Risk Insider: Martin Frappolli

Baseball’s Nagging Problem With Player and Fan Injuries

By: | October 23, 2015

Martin J. Frappolli, CPCU, FIDM, AIC, is Senior Director of Knowledge Resources at The Institutes, and editor of the organization's new “Managing Cyber Risk” textbook. He can be reached at [email protected].

Topics: ERM | Liability | Risk Insider

Football is, by nature, a violent sport. While the fans (the sober ones, anyway) are seldom at risk, the NFL has been taking action to reduce player injuries. Rules are revised to protect defenseless players, and better equipment is designed to reduce severe injuries.

Baseball, on the other hand, has been slow to find ways to protect either the players or the fans.

Pete Rose and Chase Utley are two of my favorite Phillies because of their game knowledge and hustle. However, in the 1970 All-Star Game, Pete Rose (then a member of the Reds) barreled into Ray Fosse, the American League catcher who was blocking the plate.

There’s a lagging old-school tough guy mentality that affects baseball in that kind of risky game behavior and also in how baseball treats its fans.

Rose could have chosen to slide under the tag, but he had a better chance to score by blasting Fosse with sufficient violence to make him drop the ball. Rose succeeded; he also effectively ended the playing career of an All-Star catcher.

In the 2015 divisional playoffs, Chase Utley (now with the Dodgers) crashed into the Mets’ shortstop Ruben Tejada in an aggressive move to break up a double play. Utley has long been known as a smart baserunner, but he broke Tejada’s leg while making little effort to pretend he was heading for the second base bag.

Were Rose and Utley just taking advantage of the rules?

That’s largely outside the point. Why does baseball encourage plays where one player is given an unmitigated opportunity to injure another? There’s a lagging old-school tough guy mentality that affects baseball in that kind of risky game behavior and also in how baseball treats its fans.

For most of MLB history, teams and owners have been protected from liability for fan injury. When tickets were printed on paper, the fine print on the back contained a disclaimer that fans assumed the liability of injury risk.

Now, the legal doctrine behind that is changing, but why is baseball waiting to be forced to protect the people who buy tickets?

I’ve spent a lot of time in the cheap seats, where you can barely dream of seeing a foul ball reach you. On the other hand, there are several fine minor league parks near my home, and every seat is a good seat. And most of those good seats terrify me, because I sense my vulnerability to a sharply hit foul line drive as I sit behind the dugout.

When I took my daughter to games, I made certain that I sat between her and home plate, and I never dared to stop paying attention to the game action. Does MLB expect every fan to exercise such diligence? Would that prevent every injury?

It’s not a complicated solution. When I go to see the Trenton Thunder or the Wilmington Blue Rocks, I get a seat behind the plate, where I and my family are protected by netting.

MLB likewise provides some protection for those few fans behind home plate, but leaves those along the sidelines entirely vulnerable. With modern technology, the netting needed to protect these fans would not interfere with their view of the game.

As baseball has brought a host of novelties and non-baseball entertainment to ballparks in order to attract children and casual fans more interested in the atmosphere than the game action, the need to protect fans is plain and obvious.

Why are owners waiting for lawsuits and regulations in order to do the right thing?

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