly all of the children were seated in the most dangerous areas in the respective parks. Nearly all were right behind one of the dugouts or within a section of the dugouts.

cropped-FoulBallSign1.jpgAs we can see, this issue with respect to the 25 kids injured by foul balls stems from the parents failing to take responsibility and acting in a manner concurrent with protecting their children by placing them as far as possible out of harm’s way. Everyone would agree that bringing an 18-month-old baby to the game and sitting in one of the obvious hot zones is not something a responsible parent does. Yet more and more often we hear people crying about all the children being injured and how MLB needs to install additional netting to protect fans.

The list the attorneys for Payne et al. appear to have listed the bulk of injuries last season. There are three others I know of as a result of tweets. All three are females.

This brings the totals of foul ball injuries to 39 men, 50 women and 25 children. Do these numbers mean women are more paying less attention? Or does this mean that men simply don’t report injuries (in order to “be a man”) or aren’t hurt as seriously? That’s difficult to say without a great deal more data; however, when we combine this data with that of the 1750 foul ball related injuries a season David Glovin’s Bloomberg News article about foul balls, we can see this is sampling is nearly 1% of that estimation, and these examples, with the exception of the 20 or so examples that did not result in an injury, all account for injuries sustained as a direct results of a hit foul ball, not injuries incurred due to overzealous or clumsy behavior. For our purposes, this gives us a baseline. As Glovin points out, the vast majority of injuries associated with foul balls are minor and many are the result of the fan lunging for the ball, falling while trying to retrieve it or otherwise not directly associated with the ball itself.

Drawing Conclusions

The obvious conclusion, even with this raw sampling, are that 1) Children do not appear to be at increased risk from foul balls due to their age; they are in increased danger because their parents place them in a position to be injured. And 2) Assuming the data holds across the gender spectrum, it appears more women are directly injured from foul balls and flying bats than men. A further investigation should help us better understand the disparity between these two genders.

The first point—protecting children by not sitting them in the hot zones—is the action most easily controlled. In the complaint, the attorneys for Payne et al. quote Chris Iannetta talking about the young fan who was hit by a foul coming off his bat as he checked his swing during a May 3, 2015 game between the Angels and Giants: “I really don’t understand why you would put little kids there, not behind the net, in the first place…I was [ticked] off because of the area they were sitting in in the first place. It’s not a place for kids. It’s really not. I wouldn’t put my kids there….”

The attorneys for the plaintiffs use this to show how dangerous these areas are in the parks. But what Iannetta is pointing out to us, even if he didn’t realize it, is that parents are being irresponsible and endangering their children by sitting them in these areas. As it turns out, this young fan was sitting behind the first-base dugout, a hot zone.

So what should MLB really be doing to protect fans? First and foremost, move children out of the hot zones. Doing so would end the suffering of at least 25 children a season. That should be reason enough.