ATLANTA — In court documents filed this week in a lawsuit following the 2015 death of a fan who fell from the upper deck at an Atlanta Braves game, Nolan Ryan says guardrails at the Texas Rangers‘ stadium had to be raised “to protect our fans from themselves.”
Ryan, the former Hall of Fame pitcher, was Rangers president when he led the effort to have rails raised at The Ballpark in Arlington following the death of a fan, Shannon Stone, who fell in 2011.
Gregory Murrey, who was 60, fell from the upper deck at the Braves’ former stadium, Turner Field, on Aug. 29, 2015. The Braves and Major League Baseball are defendants in the lawsuit filed by Murrey’s family, including his wife, Laura.
The lawsuit contends fan deaths at other parks should have led MLB to demand all teams have higher guardrails.
Ryan now is a special adviser for the Houston Astros. When asked in a deposition if he believes the Astros’ Minute Maid Park is safe, he said he would not be comfortable taking his grandchildren to the upper deck of the park.
“You go to the upper deck and those angles are really steep so people can view the field,” he said.
“And are they safe?” Ryan asked. “If I was up there with my grandkids I’d be very nervous because kids will be kids and somebody gets excited and they run down and lean over the rail. But I’m very guarded about that and I wouldn’t want to — it makes me nervous is the best way for me to describe that.”
The lawsuit disputes MLB’s position that it doesn’t regulate the rail heights at stadiums. The lawsuit notes MLB in 2015 recommended the extension of netting to the end of dugouts to protect more fans at all parks from being injured by foul balls.
Significant portions of documents made public have been redacted due to confidentiality issues being contested by attorneys for Murrey’s family.
A hearing is expected regarding motions in the case, including the confidentiality issues, within two months.
There was no response to a message left by The Associated Press at the office for an attorney for MLB.
Ryan was the Rangers’ president from 2008 to 2013. He said the decision was made to raise the rail heights after falls by two fans, including Stone’s fatal fall, within a year.
“Well, we had two incidents in one year and I felt like it was something we needed to look at and there was a lot of discussion about it,” he said in the deposition. “We brought in some consultants and looked at it, and I just chose that we raise them to try to protect our fans as much as we could.”
He said the decision was made even though the stadium’s rail heights met International Building Code standards.
“Well, I just felt like that we probably need to protect our fans from themselves,” Ryan said.
The Rangers raised railings from 33 inches to 42 inches, at a cost of $1.1 million.
Rail heights at Turner Field met or exceeded industry code standards, which call for a minimum height of 42 inches for guardrails in front of such open areas as walkways. Railings in front of seated areas must be 26 inches or taller. Murrey fell over a rail that was 30 inches high.
Murrey’s death was the third by a fan at Turner Field. In 2013, a fan’s death was ruled a suicide. In 2008, police cited alcohol as a factor after a man died.
The Braves moved to SunTrust Park in suburban Atlanta for the 2017 season. Turner Field was purchased by Georgia State University and was converted to a football stadium.