Sunday, November 1, 2009

Unfortunate Accidental Death - Extremely Unfortunate Court Ruling

On the 28th of October 2009, a Montana Jury returned an apparently heartfelt $850,000.00 verdict in favor of a family who's son died in 2003 as a result of being struck in the temple by a line drive back through the Pitchers Mound. See the Article Here

I was shocked upon hearing about this story. Being a former practitioner and coach of the game I thought how could this happen. AND, I had a nagging question in my head. Every punitive damage or personal injury suit I have ever heard of named everyone associated with the event, but as far as I could tell the only entity named in the suit was the bat manufacturer, Hillerich & Bradsby, the parent company of Louisville Slugger.

There are a lot of others with shared responsibility here: both teams, the Umpires, the Ball Park, the City, the Ball manufacturer and supplier, the Bat manufacturer and supplier as greater entities. Then, there are responsible individuals: The pitcher (the one who unfortunately died), the catcher who called the unfortunate pitch, the batter (who wielded the deadly weapon), the respective pitching and batting coach, the third base coach who called the batters hitting location, the head coach of each team are the key people in this situation.

That was the first issue I had with this event. I took care of that issue by looking at the form the players and parents have to sign before they can have the privilege to play which releases everyone from any responsibility should anything bad happen including death, except the equipment manufacturers. See the Form here

The player section has this statement "Voluntarily and of my own free will, I elect to participate as a member of The American Legion Baseball Team. I understand that the very nature of baseball has its hazards that can cause serious injury and/or death.

The Parent/ Guardian section contains this statement "I/we understand and acknowledge and appreciate the risks and dangers involved in allowing our son/daughter to participate in American Legion Baseball and I/we assume all risks of injury and damage incident to his/her participation in American Legion Baseball. I/we further in consideration of the privilege to play American Legion Baseball, hereby release, discharge and relinquish The American Legion, its officers, agents, their representatives, employees and officials of and from all claims, demands, actions and cause of action of any sort, for any injuries sustained by our son/daughter."

This incident happened in 2003 and I looked at this today so the statements may be formatted the way they are because of this incident (because incidents like this are quite rare), but I am certain that this player and his parents signed a similar statement which is why they did not name anyone associated with the league.

There is a lot of discussion around now about aluminium vs wood bats. The facts are that you can get more consistent performance from an aluminium bat, but the ball speed coming off the bat is entirely dependent on the speed of the pitch and the batters ability to move the bat to the ball accurately and quickly. We are talking reflexive muscle memory and time frames of less than a second.

It is very difficult to debate this with the information we are missing; although many are trying to. The debates I have read over the last couple days are looking at the wrong issue just as this family did. The bat is not the issue, it is the explanation the family reached for and lawyers turned to in order to explain their son's tragic death.

This is a photo captured from the first video attached to the original story, as far as I can understand is a photo of the young man who unfortunately died as a result of the batted ball.

My experience is that a Pitcher is his own best friend or worst enemy. Sometimes both at the same time.

I ask you to look at the position of this young man's Right (gloved) hand. Technically speaking not too bad, I have seen some pitchers actually get the glove behind their knee which is DANGEROUS! IF this was the young man's typical pitching mechanics it is likely that he would have some difficulty defending himself against a line drive. At the instant this photo was taken his glove should be just in front of his right armpit. On follow through the glove should easily adjust to letter high optimally.

I do not know if the batter was right handed or left. I do not know what pitch was called by the catcher, or how well that pitch was thrown. This is supposition (but an educated guess) on my part the pitcher threw either a fastball or change-up in the lower outside portion of the strike zone. This pitch location is where the vast majority of scary hits come from!

I have another nagging question.... What bat did the pitcher have in his gear bag? What bat did he prefer to use, and why? Most likely he used a similar one to the "weapon."

Finally, I question the legal system who allowed this litigation to happen. Humans are humans! I would expect any Jury of 12 humans to award something, anything, to a grieving family who had signed away any right to litigate for the "privilege" to play a great game, that is sometimes very dangerous.

In my mind the pitching coach has more responsibility in this situation than the bat used by the batter!

My thoughts and wishes go to this family. It is devastating to loose the light of life, especially like this. Please don't allow your pain to push you around your grief.