Spectator Sport Personal Injury

Spectator Sport Personal Injury:  111 years ago today the Baker Bowl, first home of the Phillies, partially collapsed; 12 killed

Did you know that one of the worst examples of spectator sport personal injury occurred 111 years ago today right here in Philadelphia?

On August 8, 1903 over 10,000 people went to see the Philadelphia Phillies at their home stadium of National League Park.  Little did the know they were about to witness one of the worst examples of spectator sport personal injury of all time.  The Phillies were playing the Boston Beaneaters in a doubleheader.  No one expected the shift of excitement to terror that would soon occur as a result of the spectator sport personal injury.  On this day twelve people would die as a result of the accident and hundreds of people would be seriously injured.

It is still disputed today as to what attracted the attention of hundreds of spectators to the narrow stadium walkway that overlooked 15th street.  The Philadelphia Inquirer first reported that the screams of a little girl caused the spectator sport personal injury collapse:

“From the lips of a frightened little girl came a cry of terror yesterday afternoon that lured hundreds of panic-stricken men to death and injury at the Philadelphia Base Ball Grounds.”

Others report that a fight between two drunken men attracted the attention of the men and caused the spectator sport personal injury.

No matter what caused the attention shift, many ran to the top of the wooden seating area to see what was going on. The added stress on that section of the bleachers caused it to collapse into the street, killing 12 and injuring 232.

 “The sight was one never to be forgotten, and one which Philadelphians never before witnessed. In every direction the wounded were being borne upon stretchers, or mattresses borrowed from nearby dwellings, while others lay moaning with pain upon the baseball diamond awaiting assistance”. – The Star, Wilmington, DE, August 9, 1903

The sight was compared to a “human waterfall” and an “army of boys and men trying to swim in the air.”

“The balcony tore itself away from the wall and the crowd hurled headlong to the pavement,” read the following day’s Inquirer in an article about the spectator sport personal injury event. “In the twinkling of an eye the street was piled four deep with bleeding, injured, shrieking humanity struggling amid the piling debris.”

The weight was too much for the structure to hold, and thus the collapse occurred:

“There must have been one hundred men and boys, and every one of them was covered with blood,” a police officer told The Inquirer regarding the spectator sport personal injury. “Some of them had their clothing almost torn from their bodies, while others were so bespattered with blood and mud as to be almost unrecognizable.”

The game was halted and eventually canceled. The remaining fans, fearful that the rest of the ballpark might tumble down, rushed onto the field.  Some players armed themselves with bats to keep from being overwhelmed by the wild stampede.

Several city officials were in attendance at the game, and so a recovery effort was quickly under way. Hundreds of injured sports spectators with broken bones and gaping wounds were taken to the street.  Before too long, scores of police wagons and ambulances arrived at the ball park.   With the help of many Good Samaritans, they injured were taken to hospitals and nearby houses.

The collapse killed 12 fans, ranging in age from 24 to 63, and injured 232. Even today, exactly 111 years later, it remains one of the greatest tragedies in the history of American sports.


A panel of six builders ruled after several days of hearings that rotting hemlock timbers were to blame and that the former owners, Reach and Rogers, were responsible. The courts determined that it was the rush of spectators, and not the faulty timber, that caused the collapse.  According to the New York Times, a spokesman for Phillies’ President Potter stated that “there was not the slightest suspicion that the supports were weak”, but Philadelphia Mayor John Weaver promised a full investigation.

In subsequent weeks, lawsuits were filed against the Phillies and their former owners over incidents of spectator sport personal injury. A thorough investigation followed. Ultimately, the collapse led to the end of wood as a major building material in ballparks.

In 1985, the Philadelphia Inquirer noted the death of “HARRY ICKLER, 86, AVID PHILLIES FAN.”  It seems that Ickler was believed to be “the last survivor of the collapse at the Baker Bowl” in 1903. A 4-year-old when the disaster happened, Harry was attending his first game.”

Many dismiss the Baker Bowl spectator sport personal injury accident as something that could only happen in the past.  Although outdated infrastructure and lack of building regulations did contribute to the accident, you might be surprised at how common stadium personal injury occurs today.

The Register also noted several other cases of structural damage and spectator sport personal injury at baseball stadiums in the 1990s:

Sept. 13, 1991, Olympic Stadium — A 55-ton concrete beam fell off the side and crashed onto a walkway below, forcing the Montreal Expos to play their last 13 regular-season home games on the road.

Jan. 17, 1994, Anaheim Stadium — Northridge quake caused Sony Jumbotron, advertising panels and a portion of the stadium roof, including the “Little A,” to collapse into empty stands.

July 19, 1994, Kingdome — Four acoustic tiles fell from ceiling into empty seats hours before Seattle’s game against Baltimore. The Mariners had to spend the final 22 days on the road. The Seahawks played their first three home games at the University of Washington.

June 22, 1995, SkyDome — At least seven spectators were injured when two wood tiles fell from the upper deck during Toronto’s game against Milwaukee.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *