Playing in Foul Territory: Does Smartphone History Lead Us to More Fan Injuries from Foul Balls and Bats?

NewSiteBackGroundThe technological advances of the current century have profoundly altered our way of living. Growing up in both Detroit and the suburbs of Detroit, I went outside and played with my friends all day. We didn’t have computers or the internet or smartphones. Now, we have all that, and humans are both better and worse off than when I was a kid. In just the last two decades, cell phone technology has shown considerable leaps in what can be done on a phone. Apple even released a “smart watch” not long ago. For those of you who don’t know the basic phone history, here it is according to these folks:

“Technology has made such an impact on society that most people won’t leave home without their cell phone, and their computer has become their best friend. This is why one of the most life-changing pieces of technology for many has been the smartphone — an all-in-one, portable device that combines the functions of a cell phone with the functions of a computer.”


Brief History of the Smartphone

Smartphones are actually a relatively new piece of technology.

  • 1992 – The first smartphone was invented by IBM in 1992. It was nicknamed, “Simon,” and had a plethora of features including a calendar, address book, calculator, email service, and even a touch screen. At $899.00, though, most people could not afford it.
  • 1996 – Nokia launched a series of smartphones in the late ’90s that were basically a cross between a cell phone and a PDA.
  • 2000 – Ericsson developed the R380, a touch screen smartphone that used the Symbian operating system and had a foldable keyboard. It was the first all-in-one device to actually be called a smartphone.
  • 2002 – This was the year the smartphone revolution really took off. Blackberry was introduced with its email services, as well as the Palm Treo and its full QWERTY keyboard and Ericsson’s P800 model. Several new features were added to smartphones including the MP3 player, camera, and wireless technology. Exchange Email also became popular.
  • 2005 – The N-Series of smartphones was introduced to the market by Sony Ericsson. These devices were targeted at business people because of their computing capabilities.
  • 2007 – Apple’s coveted iPhone was introduced with its massive app store.
  • 2008 – The open-source, Android operating system started to take off, supported by Google, Intel, HTC, and a variety of other developers.
  • Now – New smartphones are constantly being introduced to the market by all the major players. The focus is currently on getting faster Internet speeds.”

When we think to the advent of the smartphone, we think of the great innovations in human technological abilities that have been accomplished in such a short time. But we fail to carefully consider the down side of such things. The negative aspects of smartphones prominently figure into a number of problems: texting while driving, sexting, driving distracted due to being on the phone. We see kids and parents at restaurants not talking. The reason? They are all buried in their phones. I’ll admit my phone’s distracted me on more than one occasion, though never during driving or a baseball game.

As the improvements to smartphones have been cranked out, so has app after app after app designed to distract us from things around us. Studies have even shown that our posture is being significantly altered as a result of our phones.

Go to a baseball game (or any sporting event for that matter) and you’ll see what I mean. Just watch a game and you’ll see that lady just to the right of the protective netting typing away on her phone as Derek Jeter taps a line drive foul down the 3B line. My favorite recent not-so-bright fan was the guy at a Tigers game who was behind home plate (also just outside the netting) who was videotaping the at-bat with his phone. Come on, dude. Common sense.foulballwhileusingphone

While we need to study it more, I’m convinced that the perceived increase in spectator injuries is partly due to our over-connected world. While data on the number of fans hit by a foul ball or errant bat is significantly lacking in its availability, it’s not hard to imagine there may be no increase, just more publicity. Conversely, there may be more. For the sake of argument, let’s say there are more.

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In a previous post, I discussed how ballparks built in 2000 and later appear to have less foul territory than their 1999 and back companions. This 7% difference may contribute to an increase—if there is one. Does this mean MLB is guilty of endangering fans? Some argue that it does; others will say it doesn’t because it brings a sense of closeness for fans, something very much lacking in nearly every other sport. We get to touch our baseball heroes. Not many other sports can say the same. In that sense, it’s a trade-off.

But that trade-off comes with an obvious caveat. It means, in order to be closer to the action—and even part of the action sometimes—we have to pay closer attention to what’s going on at the game. We can’t bury our noses in a smart phone, get hit by a foul ball then sue MLB for negligence. It doesn’t work that way. Or at least it shouldn’t.



As you will see as you browse through the growing list of lawsuits related in some way to foul balls and errant bats on the site is that the word “negligence” pops up A LOT. Usually the fan who has been injured is suing because the team was negligent in its duty to protect the fan from injury. This has turned out to be, time and again, a horribly ineffective tactic for suing baseball teams.

But what we don’t see often in the cases is what is called “contributory negligence”. This is when the fan contributed to their injury through their own actions. It is in this area that the smartphone issue arises.

Again, working under the assumption that serious fan injuries are increasing, there are any number of reasons that can be contributing to it. For this article, I am working with the apparent 7% decrease in foul territory and the obsessive use of smartphones. As the timeline above shows, apps have taken over our phones (and computers and tablets). These apps are distractions—the foul ball app was even taken down due to us not wanting it to be a distraction. Look at the audience at a baseball game. You’ll see people buried in their phones not looking at the action; others will be taking selfies trying to get a player in the background; still others will be live tweeting every single pitch or videotaping the game to upload immediately to Vine.

These are all distractions. Thus, the fan is guilty of contributory negligence. Warnings at games abound. They are plentiful to the point of ad nauseum. Tickets, signs and reminder announcements all have warnings. They even say to make sure to pay attention. It doesn’t get clearer than that.

So the next time you’re at a baseball game, put the phone away, at least while there’s live play. There’s plenty of time between innings, half innings and pitching changes to do whatever you want to do on the phone. Remember to pay attention.