After a 39-year-old firefighter named Shannon Stone fell to his death while lunging for a ball at a Texas Rangers game, Red Sox players lamented the tragedy. “It’s a freak thing, and it’s very unfortunate,’’ said outfielder Darnell McDonald. He’s right, to a point. The Rangers, too, emphasized the freakishness of the accident. But then they did something sensible: They added warning signs and raised the level of the railings in some parts of the stands.
That was important, because statistics show that stadium falls aren’t actually all that rare. Since last summer, no fewer than seven spectators of three pro sports have plunged from the stands. Four of them died, including 2-year-old Lucas Tang, who fell out of a luxury box while watching a Los Angeles Lakers basketball game.
In fact, just days after the Texas Rangers tragedy, a fan tumbled out of an upper-deck seat while watching the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby in Phoenix. He hung there like a bungee jumper, dangling above horrified fans, while his brother and a friend held on and grasped for his belt to pull him back in. He survived, but Major League Baseball is now on notice.
While drinking may have played a role in a few of the incidents, the evidence suggests that railings are simply too low to contain all the action in the stands. This is especially the case at baseball games, where diving for foul balls is a time-honored tradition.
Fenway Park, it happens, has the game’s most auspicious precipice, the Green Monster, and the team now sells seats atop it. There are also many new luxury boxes with especially steep stairs and low railings. The operators of Fenway Park, Gillette Stadium, and the TD Garden – along with all the college and high-school venues set to reopen their doors this fall – need to review their seating plans in light of the latest incidents.
If another fan accidentally tumbles to his or her death – here or anywhere else – it won’t be a freak accident, but a case of negligence.