Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Pitchers Must be Protected

Scenes like this need to be prevented.

If you didn't watch the live telecast of the Toronto Blue Jays - Tampa Bay Rays game, you may not want to watch the replay of Blue Jays' pitcher J.A. Happ take a line drive off his head.

The sound itself was horrible - Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey described the impact as sounding like the ball had been hit by two bats; the actual swing by Desmond Jennings and then the collision with Happ's head. I was grateful the camera shot was from behind Happ rather than from behind home plate.

It was unsettling to watch the fear on the faces of players on both teams as Happ fell to the ground, bloodied on the left side of his head, and stayed there until the he was stabilized and carted off the field. Happ was taken to the hospital for precautions and kept overnight. He was released earlier today and said he was in "good spirits".

How long Happ remains out remains to be seen. He appears to be luckier than Brandon McCarthy was last season when he was hit by a comebacker while pitching for the Oakland A's. It resulted in a skull fracture that required surgery and a six day hospital stay. McCarthy missed the last month of the season and playoffs, but he's back this season as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

As a Yankees fan, I automatically think of the Yankees-Red Sox game back in 2000 when the Yankees Ryan Thompson hit a line drive into the face of Red Sox pitcher Bryce Florie. It was a horribly bloody injury that compromised Florie's vision. He got back to the Red Sox the following season, but was released after seven big league appearances and then bounced around the minor leagues until he called it quits in 2007.

So what do you do? Pitchers can't wear helmets. Do you put some kind of insert in the cap similar to those used by batters as a pre-cursor to batting helmets? (McCarthy pointed out that neither Happ nor he would have been protected by an insert).

ESPN's Buster Olney was on Michael Kay's radio show Wednesday afternoon and mentioned that Major League Baseball is looking at some kind of insert, perhaps kevlar, for the caps. He emphasized that the league has to look into the impact on a pitcher's mechanics and comfort level.  Any kind of head gear would probably need to be tested in the minors first and with the generation of players that will arrive in the Majors soon. Just like the NHL did when helmets became mandatory, the current players would probably be grandfathered in to the old rules giving them the choice to wear some kind of protective head gear.

Whatever the league comes up with, something needs to be done soon. The number of incidents of pitchers being seriously injured has increased and it would be sad if nothing was done until, God forbid, someone suffered a fatal injury.

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