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)
For years now Bud Selig, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, has hinted at retirement. When he began as MLB commissioner in 1992 he only took the position on an interim level and really had no plans of staying put in this office for 21 years. In 1992 MLB owners voted to oust current MLB commissioner Fay Vincent, which meant Selig was next in line to take the position since he was chairman of the Executive Council of Major League Baseball at that time. He than became Acting Commissioner until 1998 when owners voted to give him the title permanently. Selig has been hinting at retirement for almost 10 years now however he continued to take contract extensions in 2004, 2008, and again in 2012.
Selig has left a major impact on the game of baseball and has been on the forefront of many milestones and major changes that have shaped the game of baseball. Some major highlights of his career include adding Interleague play in 1997, the creation of the World Baseball Classic in 2006, giving home field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the All-Star game in 2003, introduction of instant replay for disputed home run calls in 2008, and most notably the stricter performance-enhancing drug testing policies. With all of those accomplishments his legacy is not without some blemishes as well. Prior to the stricter performance-enhancing drug testing policies he was accused of turning a blind-eye to many players who were using PEDs in the 1990’s and 2000’s. He also was given a lot of grief on how he handled the 2002 All-Star game which subsequently led to the change in 2003 which gives home field advantage in the World Series to the winner of that game.
Love him or hate him, Bud Selig will go down as one of the greatest commissioners in MLB history. The big question remains to be seen though; is this really it? Will Selig finally close the door on his storied two decade long run as top dog in Major League Baseball? MLB owners sure would love to see him stay as he has been a great commissioner in baseball and has kept teams on the field playing with no labor stoppage since 1994. All signs point to his exit at the end of 2014 and Selig himself seems pretty certain next year will be his last. In an interview with Eric Fisher of Sports Business Journal, Selig states, “I think [the owners] understand. I am done. I do understand some of the feeling out there, but I am done Dec. 31, 2014. That’s it.” So now the big question is…who is up to bat next?
- Selig: You “won’t recognize” baseball in a decade (hardballtalk.nbcsports.com)
- Bud Selig Says He Is Retiring as MLB Commissioner After 2014 Season (nesn.com)
- Commissioner Bud Selig turns down contract extension, insists on retirement (tracking.si.com)
Baseball is a game of numbers and statistics, however there is one awe-inspiring statistic is not recognized as an official stat by Major League Baseball. That stat is the velocity on a pitch or basically, how fast a pitcher can throw a ball recorded on a radar gun. Most major league pitchers throw a fastball in the range of 89-93mph. Others can reach mid to upper 90’s, however a select few can reach that 100 mph plateau.
Radar guns were first introduced to the game of baseball in 1935 and since then have changed the way many players and scouts approach the game. Baseball scouts can judge the success a pitcher may have in the major leagues by the velocity or speed of a pitcher’s fastball. Pitchers that can throw hard are still not guaranteed success in the Major Leagues however. There have been many players that have thrown a ball with extreme velocity but have struggled to keep a job in the pros. Accuracy plays a huge part in that fact as many pitchers who throw fast, are not as accurate as a pitcher that can only reach the high 80’s or low 90’s on the radar gun.
The fastest recorded pitch in the major leagues based upon the radar gun readout is from the Cincinnati Reds closer, Aroldis Chapman. On September 24, 2010 at Petco Park in San Diego he threw a fastball a whopping 105.1 mph. When Chapman stands on the mound to pitch, the fans stop what they are doing and watch him throw. He is definitely a “flame thrower” but if not for the radar gun in the stadium, would he get as much attention as he does? Can a hitter really tell the difference between a 99 mph fastball versus a 105 mph fastball?
The radar gun entices pitchers to give that extra oomph and try to throw faster than the next pitcher. This can also have an adverse effect on pitchers as not all pitchers who can throw fast are successful in the pros. Even though pitchers can throw hard, professional hitters will learn to time the pitches and sooner than later that 100 mph pitcher will be out of a job. Pitchers need to have additional pitches, such as a curve ball, slider, or change-up to offset the hitters as changing speed and location of each pitch is crucial for success.
Radar guns have also changed the fan experience at professional sporting events. In almost every Major League baseball stadium throughout the country you will find a speed pitch area where fans can throw a fastball and see how fast they can throw it. The radar gun not only has changed the way that professional athletes try to pitch but also how fans can feel like they are a part of the game by participating in these extra activities around the ball park.
Radar guns are loved by some and hated by others, but they are not going anywhere in the game of baseball. Major League Baseball may never recognize the speed of a pitch as an official statistic but fans absolutely love seeing a triple digit read out on the radar gun in the stadium and at home on TV, and that is just one of the many reasons that the radar gun has changed the way baseball is played today.
- CC’s decline in velocity no big surprise or worry (mlb.mlb.com)
- Ranking the most powerful pitchers in baseball history (sportsillustrated.cnn.com)