No one will die at a baseball game today. Maybe that explains why Robert Gorman and David Weeks are smiling and laughing; or maybe it’s Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” pulsing in the overhead speakers at Luigi & Sons; or it could be the ravioli appetizers.
Welcome to Rock Hill, South Carolina. It’s fall, the air is cool and everyone is talking college football, except for Gorman. From a cozy booth inside this small Italian restaurant, squeezed between retail shops off North Cherry Road, he speaks in a measured tone across the bright red table top decorated with plastic red roses set in a fine 2007 Pinot Grigio bottle. Between bites of a light lunch the subject shifts to a morbidly fascinating discussion of baseball and death.
It’s a subject Gorman (and co-author Weeks) are intimate. The pair co-authored the book, Death at the Ballpark: A Comprehensive Study of Game-Related Fatalities of Players, Other Personnel and Spectators in Amateur and Professional Baseball, 1862-2007. According to their research more than 850 fans, stadium employees and players have been killed while attending a baseball game from 1862-2007. From beanings, collisions, violence, health, weather and batted balls, Gorman and Weeks chronicle the deaths of many of the cases over a 140-year period.
According a study published by Bloomberg, 1,750 fans per year get hurt by baseballs at Major League Baseball games. The study revealed the injuries are from “batted balls, mostly fouls, at major-league games, or at least twice every three games … That’s more often than a batter is hit by a pitch. Unlike the National Hockey League, which mandated netting behind the goal line and higher Plexiglas above the side boards after a teenage fan was hit by a puck and died in 2002, Major League Baseball has done little to reduce the risk. Its policy is that each team is responsible for spectator safety.”
The article, which is worth reading in full, recaps a handful of terrifying incidents from the past few years, but also outlines the dilemma: The possibility of grabbing a foul ball — however slim — helps draw people to the game and can convince them to pay extra for seats with more action.
Despite warning signs and announcements warning fans of the dangers of batted and thrown balls, there’s no guarantee everyone will pay attention throughout a game. In fact, the Bloomberg obtained data from the operations of first-aid booths at Turner Field, Marlins Park and Safeco Field between 2011-2014 that revealed, “… there were about 750 injuries reported to stadium first-aid booths at games attended by approximately 31.6 million spectators. That translates into 23.7 injuries per million attendees — or an estimated 1,756 injuries last season, when 74 million people went to games.”