Last night, while watching the highlights of the Mets game, I saw the comebacker that struck Jon Niese on the right leg and caused him to leave the game.
He was later diagnosed with a contusion, which for the Mets sake is good news. At the moment of impact on his right leg, I thought to myself that something needs to be done to protect the pitchers.
The mound to home plate is 60 feet 6 inches away and without any protection the pitchers are sitting ducks. There isn’t anything that can truly protect them other than their glove and their ability to react when a ball is headed right towards them. They are even lucky if they can see the ball as it is coming towards them probably faster than it was thrown to the batter.
Last night on Twitter I tweeted:
— David Conde (@DAConde24) April 24, 2013
Now it can be argued that there is no way a pitcher will be able to pitch with gear on, that it will be uncomfortable, but what else can be done. If they had a hat that was more like a helmet, it may protect them from getting hit in the head, but their face is still exposed, so what about a face mask. Football players who are running all over the field and moving more so than a baseball pitcher wear face masks, now they are not dodging a baseball, but they are still protected from most head injuries. Now obviously a pitcher wouldn’t have a hug helmet on but a small hat(helmet) with a face mask could be constructed to help protect the pitchers. It would be awkward at first and probably even be uncomfortable, but it would protect the pitchers and give them peace of mind while on the mound.
John Olerud used to wear a helmet when he played the field to protect his head because of a brain aneurysm he had in college. Now Olerud’s reasoning may be a bit more severe then just protecting pitchers, but it makes sense that a team would want to make sure that their pitching staff has a chance to protect themselves. Which organization would be the first to implement the idea, and do whatever is necessary to protect their players? It isn’t something that happens every game, but when it does, it can mean the difference between life threatening or career ending injury.
Now helmets may not be the only protection that can be created for a pitcher, they can also wear padding that maybe is fitted inside their uniform pants, or even padding on their arms. Once again, we are messing with something that may hurt the pitchers mechanics, but it can be something they can implement into their routine where it becomes a part of it. I thought this all sounded foolish to think about until I looked it up and found a quote by Tim McCarver during the 2012 World Series game between the San Francisco Giants and the Detroit Tigers when Tigers Pitcher Doug Fister was struck in the top of the head by a ball off the bat of Giants batter Gregor Blanco. As reported on an ESPN article back on Feb 17, 2013, Tim McCarver stated:
“I never thought this before this year, but I think baseball is going to have to resort to helmets for pitchers like catchers wear.”
This kind of thinking may be to the extreme, but how else can the pitchers be protected. The incident during the 2012 World Series was not the first time a pitcher has been struck by a line drive to the head. There was a game in 1957, as also noted by the same ESPN article on Feb 17, 2013:
Pitching prodigy Herb Score of the Cleveland Indians took a shot off the bat of the New York Yankees’ Gil McDougald to his right eye. His blurred vision would eventually improve, but Score’s budding career was effectively derailed.
The accidents don’t just affect the pitchers that are hit; it can also affect the batter and stay in their minds for a long time. There isn’t anything different that a batter can do to prevent it from happening, but the end results of the injuries can affect the way a player approaches the game in the future.
One of the most horrific accidents to happen on the baseball diamond was when Oakland’s Brandon McCarthy suffered life-threatening injuries when a line drive hit by the Los Angeles Angels’ Erick Aybar struck him in the head. McCarthy had to undergo emergency brain surgery because he suffered a brain contusion, epidural hemorrhage and skull fracture. McCarthy was very lucky to even be able to come back to pitch, which is totally a miracle.
I read online that some have thought that putting padding in the caps would be the fix, but once again, that would only protect the head, what about the face. On May 21, 2008, Albert Pujols hit a line drive that struck Padre Pitcher Chris Young right between the eyes. It was noted that Young suffered a skull fracture and broken nose, so just adding padding to the hat would not have helped Young at that time. But doesn’t mean it isn’t an idea worth looking at.
When a pitcher is on the mound, not only is he the center of attention during the game, but he is also at the wrong place when a ball is headed right up the middle of the diamond. Based on the way a pitcher finishes his delivery which depends on which hand he pitches with, he may fall to the left or right side of the mound, but at that moment that he is falling, and unaware of it, a ball may be quickly cruising right towards him and the only reaction he may have is to put his glove or bare hands in front of his head and face. There is no guarantee that he will be quick enough to prevent the impact, but if he had something on for protection, he may have a better chance of avoiding major injury, which would be a great boost for his confidence to help get him back on the mound. It only takes one major hit on the head to end a career, so the proper protection may be worth looking into.