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Man sues MLB, Toronto Blue Jays after being hit by flying bat at White Sox game

Toronto Blue Jays' Kevin Pillar reacts after striking out in a game against the Chicago White Sox on June 26, 2016, the day after a fan was hit by his flying bat at U.S. Cellular Field. | AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

A northwest Indiana man is taking Major League Baseball and the Toronto Blue Jays to court after he claims he suffered a severe head injury in 2016 when a Blue Jays hitter sent his bat flying into the crowd at a game against the Chicago White Sox.

The 12-page lawsuit filed Friday in Cook County Circuit Court claims the fan, John Flaherty, was struck in the head by the bat of Blue Jays centerfielder Kevin Pillar in the top of the 8th inning in a June 25, 2016, game in Chicago at what was then called U.S. Cellular Field. The defendants are Pillar, the Blue Jays and their ownership group, MLB and the office of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.

The lawsuit claims Flaherty had been invited to the game and didn’t know he’d sit seven rows behind the White Sox dugout on the third-base line, where he was exposed to Pillar, who, the suit claims, had a history of flinging his bat into crowds.

In a similar incident in June 2015, a fan caught Pillar’s airborne bat in Toronto. In the season opener in April 2017, almost a year after the Chicago incident, Pillar let go of his bat on consecutive swings, according to the suit.

Pillar’s propensity to let his bat slip out of his hands is caused by the lack of a knob at the base of his bat, according to the lawsuit, which accuses Pillar’s team and league of failing to punish his use of a knobless bat.

The knob typically helps batters keep a tight grip on their bats. Videos of incidents involving Pillar’s bat slipping out of his hands appear to show a knob at the base of his bat.

Flaherty also blames MLB for failing to extend netting far enough down the first- and third-base lines to prevent injuries to fans in what he calls the “slaughter zone,” the lawsuit says. That protection is especially important after a history of flying balls and bats seriously hurting spectators in those seats, according to the lawsuit.

The suit adds that the league has increased the risk of injury by making efforts to increase the pace to the game, adding in-game distractions and encouraging the use of cell phones at the park.

Flaherty’s injuries included a “skull laceration” and “ongoing head trauma,” the lawsuit says, which seeks more than $50,000 in damages.

MLB and White Sox officials couldn’t be reached for comment Friday evening.

Last October, a northwest suburban Schaumburg man sued the Chicago Cubs after he was hit in the face by a baseball in August at Wrigley Field. He lost vision in the eye and doctors at the time feared they’d have to remove the eye.

Read the full lawsuit: MLBBlueJayslawsuit