Archives Find of the Month: Stray Baseballs

SMA_31118With spring comes baseball, and with baseball comes broken windows. Over the years, citizens and businesses have complained to the city about stray fly balls damaging their property and asked what could be done.

In one example, three Mount Baker neighbors wrote a joint letter to the City Council in 1920 requesting an ordinance to prohibit playing baseball within 50 feet of “any dwelling, garage, or other private owned property.” The neighbors complained [sic throughout], “we have suffered all kinds of damage to windows, shrubery, fruit trees, lawns, gardens, and buildings by the boys who congregate in a vacant lot ajoining us. What incentive is there to labor with gardens shrubery or lawns if they are constantly exposed to the danger of being ruined in one sunday afternoon.” They closed their letter by asking, “Are we obliged to bear with this state of affairs when we are at the same time taxed so heavily for the upkeep of playgrounds all over the city?”

Almost forty years later, a funeral parlor located across from Broadway Playfield (now Cal Anderson Park) complained that baseballs were wreaking havoc on their property and endangering people on the sidewalk. Their letter stated, “Last Spring a ball was hit through a second floor window narrowly missing the head of an elderly lady sitting in her apartment in our building. Last Sunday a ball came over the fence hitting a light cable, was deflected into the street and hit a parked car. Except for the cable, it would have broken the Cathedral glass window in our new mortuary building.”

The Parks Department had previously hoped to fix the problem with an educational campaign, by posting notices at the field and alerting coaches to the issue. The funeral parlor, and apparently also the Council, found this to be an unsatisfactory response, prompting the department to take another look at the question.

The Superintendent of Parks acknowledged that “the more lively baseball and improved batting eye of some of our Broadway players have proved that our present fencing is inadequate.” He said they had considered prohibiting “hardball” from the field, “but this playfield has a long history of hardball playing and we have no alternate site to offer.” His suggested solution was building a 40-foot-high fence, but he noted that the estimated cost of $2,391.00, “including state tax,” was going to have to come out of money committed for some other project.

 

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