When I was growing up playing baseball in middle school and high school, I did my fare share of pitching. My grandmother, who came to almost every one of my games, had one huge fear about me standing on that pitcher’s mound. She would always be worried about the fact that I was standing only 60 feet 6 inches away from an opponent who’s goal, was to hit the ball I was throwing toward him, the opposite way, as hard as he could. She had this overwhelming fear that I would be stuck by a line drive and would be severely injured. That exact scenario occurred this past Tuesday when Toronto Blue Jays pitcher, J.A. Happ, was struck in the head by a line drive which sent him collapsing to the ground. He was taken off the field on a stretcher and remained in the hospital overnight. Fortunately for J.A. and his family, he turned out to be okay with only a skull fracture behind his left ear that doctors believe will heal on its own. This begs a larger question and one that has been brought up many times before. Should pitchers be required to wear some sort of protective helmet to prevent line drives from causing permanent or even fatal damage?
Currently there are no suitable or discrete devices out on the market. Brandon McCarthy, who was struck with a line drive last September and underwent surgery to evacuate an epidural hemorrhage and stabilize his skull fracture, said that he would be willing to wear a protective device if it was functionally approved by him. Even with a protective helmet or hat, injuries to pitchers can still easily happen. Bryce Florie was in the face by a line drive back in 2000 which caused broken bones and eye damage. He was a solid reliever up until that point but after the injury he was never the same and was not able to come back to the major leagues. So unless a pitcher starts wearing catchers gear out to the mound, injuries and scary moments like this can and still will happen. The odds of a pitcher getting hit in the head is extremely low however, if that makes you feel any better. There are roughly 700,000 pitches thrown per year, and about 0.0004% of the time a batter’s hit makes any contact with a pitchers head. So if you are looking at various odds, you are more likely to die of a car crash than be hit in the head by a line drive throughout a players major league career.
The question now is, will Major League Baseball do anything about this issue. Unfortunately Happ’s incident probably will have no overwhelming effect on MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to get a rule in place mandating pitchers to wear helmets. The sad truth of the matter, and this is with most major law changes, it will take a death before any change is made. In 2007, Mike Coolbaugh was coaching first base for the Double-A Tulsa Drillers and was hit in the neck which killed him on impact. The following year MLB and MiLB instituted a mandatory helmet rule change for base coaches. At first coaches complained about the helmets but now you rarely hear anyone complaining about the helmets. It’s just an accepted part of the game now.
Having pitchers wear helmets or protective gear to potentially save lives is a fantastic idea in my humble opinion. Once a manufacturer comes up with a design that won’t impede a pitchers ability to perform at the highest level, we may see some change and pitchers might be more willing to try it out. Until then, whenever a line drive comes screaming back towards the pitchers mound, take my grandmothers advice…DUCK!
- Happ latest pitcher hit in head by line drive (timesleader.com)
- Happ injury adds to discussion on MLB pitcher safety (TBO.com)