After fan is hit by bat, calls to end ‘baseball rule’

It was a horrible scene Friday night at Fenway Park in Boston when a woman was hit by the shards of a bat.

Tonya Carpenter is in serious condition after suffering head injuries. She’s expected to survive.

You’ve perhaps seen the small print on the backside of tickets for baseball games: Not responsible for injuries from balls and bats. Is that true? Pretty much.

“That is a longstanding legal principle that fans who chose to sit where balls or shards of bat could hit them have a duty to pay attention for their own safety,” Steven A. Adelman, a sports attorney focusing on venue safety, tells the Boston Globe, which is owned by John Henry, the owner of the Red Sox.

But the so-called “Baseball Rule” was adopted when the game was a lot different. Things happen a lot faster now. The sport also creates more “sideshows” to distract fans from what’s happening on the field.

“The Baseball Rule is ripe for change,” Martin W. Healy, head of the Massachusetts Bar Association, said. “The immunity the baseball rule has provided to baseball has to be tossed out.”

The Red Sox, one of the richest teams in sports, probably won’t be helping the woman, Tonya Carpenter, with her medical expenses then.

Monte Hoske knows how that goes. When his 4-year-old daughter, Alexis, had her skull fractured by a foul ball in Kansas City, Mo., in 2011, he couldn’t get any help from the Kansas City Royals. He asked three times. He was turned down three times. His attorney told him not to bother filing a lawsuit.

There are exceptions. In Missouri last year a court ruled that flying hot dogs aren’t covered by the Baseball Rule, finding in favor of a fan who was hit in the eye when the Royals’ mascot threw a hot dog into the crowd.

Only one fan has ever been killed by an object in the stands at a Major League Baseball game, according to Robert Gorman, who wrote “Death at the Ballpark.”

While Alan Fish, 14, was the only fan killed by a foul ball at a major league game (Los Angeles Dodgers, May 16, 1970), one fan at a minor league game and 49 fans at amateur games were fatally injured by foul balls.

In addition, balls thrown into the stands killed one fan at a major league game (Clarence Stagemyer at Griffith Stadium, September 29, 1943), one at a minor league game, and 17 at amateur games. Bat blows killed eight fans, while collisions with players resulted in two deaths. (editor’s note: The book was written in 2007, before a Texas fan fell to his death chasing a ball thrown into the stands.)

The most unusual foul ball fatality occurred on October 25, 1902, at an amateur game in Morristown, Ohio.

Stanton Walker, 20, was seated between Frank Hyde, who was scoring the game, and Leroy Wilson, another fan. During the course of the game, Hyde asked Wilson for a knife so he could sharpen his pencil. Wilson opened the blade of his penknife and handed it to Walker to pass along to Hyde. Just as Walker took the knife, a foul ball struck him on the hand and drove the blade into his chest over his heart. Walker bled to death within moments.

In the absence of any help from baseball, Tonya Carpenter’s brother in law has set up a GoFundMe page to help with her expenses.

Commenters urged people not to donate because “the Red Sox will take care of everything.”

No they won’t.

  • Gary F

    The concept of assumed risk is being thrown out the window. I wonder how many folks are spending too much staring at the phones and not the game.

    • Neil

      In what respect has assumed risk been thrown out the window here?

    • Or watching the big video scoreboard. I do watch my smartphone during the game. But that’s because MLB provides an app intended to be used at the game. I think that’s the point of the MBA chief — the watching of baseball games is different today than 50 years ago, and baseball has (appropriately, I think) encouraged the distractions.

      • Gary F

        Didn’t look at it that way, MLB with their apps, Twingo, and big scoreboards are providing plenty of their own distractions. I could see a skillfully crafted lawsuit from that angle.

        You have an assumed risk of getting hurt at a ballgame, it’s inherent to the game, it’s what makes it fun to get right behind the dugouts.

        But then, I still shake my head of people doing the wave when they should be watching the game. Years ago Puckett was up with a full count and he was hitting one foul ball after another, with a couple of guys on base in the bottom of the eighth with Twins behind and the crowd was doing the wave. I wouldn’t feel so bad if someone got hurt doing the wave when they should be watching the game.

      • Neil

        Those expensive seats are a lot closer to the field than they used to be too.

        • John

          Didn’t this happen in Boston? Isn’t Fenway a really old park? (they could have moved the seats closer though, I’m just wondering).

          • Neil

            Looking at some older photos, I’m pretty sure they have, but I was thinking more generally.

          • John

            Fair enough. I was mostly thinking out loud, and realized that this example may have flown directly in the face of your argument.

        • Foul Ballz

          Not at Fenway, but overall, as I wrote on one of my posts, they are about 7% closer in new parks.

      • Gary F

        And they use more and more maple bats these days. Ash bats break but don’t fly into many pieces like maple bats do.

        • Foul Ballz

          True. The main issue a few years ago was the grain. MLB acted on that and made some regulation about the grain structure for maple bats. Since peaking at just over 1 broken bat/ game it’s dropped close to 3/4ths a bat now.

      • Postal Customer

        Not to mention that baseball is frequently boring, so there is an even greater chance of being distracted during the game.

  • Mark in Ohio

    In as much as I sympathize with the victim in this case, I don’t think that the baseball rule should be abolished. I feel that we are becoming far too risk-adverse as a society, and you need to take responsibility for your choices. In many areas, we aren’t even giving people the choice anymore of whether or not they want to do a (slightly) risky activity. Think of all of the playgrounds that have been shut down because of liability risk. If you go to a game where balls regularly head into the stands, and get seats in that region, then you are assuming the risk. It’s not exactly an unknown event.

    • John

      How many playgrounds have been shut down because of liability? I’m aware of zero in my city. (They seem to be building more, actually)

      • killershrew

        I don’t know of entire playgrounds that have been shut down, but they have certainly upgraded a lot of playground equipment because of liability issues. Its becoming increasingly rare to find metal slides, seesaws, climbable rocket towers, merry-go-rounds, and other such equipment from our childhoods. Even the ground sand is getting replaced with recycled chunks of rubber.

        • joetron2030

          Not in my neighborhood. Plenty of spinning, sliding, and climb-able equipment included with the newer playground equipment.

        • John

          I see no problem with upgrading equipment on playgrounds to make it safer. My kids, at least, don’t seem to be having any less fun on the plastic versions of the metal things you describe than they would on the originals. Rockets have been largely replaced by tree house looking things, metal slides with plastic (which, frankly, are far less blisteringly hot when the sun is hitting them). There’s a park near my house that has a plastic slide with roughly a 20 ft vertical drop, and it’s steep! really steep!

          See-saws, yep, still there, though plastic. Merry go rounds – available in some form or another.

          I’d say that most of the things from my childhood have been replaced by stuff that’s way cooler for them than what I had.

          Related – children aren’t good at risk analysis. Their brains aren’t ready for it. They are, however, infinitely creative and will find all sorts of new and inventive ways to hurt themselves. Mine certainly have.

          • Kurt O

            We frequently go to an indoor playground in Eagan (Good Times Park), and they’ve got slides, a giant climbing web and a bouncy pillow. That stuff is more risky than anything I had access to as a kid, but in the many MANY hours I’ve been there I’ve never seen a kid get hurt beyond minor bumps and bruises.

            Giant indoor playgrounds in MN are godsends in the winter.

  • Neil

    I saw a report this morning that the players had requested additional netting in the last CBA negotiation. I thought that was odd. I guess either it was something to negotiate away or they really don’t like signing autographs.

  • John O.

    Don’t overlook the fact that patrons at hockey games always need to be on the lookout for stray pucks as well. Just ask Brian Engblom:

    • Gary F

      or parts of cars flying off at a NASCAR event.

      • Mark in Ohio

        It’s a good point that not everyone may be aware of. I looked that up earlier this morning, and both Nascar and Hockey appear to be protected by the same sort of liability disclaimer. It’s not unique to baseball. That said, I have wondered if you get to keep the car parts that fly into the stands, like you do with baseballs?

        • Jeff

          I think Johnny Cash had a song about that. (One Piece at a Time)

      • joetron2030

        Or Indy racing. The woman that was hit by the debris wasn’t even trackside.

  • crystals

    I’m just glad outlets seemed to have pretty quickly pulled the photos of the woman’s face–taken while she was still in the stands, before she was put on the stretcher. I understand the instinct to run them (particularly before it was clear how serious her injuries were), but c’mon. There was no no need for that.

    And, of course, I’m more glad that it sounds like she’s going to make it. Scary stuff.

  • Postal Customer

    From what I understand, it was a maple bat, which have caused problems in the past. Couldn’t there at least be a PA and/or scoreboard announcement to that effect?

    “Maple bat in use; pay close attention to game”

    Of course, we don’t even know if Ms Carpenter was even distracted. I imagine it’s possible to get injured even if you see the bat coming.

    • jack

      Maple bats that shatter… deflated footballs… I am not sure which is worse. When my son quit hockey prior to 2nd year of Bantums, I was relieved. (The year a high school boy from Eden Prairie was paralyzed while playing the Roseville hockey team) Huge fears of flying pucks and the obvious ither ‘risks’ involved.

  • NotMy1stRodeo

    I don’t see how you could possibly “know” that the Red Sox won’t help this woman. Red Sox CEO Larry Luchino was right there consoling the man she was with and he followed the stretcher to the nearby hospital. You may be right, but you really have no idea.

    • jack

      its Boston, that’s how.

      • No, consider it a guess, but also consider why it’s a guess. As soon as the team helps the woman, it seems to me they’ve set a precedent, thus negating the Baseball Rule. I don’t expect someone as smart as John Henry to forfeit that, though he may give the woman season tickets.

        Good legal judgement doesn’t necessarily preclude compassion.

        • Jeff C.

          I completely agree with you as to why the Sox won’t help, even though it would buy them some good publicity. But why are people thinking they will pay the bills instead of the player who hit the ball? Could he pay her bills without setting precedent that the teams will hate?

  • Foul Ballz

    The placing of additional netting is ill conceived. Look at the issue of intimacy of the game, between players and fans, especially kids. Netting will not only interfere with viewing, but those 15-20balls that are tossed in by coaches, players and bat balls and girls will not be possible anymore. The ease of getting autographs would be gone. What we’d have is football and hockey. It would become impersonal. There are roughly 45 fouls hit per game. 30 of these find their way into the stands in some way. Those souvenirs are virtually gone too….unless you sit in the upper deck….assuming the netting doesn’t extend up there too. But maybe it should since fans trampling one another to get 1 of the 4 fouls going into the seats is dangerous too, more so even.

    The better solutions?
    1) pay attention. You can use the bright and flashy lights as an excuse, but that’s what it is, an excuse.

    2) realize that accidents happen. People will get hurt doing ANYTHING. When we walk into a baseball game though, we are accepting that an accident can happen to us. WE assume the risk. It’s up to us to ready ourselves–bring a glove, sit defensively to protect your kids, sit in the nosebleeds, etc. there are MANY other options.

    3) if you REALLY want some type of added protection, why have I not heard one single person mention plexiglass or whatever hockey rinks use now? This panes take a 150 MPH clump of rubber and rarely break. Why can’t we not obstruct views y adding a small pane of that down the baselines?

    I’ve done a great deal of research on foul balls. I have yet to see anyone mention that simple fix.

  • Nate Lehman

    Regardless if you are watching the game or I phone
    There are still shards of wood flying at you. even if you were paying attention, it’s not like you can just duck behind a tiny seat during a packed game. And would it really hurt baseball to help pay for the medical ? Be a good sport about it …