By my estimation, there is nothing more quintessentially American than a middle aged man dressed in a polyester lion costume launching hot dogs into a crowd with an air gun. The only thing that I can think of that could possibly top it would be the rabid crowd willing to risk bodily health to chase down those soggy steamed weiners, small children be damned!
The Kansas City Royals mascot Sluggerrr has been leading the Kaufman Field version of this sacred ritual since the year 2000, but one fateful day in 2009 jeopardized this tradition that baseball fans have come to know as an integral part of the ballpark experience.
On this day in 2010, John Coomer, a Royals fan from Kansas, filed a lawsuit against the Kansas City Royals and their loveable mascot, Sluggerrr. Sluggerrr is a lion dressed in a full baseball get up (including pants – take note Cubs fans!) complete with a crown. Coomer filed the lawsuit after being hit in the face by a hot dog thrown by Sluggerrr and suffering a detached retina in his left eye. Coomer claimed negligence on the part of the team, and sought $25,000 in damages.
Coomer had gone to the game with his father, and being that this was a Royals game in September 2009, Coomer and his father had their pick of seats (paid for or not). They settled on seats about six rows from the field.
In his initial lawsuit, Coomer claimed to have attended over 175 Royals games. He knew the hot dog launch existed, and admitted as much. He had even been watching the proceedings before looking away just moments before the flying frank knocked his hat off. He alleged that Sluggerrr had been winding up for a behind the back toss only to switch to a straight shot at the last second – a dangerous switcheroo!
Here is my favorite part of Coomer’s argument:
“A mascot throwing hotdogs directly at business invitees is not an inherent or unavoidable risk of the game of baseball.”
This is true to an extent, one would not enter the stadium expected to have serious bodily injury imparted by a flying hot dog, tossed by a man wearing a plush lion costume. Coomer’s case has gone back and forth through several appeals, reaching the Missouri state Supreme Court. I am not sure exactly how the court will handle the case at this point. There certainly seems to be some legal uncertainty in defining the exact amount of risk associated with a hot dog launch. Anyone who has been to a baseball game knows that if you have a pulse, it is pretty hard to miss the hot dog launch, as the crowd rises to a fever pitch as the franks start flying.
My best guess is that the Royals will reach some sort of settlement with Coomer, and teams will be forced to add some legalese to the backs of their tickets covering the inherent risks associated with projectile hot dogs. Personally, I will gladly continue risking life and limb for the chance to snag a free hot dog that was probably cooked hours ago. I hope all baseball fans feel the same way.