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)
Every year on April 15th, Major League Baseball honors one of baseballs true American heroes. He wore #42 for the Brooklyn Dodgers and on that day in April of 1947 he became the first African-American to play professional baseball. That man is none other than Jackie Robinson. After just watching the movie “42: The True Story of an American Legend” it really made me realize and understand how difficult and challenging it must have been for someone to play in a league where almost everyone didn’t want him there. He was an outcast and a villain to many and he had to battle through extremely tough times, but in the end he succeeded.
The movie takes you through Jackie’s early baseball career when he was a member of the Kansas City Monarchs, part of the Negro Leagues. The club president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey, sought out and recruited Robinson to sign a minor league deal with the International League farm club affiliate of the Dodgers, the Montreal Royals. After a year in the minor leagues Robinson was brought up to the Dodgers and played on Opening Day in 1947. Robinson found himself as the “poster child” for race relations in baseball and because of his hard work and strong personality he was able to withstand the racism of that time and have a glorious 10 year baseball career. During his time in the major leagues he won the Rookie of the Year award, was MVP of the 1949 season, was a 6-time All-Star, helped lead the Dodgers to a World Series title in 1955 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
Robinson helped pave the way for many African-American players like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, and thousands of others. There is one alarming trend in Major League Baseball though in the present day. The African-American percentage in baseball is at its lowest since 1959 when the Boston Red Sox became the final team to integrate its roster. The number of African-American baseball players on the 2013 opening day rosters was only at 7.7% which is down from the peak of 27% in 1975. Four teams this year opened the season without an African-American player on their roster – the St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, and Texas Rangers. The league is so concerned with this drop, that a task force was set up by MLB commissioner Bud Selig to try and reverse this decline. MLB does currently have some programs in place to help regain many African-American players that have chosen to pursue other sports or career paths but clearly not enough is being done.
Hopefully with this new movie it will shed a light on African-American players in baseball and what a true hero Jackie Robinson was. He was an inspiration and a great ambassador to the game of baseball. Major League Baseball pays tribute to Jackie Robinson every year on April 15th when all players and coaches don the #42 on their backs in memory of the great legend. White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, or what ever nationality you are, baseball is America’s pastime and everyone is welcome to play!
- Jackie Robinson Day (reachwingspan.com)
- 42: The Legacy of Jackie Robinson (o.canada.com)
- ’42′: The Jackie Robinson Story Throws A Perfect Strike (947thewave.cbslocal.com)