Faux Pas

The Foul Story of Baseball’s Unluckiest Fan

Richie Ashburn Foul Ball Alice Roth

The baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Giants on August 17, 1957, is one for the history books. What made the game so memorable wasn’t anything like a no-hitter, extra innings, or even an impressive final score. This was a game that would go into the books because of two foul balls and baseball’s unluckiest fan.

There were 7,929 spectators in attendance at Connie Mack Stadium that day. Among those in attendance were Alice Roth and her grandsons, Preston and Tom. Alice was the wife of Philadelphia Bulletin sports editor Earl Roth, so they had prime seats in the press box behind third base.

Phillies’ center fielder Richie Ashburn stepped to the plate.  He was in his tenth year of playing for Philadelphia and was well on his way to earning a place in the Hall of Fame. Ashburn had developed a reputation as one of the best pitch-spoilers in baseball. Fouling off as many as ten balls in a row was not uncommon for him, as he waited for a pitch that he liked.

Perhaps Mrs. Roth was distracted by her young grandsons. Whatever the reason, her eyes were not on Ashburn as he swung and sent a foul ball squarely in her direction. She took the ball right in the face, sending her to the floor with a broken nose.

The game came to a brief halt as medical personnel rushed to tend to Mrs. Roth. Although blood was streaming from her nose, 8-year-old Preston had his mind on more pressing matters. He went to the man who grabbed the ball that had just broken his grandmother’s nose. Preston said,  “I asked him if I could have the ball. He just looked at me and said, ‘Go to hell, kid.’”

As medics placed Mrs. Roth on a stretcher, the umpires called for the game to be resumed. Ashburn again stepped to the plate. He swung at the next pitch and again fouled it off to his left. Ashburn and the assembled crowd watched in wide-eyed astonishment as the ball zeroed in like a homing missile and struck Mrs. Roth in the knee as she was being carried out of the press box. The second impact struck her in the leg, breaking a bone in her knee.

While the game was not the most pleasant of experiences for Alice Roth, there were some good outcomes. For one thing, the Phillies won, beating the Giants with a score of 3 -1. The day after the incident, Ashburn visited Roth at the hospital. Rather than hold a grudge, Mrs. Roth welcomes the embarrassed batter, and the two became good friends.

The Roths were treated like royalty by the Phillies from that point forward. The family received free tickets, were invited to the clubhouse, and they got an autographed baseball. Later, one of the Roth sons became the Phillies’ batboy.

One of the grandchildren was so thrilled with this star treatment that he asked, “Grandma, do you think you could go to an Eagles game and get hit in the face with a football?”

Although she did not hold a grudge and continued to attend Phillies’ games, from that day forward, Mrs. Roth opted to sit in the left-field bleachers, well out of harm’s way.

While there are no other reports of other fans being as unlucky as Alice Roth, Denard Span probably felt he had it worse than Richie Ashburn. The center for the Minnesota Twins bought tickets for his family to watch the Twins play the New York Yankees on March 31, 2010. They were sitting next to the dugout, and the game was just getting started when Span stepped to the plate.

He took a swing at the ball, sending it off to the left, where, to Span’s horror, it went straight at his own mother. The ball hit her right in the chest, causing her to let out a scream and drop. 

“As the ball was in the air, I realized that it was going after my mom,” said Span. “When I saw her go down, I just couldn’t do nothing but go after her.”

Fortunately, the foul ball did little more than knock the wind out of the dazed woman. She was examined by paramedics, then returned to watch from a seat in the shade.

Read about the baseball player who was struck by lightning but still finished the game.

Read more fun facts about accidents.

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