The Baltimore Orioles' pie-smashing victories are over. Center fielder Adam Jones tweeted out the news to fans that the ritual of smashing a pie into a victorious player's face will end citing safety reasons.
At sports events, we typically worry about injuries the players sustain, and usually not in the form of pies. Spectators go to games to have a good time with family and friends and root on their team, but the bleachers can be just, if not more, dangerous than the field.
Fans face serious risks at games from everything from foul balls to fly away umbrellas to high-speed hockey pucks. The resulting injuries can leave patients with lifelong conditions, or worse. When injuries do occur, it is often not legally clear who is at fault.
A few years ago a 50-year-old man was struck in the face by a foul ball at a Yankees game that shattered the bones of his left eye socket. The injury totaled $100,000 in medical bills, $25,000 of which the victim had to pay himself. The Yankees claimed to have no liability in the case, and Andy Zoltnick is taking them to court.
Tickets for most sports events usually include some form of “the bearer of this ticket assumes all risks,” meaning that any injuries that occur during the game or event are the sole responsibility of the spectator.
At some level this makes sense; we watch sports for their unpredictability. But there are safety measures, like banning umbrellas, that sports arenas can take to make the games safer for spectators. Typically baseball fields do not put up netting between the first and third base lines that would protect fans sitting in the front rows from foul balls. These seats are usually more expensive and earn more money for the stadiums.
According to a study by Bloomberg, about 1,750 baseball fans are injured each year. By comparison, the study noted that batters are hit by a pitch about 1,536 times a year.
Major League Baseball owners met last December to discuss a range of issues, one of which was the growing number of spectator injuries. The result of the meeting was not revolutionary; the new policy will ‘encourage' teams to extend netting behind the home plate an extra 70 feet down the foul lines (where the dugout is). The new policy also asks teams to “explore ways to educate their fans.” The "policy" is more of a gentle suggestion.
In 2002 when a 13-year-old girl was killed by a hockey puck at a game, the National Hockey League mandated protective netting. Baseball owners are not displaying the same commitments.
The New York Times reported that safety concerns have changed in baseball fields, making new safety measures important. Foul lines are closer to stands, pitchers throw faster balls, and batters hit harder, all making the risk higher for spectators.
In 2010 a young girl was hit in the head by a foul ball at an Atlanta Braves game, resulting in a traumatic brain injury. Though the Braves raised the assumption of risk defense , a judge allowed the case to move forward. The case is still underway.
Baseball team owners need to step up and protect the fans that make their games possible.