Shannon Stone tumbles over the railing in the outfield stands after catching… (Associated Press )
Whenever he threw a baseball into the stands, Angels outfielder Vernon Wells said he tried to place it beyond the front row so it wouldn't fall back onto the field.
Now major leaguers are confronted with more grave fears than whether play will be disrupted.
A fan trying to catch a ball tossed by Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton fell over a railing and plunged 20 feet to his death Thursday at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, raising concerns about stadium safety regulations and the time-honored tradition of throwing balls to fans.
"You look around a ballpark like this and look at all the ledges and think about all the stuff you could possibly do," Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier said Friday before a game against the San Diego Padres. "It definitely makes you think twice."
In a statement, Major League Baseball said its "players are encouraged to be fan-friendly and we will carefully review this incident with our clubs to continue to ensure a safe environment for our fans."
The accident occurred when Hamilton picked up a foul ball and flipped it to Shannon Stone, a 39-year-old firefighter who was at the game with his 6-year-old son. To make the catch, Stone leaned over a railing that didn't come up to his waist, lost his footing and fell head first onto concrete.
Though he initially moved his arms and was able to talk to medical responders, Stone went into cardiac arrest while being transported to a hospital. He was pronounced dead less than an hour after he fell.
Tim Mead, the Angels' vice president of communications, said team officials discussed safety issues with their stadium operations director in the wake of the incident. Mead described Angel Stadium as "100% building-code compliant" and said the Angels would abide by any future changes in codes.
According to Dean Fryer, a spokesperson for California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health, stadium guardrails must be 42 inches in height, with one exception: If a rail impedes the line of sight, it may be reduced to 34 inches provided there is an accompanying horizontal ledge protruding 36 inches that can support 100 pounds per foot.
Before home games, the Angels play a safety video on their scoreboard that details unacceptable fan behavior. In one scene, two fans jockey for a ball and one falls over an upper-deck railing after being bumped by the man next to him.
Dodgers spokesman Josh Rawitch said the team had no plans to change its stadium policies or procedures and remained confident that Dodger Stadium was a safe venue for all fans.
Though stadium fatalities are rare, there have been a few in professional sports within the last year. A 27-year-old man died in May after falling about 20 feet and striking his head on concrete at a Colorado Rockies game. Witnesses told police he lost his balance while trying to slide down a staircase railing at Coors Field.
Last November, a 2-year-old boy attending a Lakers game with his family fell out of a luxury suite at Staples Center and died after plummeting at least 30 feet. The family of the toddler, Lucas Tang, has sued Staples Center owner Anschutz Entertainment Group and the operator of the arena, L.A. Arena Co., alleging that a poorly designed barrier resulted in the fatality.
Michael Roth, vice president of communications for AEG, said he could not comment on any safety changes made at Staples Center, citing the pending litigation.
Cal/OSHA has mandated safety improvements at stadiums following other incidents. The agency ordered the installation of 42-inch guardrails in the press box at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego after an employee tripped and fell at least 30 feet to his death during a Chargers game in 2009.
A fan sitting near Stone told the Associated Press that Stone called for Hamilton to throw him the ball, which had ricocheted off the stands in foul territory down the left-field line. Hamilton obliged and Stone leaned over to catch it with his bare hands and then tumbled into an area behind the outfield wall that supports a video board for replays and scores.
"I think there are very few places where something like that can happen," Wells said. "Unfortunately, that was one area of one stadium where it did."
Angels right fielder Torii Hunter said it would be hard for him to second-guess the urge to throw balls to fans. "Fans love those balls," he said. "Got a spare ball, you give it to a fan. Throwing the ball in the stands is not the problem."
Staff writers Mike DiGiovanna and Dylan Hernandez contributed to this report.