Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times writes about the recent death of Texas Rangers fan Shannon Stone, who died after falling over a railing in pursuit of a ball tossed by an outfielder, and how, during this week's Home Run Derby, it was as if nothing had changed.
There was the guy in checkered Bermuda shorts who lunged to catch a ball just before falling into a swimming pool less than five feet deep. There was the guy in the polo shirt who wrestled a ball from the clutches of a woman while both tangled on a concrete floor.
Then there was Keith Carmickle, the guy who reached too far in attempting to catch a homer by Prince Fielder and was left dangling 20 feet above the pool deck before his brother and a friend pulled him to safety.
While Stone's death was a tragedy, and was preventable to boot, what happened to him is rare. You might recall that when the footage of Stone's fall was initially broadcast, one of the Athletics' broadcasters actually laughed. He didn't do so because he was a terrible person. He did so because what happened initially looked more funny than dangerous, like Tobias Funke jumping off a staircase in Arrested Development.
This isn't to say that a fall like the kind Stone took is merely a bit of slapstick. It was dangerous. He shouldn't have done it, and the truth is that baseball should probably do more to prevent that sort of thing from happening. Plaschke is right that the risk-reward ratio is way out of whack. Like he says, "It's just a ball."
But it's also true that people like risks, particularly when, in most cases, they won't pay any penalty for taking them. Many of us drive too fast, and we accept the risk of doing so because, most of the time, we don't wreck. And fans often reach for foul balls, partly as an instinctive decision in the heat of the moment, but also because most of the time, nothing happens. In Stone's case, something did happen. He paid the price for thousands of fans who have lunged and lived to tell about it.