The other day I attended an Orioles game and just like every other baseball game I’ve been to in my entire life, I didn’t catch a foul ball. I didn’t catch a home run ball either, but that would have been impossible where I was sitting.
While I was watching a few lucky fans snag souvenirs, I wondered what my chances of catching a foul ball actually were. Doing some quick back of the envelope calculations, I figured there were maybe 30 balls a game hit into the stands, and maybe around 30,000 fans at each game. If that were the case, about 1 in every 1000 fans would walk away with a foul ball/home run.
In reality, there were 120,946 foul balls and home runs during the 2005 season and 74,915,268 fans in attendance that same year, which ends up being about 1 in every 619 fans end up with a ball. This is probably better than the actual odds since not all foul balls are hit into the stands.
If we were to say half of all foul balls were hit onto the field and the other half hit into the stands then the odds jump to 1 in 1189.
Finally, there are some places in a stadium where you couldn’t possibly catch a foul ball, and other places where you’d likely increase your chances, making that 1 in 1189 is hardly 100% accurate, but good enough for a rough estimate.
Odds are, the only way I’ll be getting a baseball at a game, is at the souvenir stand.
David Appelman is the creator of FanGraphs.