Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has only been in office for seven months. He’s already being sued.
A nationwide class action lawsuit against Manfred and the office of the commissioner was filed in mid-July. The complaint alleges baseball games have become unsafe for fans and Major League Baseball has not done enough to protect the people in the stands.
According to the lawsuit, filed by Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, tens of millions of people attend MLB games every year and several of them suffer preventable injuries such as concussions and skull fractures when objects leave the playing field.
Hagens Berman claims 1,750 spectators are hurt each year by baseballs that fly in to the stands, a number that comes from a late 2014 study performed by Bloomberg News.
We saw a potentially dangerous situation at Petco Park recently. In a July 22 game between the Padres and Giants, Melvin Upton Jr.’s bat was shattered and the barrel flew in to the protective netting directly behind home plate (video was captured by a pair of fans who were kind enough to share video with NBC 7 SportsWrap):
The safety netting worked wonderfully, and that is one of the main focuses of the lawsuit. The plaintiffs in the case (MLB season ticket holders) are asking Commissioner Manfred to require the netting that is seen directly behind home plate be extended from foul pole to foul pole in every MLB and minor league baseball facility by the start of the 2016 season. The suit also calls for the league to establish a program to study foul ball injuries.
“Despite the commissioner’s statements about MLB’s duty to spectator safety, despite his responsibility, and despite his awareness of the pattern and severity of spectator injuries, the commissioner has failed to act and failed to follow the path of other professional sports in the U.S. that have taken readily available and relatively inexpensive steps to protect spectators,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP.
The suit alleges that the commissioner has actively increased distractions and entertainment in the parks to appeal to younger fans, including enhanced larger video screens and displays, creating the potential for even more catastrophic injuries.
In early June a woman attending a Red Sox game was hit in the head by a broken bat at Fenway Park. She was taken to the hospital with what were considered at the time life-threatening injuries. Manfred spoke after that incident at the studios of MLB Network.
"When you have an issue like this, an incident like this, you have to go back and re-evaluate where you are on all of your safety issues, and trust me, we will do that," Manfred said.
There has been only one recorded fatality from an object flying to stands at a Major League Baseball game, in 1970 when a 14-year-old boy was killed after being hit by a foul ball.
There is one ballpark in the United States that already has safety netting from foul pole to foul pole: Dick Howser Stadium at Florida State University.
MLB has what it refers to as “minimal standards” to guide teams in putting up safety netting and it’s up to each individual franchise to decide how much area they want to cover.