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Crying Foul Over Ballpark Injuries

For years, several MLB teams have resisted doing more to protect fans. Could a threat to a century-old legal precedent change that?

John “Jay” Loos was thrilled.

It was Aug. 29, 2017, and for the first time in about a decade he was going to a baseball game with his three kids: Adam, 30, Eric, 28, and Emma, 26. Jay’s wife and his children’s mother, Jennifer, had died almost exactly eight years earlier, and they wanted to go to a game to commemorate her.

They got to their seats at some point in the first or second inning: in Section 135, beyond first base down the right-field foul line. Emma had left for the bathroom and the concession stands by the time Pirates pitcher Chad Kuhl stepped to the plate in the fifth inning. As Jake Arrieta delivered the 1–2 pitch, Jay, Adam and Eric raised their cups of beer to make a toast in memory of Jennifer. They clinked glasses, with Jay turned right, away from the action on the field. And then ...

Jay’s memory of the scene is just a series of flashes. In telling it, he pieces together traumatic recollections with online videos he’s watched of the incident. Arrieta throws a high slider. Kuhl swings late and lines it 89.2 mph into foul territory down the right-field line and directly into Jay’s left eye.

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Chaos ensues. Nearby fans swarm, hoping to snag the ball as a souvenir. There’s a pool of blood. Adam hurries to get help. Eric stays with Jay. Medical personnel put Jay on a stretcher. They whisk him into the bowels of Wrigley Field. He sees a face with his right eye. It’s Emma. Coming from the bathroom, screaming “Dad!”

Jay is led to a garage-like room to wait for the ambulance, which takes him to the emergency room. There, he hears somebody saying, “His contents are out! His contents are out!”

Parts of his left eye, though not the eyeball itself, were literally outside of his head.

“I’ve grown to know that my eye was completely in pieces,” Loos tells Sports Illustrated more than three years later.

It was not until after midnight that he went into surgery. He spent three days in the hospital. His left eye socket was shattered, and he lost his iris and lens. He had facial lacerations, a hole in his sinus and three broken bones in his jaw. His retina needed to be repaired.

“If you took a Kleenex out of a box and you squished it up in your hand and you threw it on the table,” Loos says of his retina, “that’s what it looked like.”

All told, Loos needed five surgeries. The combined cost of just two of them exceeded $60,000, according to financial records of the charges. He missed four months of work, during which time he was paid 60% of his annual salary. He bought a new car—a 2017 Buick Enclave—with updated safety features so that he could drive despite not being able to see with his left eye; multiple pairs of glasses; and an aluminum stick that he uses to hike—one of his favorite recreational activities. The expenses added up. The accident left him in constant pain and blind in his left eye. But what frustrates Loos most is that it never should’ve happened. His injuries were entirely preventable.

An NBC News investigation from October 2019 found that at least 808 fans reported being injured by baseballs at Major League Baseball games from 2012 to ’19, though the actual number of injuries is likely much higher. These figures do not include those whose injuries occurred at minor league, independent league or amateur games. In recent years, MLB and its teams have taken some measures to make their parks safer. At the 2019 MLB Winter Meetings in San Diego, commissioner Rob Manfred announced that all 30 teams would extend the netting at their stadiums before the 2020 season.

Several teams have added at least some additional netting since then, but currently, only six big-league parks have fully extended netting, from foul pole to foul pole. Five other parks have netting that goes deep down the foul line, but not all the way to the foul poles, while 17 parks have nets that extend to the elbows, the area where the side wall changes direction and angles away from the field. Two parks—Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.—have done even less, with their netting going past the dugouts but short of the elbows. SI reached out to all 30 clubs asking for statistics on foul ball injuries, but none provided them. MLB also declined comment for this story.

For years, clubs have resisted adding nets, essentially because they didn't want to interfere with fans’ views. When MLB issued its first recommendations for extended netting in December 2015, Manfred said in a press release, “Major League Baseball prides itself on providing fans in our ballparks with unparalleled proximity and access to our players and the game taking place on the field.”

Some teams claim engineering challenges prevent them from running netting all the way down the lines. For instance, in response to questions from SI, a Rangers spokesperson said, “The netting at Globe Life Field extends down each foul line and ends where the building geometry changes, making it difficult to run netting the entire length. Balls are not hit directly straight on into that area from home plate.”

But with ballparks re-opened at full capacity this summer, fans across the country have returned to games, where once again foul balls are hitting them. Two different fans on back-to-back days in June were struck by foul balls at Fenway Park, according to local news reports. The first, an unidentified woman, was hospitalized, treated and released, while the second, a man named Rob Redman, was hit in the forehead and fortunately left with nothing more than a bruise. Early last month, a little girl was hit with a foul ball at PNC Park in Pittsburgh (she appeared to be O.K.; the Red Sox and Pirates did not respond to requests for comment).

For more than a century, baseball owners have had nearly automatic protection from lawsuits filed against them for foul-ball injuries because of a pair of legal rulings that created an exemption that has come to be known as the Baseball Rule. But, a series of recent lawsuits—including one Loos filed against MLB and the Cubs—are threatening that previously ironclad immunity. At the same time, a group of injured fans are working with members of Congress to push for netting from foul pole to foul pole at every ballpark and the abolition of the Baseball Rule. Together, these efforts could be what finally forces teams to act.

Loos, recovering in the hospital.

Loos, recovering in the hospital.

Many people point to the fine print on the back of game tickets as the reason fans are responsible for injuries that happen to them at games. Except, this has little to do with the Baseball Rule. The written warning is a way for teams to cover their tracks for when the inevitable happens, but it carries no legal authority.

Congress has never passed federal legislation protecting teams from liability. In all but four states, there are no laws that provide cover for teams sued over fan injuries.

Instead, the Baseball Rule is common law, meaning it was decided by the courts and has been upheld over the years as precedent. The two cases that first established it are more than 100 years old.

In 1913, a Missouri appellate court ruled against a fan named S.J. Crane, who was struck by a foul ball at an American Association game and sued the home team, the Kansas City Blues, for negligence. The state court determined that the dangers of attending a baseball game are common knowledge, and therefore, fans assume the risk of those dangers when they purchase their ticket.

“The idea was this was a risk that was sufficiently dangerous, and that anyone of ordinary intelligence should be able to perceive that when you’re hitting a ball thrown at 80–100 mph it could occasionally go astray,” says Nathaniel Grow, an associate professor of business law and ethics at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, who has studied the Baseball Rule.

A year later, that same Missouri court modified the Baseball Rule slightly. A different fan, Charles Edling, was at a Blues game when a ball sailed through a hole in the protective screen behind home plate and hit him. He sued the team and won. The Blues may have lost the case on account of that hole, but the ruling was still a win for teams and ballpark owners because it set the parameters for avoiding liability. The court ruled that they have a “duty of care” to protect fans—and to maintain that protection—but only those fans seated in the most dangerous areas of the ballpark. That’s why there has been some type of protective barrier directly behind home plate, an area dubbed in those days as “the slaughter pen,” since at least the early 20th century. Otherwise, there were no specifications for where fans were most at risk. As long as the screen wasn’t broken, teams weren’t liable for injuries that occurred as a result of the game.

The two Missouri cases were decided in state courts, so they didn’t set a federal precedent binding courts in other states to follow them. But, over the years when similar cases were heard in other states, those courts generally ruled in favor of the teams, citing the Missouri cases to support their decisions—and thus setting their own precedents. As more and more cases across the country reinforced the precedents, many injured fans stopped filing suits. The Baseball Rule was born.

“If there was negligence on the part of the ballpark, almost always the ballpark won,” says Bob Gorman, co-author of the book Death at the Ballpark, which chronicles more than 2,000 game-related fatalities at baseball games from 1862 to 2014.

Opponents of the Baseball Rule argue it is obsolete. Crane lost his case a year before Babe Ruth made his professional debut. Since then, baseball has modernized, with more advanced workouts and technology used to help players get stronger and hit the ball harder.

The fan experience has changed dramatically, too. As fans have grown attached to their smartphones, teams have installed Wi-Fi at their stadiums, allowing and even encouraging those in attendance to use their phones during games. The league has its MLB Ballpark app, which it promotes as “your mobile companion when visiting your favorite Major League Baseball ballparks.” 

“Today’s game isn’t just what goes on in the field but what goes on all around,” Gorman says. “I think the ballparks, in that respect, are even more responsible because they are diverting the fans’ attention with mascots and contests and loud music and everything else. It’s designed to distract you.”

Stadiums also have less foul territory than ever before, meaning fans are seated closer to the action than they were in the decades following the Baseball Rule’s inception. In an article published in the 2018 William & Mary Law Review, titled The Faulty Law and Economics of the “Baseball Rule,” Grow and his co-author Zachary Flagel found that fans are sitting, on average, 21% closer to the field than they were in 1920.

“Because teams are not subject to liability for most fan injuries under the Baseball Rule,” Grow and Flagel wrote, “clubs have had little incentive to balance fan safety with seating proximity, thus leading teams to chase profits by putting fans ever closer to the field.”

Few legal experts still support the Baseball Rule. Netting has been the more contentious issue when it comes to fans. Those who do not want netting argue that it prevents them from catching foul balls or getting autographs before games. Others say they don’t want to watch games through nets, though many fan safety advocates say this point doesn’t hold up. The types of nets used today are so thin that they don’t obstruct the field, and the most expensive seats in stadiums—right behind home plate—have been behind netting for decades. Recent polls show support for netting is growing among fans. An October 2017 Marist College poll found that 60% of fans believe MLB parks should require netting, and a more recent ESPN poll from June 2019 found that 78% of fans support netting.

As Grow argues, the more we know now about foul-ball injuries and the unwillingness of many ballpark owners to protect fans because they are insulated from lawsuits, “it definitely does raise questions about the continued wisdom of the rule.”

One recent court case, Summer J. v. United States Baseball Federation, evaluated the Baseball Rule through a modern lens. A 12-year-old girl was attending a U.S. Baseball game at Blair Field, on the California State University, Long Beach campus, when a foul ball struck her in the face, damaging her optic nerve. Her family sued in L.A. County Court. The judge quickly threw out the case, citing the Baseball Rule. But in February 2020, a California Court of Appeals judge took aim at baseball’s longstanding legal shield, saying that its automatic protections were outdated and sending the case back to the lower court to be tried again. Afterall, Justice Dennis Perluss wrote, Manfred himself had contradicted the Baseball Rule’s assertion that fans are primarily accountable for their own safety by saying at the Winter Meetings in 2019 that MLB clubs could do more to protect them. In effect, according to the judge, by acknowledging that teams could do something to reduce injuries, Manfred, whether he intended to or not, shifted the safety responsibility from the fans to the teams.

“To be sure, foul balls are part of baseball,” Perluss wrote. “But as the entity responsible for operating Blair Field on that date, U.S. Baseball had a duty not only to use due care not to increase the risks to spectators inherent in the game but also to take reasonable measures that would increase safety and minimize those risks without altering the nature of the game.”

Perluss sent the case back to the lower court to be evaluated on its merits: Did U.S. Baseball take reasonable measures to increase safety and minimize risk? The U.S. Baseball Federation appealed the ruling to the State Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. A new jury trial date is set to begin Oct. 25. (U.S. Baseball did not respond to a request for comment.)

Says Grow, “Basically the California [appeals] court just said. … We just don’t really think that the prior precedent of the Baseball Rule is persuasive anymore.”

Other injured fans, their lawyers and third-party advocates are likely to echo Perluss’s arguments, pointing especially to Manfred’s statements.

And each court that accepts those arguments chips away at the validity of the Baseball Rule. Just as a judicial ruling can establish a precedent, it can also reverse one.

Albert Almora Jr. was visibly shaken after a foul ball off his bat struck a young girl in 2019.

Albert Almora Jr. was visibly shaken after a foul ball off his bat struck a young girl in 2019.

The October after he was struck, Loos hired an attorney, Colin Dunn, to represent him in a lawsuit against the Cubs and MLB.

Illinois is one of the four states that has a law protecting ball clubs: In 1992, its General Assembly passed the Baseball Facility Liability Act, which shields teams from lawsuits in the event that a person is struck by a ball or bat—with two exceptions. The first echoes the precedent established in the Missouri cases, which said teams had to protect fans sitting in the most dangerous areas of the park and maintain that protection. The second is when any “willful and wanton conduct” on the part of the facility’s owner causes the injury. The statute defines willful and wanton conduct as: “an actual or deliberate intention to cause harm or which, if not intentional, shows an utter indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others.” To win the suit against the team, Dunn would have to prove the Cubs didn’t uphold their duty to protect Loos and engaged in willful and wanton conduct that caused his injuries. (The Cubs declined to comment.)

Generally, MLB has not been named in Baseball Rule cases because the league itself doesn’t own the ballparks; the teams do. It can create rules for how teams should operate their parks, but it hasn’t done that. Until recently, MLB has mostly avoided the subject.

MLB is subject to public pressure, though. In 2015, shortly after taking over as commissioner, Manfred called for an “in-depth study” of the 30 big-league ballparks, which led to recommendations—though not requirements—issued to enhance fan safety.

“Clubs are encouraged to implement or maintain netting … that shields from line-drive foul balls all field-level seats that are located between the near ends of both dugouts,” the league said in a press release.

This was the first time MLB formally acknowledged teams could (and even should) take action to protect fans. More importantly, Manfred voluntarily decided to involve the league in these efforts, which proved consequential in that case in California.

Now, Dunn says, there’s no going back.

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“The legal doctrine is called voluntary undertaking,” he says. “Once you’ve decided to wade into something like that, you have to perform it with reasonable care.”

That’s why Dunn took the atypical step of including MLB in Loos’s suit: He is alleging that MLB didn’t conduct its study into foul-ball injuries with reasonable care, because if it had, it would have required teams to extend their netting back in 2015, Dunn argues, and Loos would not have been injured because his seats would have been protected.

Then, with respect to the Cubs, Dunn is arguing the team’s conduct was “willful and wanton” because MLB did recommend that ballparks extend their netting, and while some teams followed the league’s request, the Cubs ignored them. And, he argues, if they had extended their netting, Loos would have been protected.

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On Aug. 25, 2018, Linda Goldbloom went to Dodger Stadium with her family to celebrate her recent 79th birthday and 59th wedding anniversary. A mother of three and grandmother of seven, Goldbloom was seated in the loge level, slightly to the first-base side behind home plate and just above the protective netting, when she was struck in the head by a foul ball in the top of the ninth inning. She died a few days later.

Goldbloom’s death did not become public until ESPN’s William Weinbaum reported it on Outside the Lines on Feb. 4, 2019. The Dodgers didn’t acknowledge it until responding to Weinbaum’s request for comment. As reported on Outside the Lines, her cause of death, according to the Los Angeles County coroner’s report, was an “acute intracranial hemorrhage due to history of blunt force trauma.”

The Dodgers were among the clubs that were more reluctant to extend their netting when Manfred had made his initial recommendations. An incident from 48 years earlier had shown that they had little to worry about in the way of liability. In 1970, a fan named Alan Fish, 14, was sitting in the second row along the first-base line when he was struck above and behind his left ear with a line drive. He stayed for the rest of the game, but when he got home, his parents took him to a hospital, where he was checked in the next morning. By that point, he was vomiting and unable to walk. At 9:30 p.m. local time, he suffered a convulsion, which destroyed his brain function. He was taken off life support three days later. Until Goldbloom’s death, Fish was the only fan to be killed because he was hit with a foul ball at an MLB game. His parents sued the Dodgers for failing to provide their son with a safe place to watch the game, but the case was dismissed because of the Baseball Rule.

“Baseball knew then that it was deadly, and they should’ve done something then about the problem,” Gorman says.

The Goldblooms settled with the Dodgers, and while the terms of their agreement are confidential, the family has not kept quiet. Linda’s widower, Erwin, and daughter, Jana, have repeatedly told the story of what happened to her, in various interviews and press conferences, advocating for fully extended protective netting—longer and taller. (The Dodgers declined to comment.)

Goldbloom’s death came shortly after a few other injuries to fans caught the public’s attention. In September 2017, Todd Frazier lined a foul ball 105 mph into the face of a two-year-old girl seated six rows back from the field, just beyond the far end of the third-base dugout at Yankee Stadium. Her father, Geoffrey Jacobson, told the New York Post that she suffered multiple skull fractures, injuries to both eyes and bleeding on her brain. A clip of the incident went viral on social media.

“That was a galvanizing moment,” says Andy Zlotnick, a Manhattan real estate executive and lawyer who was hit in the face at Yankee Stadium in 2011. “The Yankees refused to deal with it until they absolutely had to when this little baby got slammed.” (The Yankees did not respond to requests for comment.)

“I don't care about the damn view of a fan,” Brian Dozier, who was playing second base for the Twins that game, said afterward. “It's all about safety. I still have a knot in my stomach.”

Amazingly, Jacobson’s daughter has since made a full recovery. In early 2020, he told the Post, “At this point she gets to live like a normal 4-year-old. There are no more eye patches, no more restrictions. Just periodic doctor appointment checkups.” He called his daughter’s recovery “nothing short of a miracle.”

Dozier hasn’t been the only player to speak out about the need to protect fans. The year before, Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis sent a line drive into a different little girl’s face.

“What year is this? 2016? It’s 2016 and fans keep getting hit by foul balls when you’re supposed to have a net to protect the fans,” Galvis told reporters. “The fans give you the money, so you should protect them, right? We’re worried about speeding up the game. Why don’t you put up a net and protect all the fans?”

The Phillies responded by finally installing netting at Citizens Bank Park—but only to the far end of the dugouts. They extended netting to the elbows after the 2019 season. (The Phillies declined to comment.)

Public outrage became too much for the holdouts to withstand. After the 2017 season, every team extended its park’s netting to the far end of the dugouts. But that wasn’t enough to protect everyone. On May 29, 2019, then Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. yanked a 100 mph foul ball that struck a two-year-old girl sitting down the third-base line at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Almora let out an agonizing yell before slashing his bat down in anger, taking a knee and burying his head in his arm. He went to a security guard to ask about the girl between innings, and the broadcast captured him sobbing in the arms of the security guard as she consoled him. (The Astros did not respond to requests for comment.) After that season is when Manfred made his most recent announcement about all 30 teams extending the netting at their ballparks.

Zlotnick has continued to press MLB and teams to do more to protect fans. He keeps a comprehensive record of injuries and uses his Twitter account to publicize them. He’s formed a coalition of injured fans, and together they put pressure on the league and lobby government officials for help. Their ultimate goal is to make it so every baseball stadium has netting extended from foul pole to foul pole. He points to the growing public support for netting at parks and Manfred’s recommendations as evidence that their efforts are working.

“I feel a little like Sisyphus pushing the rock up the mountain,” Zlotnick says. “It’s just been a long slog, but we’ve been persistent.”

Every year, fans are forced to make trips to the hospital after being injured by a foul ball; this fan was taken out of Dodger Stadium on a stretcher in 2019.

Every year, fans are forced to make trips to the hospital after being injured by a foul ball; this fan was taken out of Dodger Stadium on a stretcher in 2019.

On July 21, Manfred went to Washington D.C. for a 4 p.m. meeting with Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) at the U.S. Capitol Building. Durbin wanted to talk with the commissioner about the league’s progress in making ballparks safer.

The day before, Durbin held a Zoom conference with Zlotnick, Loos and three others whose lives have been altered by foul ball injuries. The group had previously talked about fan safety with Durbin in 2019, and he wanted an update before he met with Manfred.

Durbin, 76, has served in Congress for nearly four decades and has been the Senate Democratic Whip, the party’s second-highest ranking member in the chamber, since 2005. He first became aware of the fan-safety fight from an episode of the HBO sports news show Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel. The episode, which premiered on April 19, 2016, was about the dangers of foul balls and featured an experiment being conducted by Washington State University’s sports science lab. They concluded it was nearly impossible for fans to get out of the way of line drives hit into the stands, even if they were fully paying attention.

My God, we’re defenseless, Durbin thought as he watched. Sometime after that, Durbin was going to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. He wanted to take his grandchildren with him but decided against it when he realized his seats were not behind netting. “I wouldn’t bring them,” he says. “It’s just not safe.”

Durbin started to look into what he could do to help. He reached out to people he knew in baseball and connected with injured fans. He read up on the Baseball Rule and learned more about netting. He and Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) wrote letters to Manfred, calling on teams to extend netting down to the left- and right-field corners at their ballparks and to publicly report data about fan injuries.

Some teams were more receptive to extending the netting than others. After the White Sox did it in July 2019, Durbin called the team’s owner Jerry Reinsdorf, whom he refers to as “an old friend” and “my buddy.” Reinsdorf told Durbin that MLB wanted all 30 teams to fully extend netting, but the owners needed to be the ones to make the decision.

This isn’t entirely true. Manfred does have the authority to require owners to fully extend the netting at their parks, but his main responsibility is to represent the interests of the 30 teams and their owners. They’re his boss.

When it comes to getting the owners to do something they don’t want to do, typically the pressure has to come from outside the league. As a high-ranking senator, Durbin has leveraged his position to draw attention to the issue of fan safety and to get others to support the push for netting at ballparks. He’s done so with multiple open letters to Manfred, press releases and op-ed pieces in national newspapers, such as his July 2019 column in USA Today, in which he declared, “The league and the teams must do more to keep their fans safe.”

If MLB doesn’t act, Durbin’s options include working with members of Congress to hold public hearings. This is what happened during the performance enhancing drugs crisis of the ’90s and early 2000s. Owners and team employees don’t want to answer questions about fan safety and the Baseball Rule under oath and with the threat of perjury, especially not in front of a TV audience.

“It’s a sport that can’t afford bad news,” Zlotnick says the day after his meeting with Durbin. “And fan injuries is bad news.”

Durbin could also try to pass legislation that would mandate a national standard for netting at ballparks and/or reverse the Baseball Rule’s liability protections. Or, he could do what plenty of other members of Congress before him have done, and say he’ll consider revoking MLB’s antitrust exemption.

In reality, at least for now, these two options are only threats. Congress has plenty on its plate without adding baseball, and threatening baseball’s antitrust exemption has long been congress members' favorite stick against MLB; for them to follow through would likely take a monumental issue. Durbin knows all this. So for now, he is applying pressure publicly and working with Manfred to get teams to extend netting. Among other things, Durbin has asked Manfred to get teams to share their data about foul-ball injuries. He says he knows teams keep track of this, and if this information were public, fans would be better informed when buying tickets. Similarly, he’s told Manfred he wants teams to disclose which seats are behind netting and which ones are unprotected.

“The evidence is there,” Durbin says. “Many of them do have records.”

Overall, Durbin is pleased with how his July meeting with Manfred went. The commissioner told him the league is working on another in-depth report about the progress of netting at stadiums, which will determine what happens next. He isn’t ready to give MLB an ultimatum yet, because he says for the most part the league has cooperated, even if less than a third of parks have netting that extends from foul pole to foul pole. Durbin says Manfred and some owners have cited engineering challenges to explain why they’ve been slow to do more.

“Let me find out how far they’ve gone, who is dragging their feet, what the reasons might be,” Durbin says. “If it’s engineering, I want to give them a little breathing space. But if it’s just folks being defiant, to hell with them. I’m ready to fight them.”

Manfred has encouraged teams to do more to protect fans—and in doing so may have inadvertently opened a legal door for suits against clubs and MLB.

Manfred has encouraged teams to do more to protect fans—and in doing so may have inadvertently opened a legal door for suits against clubs and MLB.

Even if every MLB stadium is fully netted, there would still be plenty of fans at risk when they attend baseball games.

There are more than 100 affiliated minor-league teams, more than 80 independent-league professional teams (including some in Canada) and thousands of high-level amateur teams in the U.S. Many of them don’t have adequate netting or the financial resources to pay for it. Grow calculated the total cost to be roughly $120,000 to extend the netting about 300 feet down both lines, a small amount for billion-dollar franchises but not exactly affordable for small-town teams.

One possible solution would be for MLB to fund the renovations, but it's unlikely the league would do so willingly. MLB and the minor leagues have a contentious relationship, and investing in the minors doesn’t seem to be a high priority for MLB.

If Congress doesn’t act, local lawmakers could be better suited to legislate netting, either on a city, county or state level. In 2017, Rafael Espinal, a former New York City councilman, began drafting legislation that, if passed, would’ve forced the Yankees and Mets to extend the netting at their stadiums. By the end of the year, both clubs announced they would do so voluntarily, ending the efforts for an official statute in the city.

Perhaps the best place to look is the same place this whole thing began: in the courts. Loos’s case against the Cubs was dismissed because of the Illinois statute, but he is appealing the ruling and his case against MLB is still ongoing. A few things still have to happen for this to go to trial. But, if it does, things could get interesting. Dunn says he would present evidence showing that if Wrigley Field had extended its netting to where it is now, Loos wouldn’t have gotten hit. He’d try to prove that, as a result of Manfred’s statements, MLB voluntarily assumed the responsibility of making ballparks safer and failed to perform it with reasonable care.

As expected, Dunn is confident they’d win if the case went to trial. Grow, the Indiana professor, is less certain, not because he disagrees with Dunn’s arguments, but because he’s skeptical a jury would side against MLB. Either way, MLB’s lawyers would be in the position of victim blaming, and Manfred and other league officials could be forced to testify.

If the case doesn’t go to trial, that won’t be the end of things: More suits have been and will continue to be filed challenging the Baseball Rule and the statutes in place. Look no further than the South Side of Chicago, where Dunn is representing a man named Edward Rybarski, who was injured at Guaranteed Rate Field in 2018. Dunn is taking the same strategy, suing the team and the league; this time, both cases were allowed to proceed.

For the first time in more than 100 years, the Baseball Rule is vulnerable. As more cases are heard and if more courts rule in favor of the injured fans, the foundations of the precedent will grow weaker.

Fan safety advocates are hoping it doesn’t have to get that far. They are challenging the Baseball Rule because they want teams to extend netting and figure if ballpark owners won’t do it to prevent injuries, maybe they’ll do it to avoid legal and financial penalties. They are working to get to a point where teams won’t need a century-old precedent to shield them from lawsuits, because nobody would get hurt.

This story has been updated to reflect that the Great American Ballpark and Tropicana Field netting extends past the dugouts, but short of the elbows.

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