Hey Pitcher, Nice Helmet!

 

709,560.

 

That is the number of pitches (approximately) in a major league baseball season. I came up with this number by using the average number of pitches thrown in a major league game per team (146 according to BeaseballReference.com) doubling it to include both teams in a game (292) and multiplying it by the number of games in a season (2,430).  709,560 is a lot of pitches…

…but it only takes one to change someone’s life, and not necessarily in a good way. Last year, Brandon McCarthy was crushed in the head by a line drive and needed emergency brain surgery. Last night, JA Happ was also scored in the head and taken to the hospital. Seeing a baseball player on the field after taking a line drive to the head is the number two scariest thing in my opinion, just behind seeing a spectator struck with a ball or bat. This morning, everyone with a microphone was talking about the need for protective headgear for pitchers.

 

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Of course, this topic isn’t brand new.  With every pitcher-scare, the talk begins again and the urgency for something that actually works is ratcheted up a notch.  There are drawbacks to a new piece of equipment, though – namely if it’ll be worn and if it’ll affect production from the pitcher.  Easton has apparently been working on helmet research since 2011 in a facility they call “The Dome” and have a half-helmet prototype that looks like something out of a sci-fi battle movie (I’m assuming it’s still a prototype since a search of their website shows zero returns for “pitching helmet”).

 

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The high schooler who modeled the prototype in 2011 had a very direct and honest question: Wouldn’t you rather wear this than be in the hospital for two months?  Unfortunately, I think the direct and honest answer from most pitchers and most levels would be: With over 700,000 pitches in a season and not being hit yet, I doubt I’ll need one.  Both the question and answer are reasonable and fairly safe bets.

So what is Major League Baseball to do?  Since they are still under the guidance of Bud “Let’s call the game a tie” Selig, who knows.  MLB has instructed the first- and third-base coaches to now wear helmets after a series of injuries (and a death) involving coaches on the foul lines.  Players wear cups, although it isn’t mandatory or a statistical threat to take a ball to the… balls. Batting practice coaches use the removable netting to protect themselves from line drives. If Easton was to release the half-helmet for use, would MLB pitchers use it?

The same Brandon McCarthy who was drilled in the head last year says no.  He says there is “nothing acceptable out there” and people who want to take a stance urging MLB to use helmets need to develop one that works, first.

 

 

Is it possible that the problem is with the pitchers themselves?  If pitchers used the “proper” technique, they finish their windup facing the plate and in a defensive stance, not falling off to the side and facing first/third base. Many upper-tier pitchers end up being Gold Glovers because they (obviously) field their position so well, and most can directly attribute how they finish their windup to their success and lack of line drives that actually hit them.

Many little leagues already require (or strongly urge) pitchers to wear fielding masks while on the mound. Some area little league softball leagues actually ask all infielder to wear the facemasks to protect their mug.  Some of these leagues also make their players wear special shirts with heartguards sewn into the material after a young players’ heart stopped following a line drive.

Football has been dominating the headlines over the past few years about head injuries and a need for a better helmet.  Baseball head injuries are a different animal as they are more of “freak accidents” rather than the constant bashing of skull-on-skull. Could this baseball discussion be a misguided reaction to football injuries?

Until my son or daughter become a pitcher in a league where the ball is faster than a reasonable reaction time, I believe the use of a special helmet should be the decision of the individual pitcher.  Yes, it may be a while until we see someone with the guts to wear a half-helmet on the mound, but with the rarity of the head injuries in general, why should the Office of the Commissioner force a pitcher to wear something that would be intrusive to his performance on the field?  Numbers get contracts, you know.

With all these talks about pitchers wearing protective gear on the mound, I also expect the chatter about dugout-to-dugout nets to increase.  If base coaches and ball boys down the foul lines have to wear helmets, then surely the ticketed public is also in the danger zone.

What do you think?  Should pitchers have to wear protective helmets on the mound?  Are line drives just an occupational hazard that players have to deal with?  Do pitchers need to reform their own follow through to be better prepared for a comebacker?

 

 

Feel free to leave a comment below or tweet me at @GeoffreyHoman.  Please remember to keep any comments relevant to the subject at hand.  As always, thanks for reading!

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4 thoughts on “Hey Pitcher, Nice Helmet!

  1. I think pitchers will complain about having to wear a helmet. Unfortunately, we’re not even close to having this changed.

  2. As a parent of a 20 year old male collegiate baseball player, I would be a definite advocate to have all the protection available to a pitcher. Two months ago, my son was hit by a line drive to the side of the head. He was pitching batting practice behind an L-screen but with his follow-through his momentum brought him just into the open. He sustained a concussion with skull fracture, massive contusion, and brain bleed. He was lucky and did not need surgical intervention but he did suffer vision and hearing loss and had to learn how to speak again along with memory strategies and simple motor functions.

    So to say that it doesn’t happen often enough to get worried, well do you want to be the one in a million that it happens to? Let me tell you first hand it is life altering and changing. Why do we spend time developing products to protect batters, catchers, umpires, coaches on both first and third baselines but we offer no protection for our pitchers? We just leave them out to dry.

    My son is a very good athlete but he stated that there was no time to react, as soon as he heard the crack of the bat he was down. I have witnessed other times when he has been hit in the leg and wrist, also chest by a batted ball while being on the mound but this was gut wrenching. So I take offense to the leagues glib attitude. Never ever did I think that my child would be severely injured playing a sport he loves but it happened. Now the next thing I hope to happen is the development of a pitching helmet that is actually more than just a prototype, one that is actually available to purchase so that those who wish to have protection will have it.

    Oh and by the way, scars in the face, loss of teeth, or broken bones are all things that can be repaired or will heal if a person chooses not to wear protective gear….but brain injuries – not even the best neurologists or neurosurgeons can be certain of repair or healing. It is a waiting game and time will tell. A brain injury isn’t something that you can put a cast on and it will heal. The injury effects will be lifetime, they never go away. Yes the immediate injury can heal over time but its effects are cumulative and should another brain injury occur, you may not be as lucky the second time around. So until one can speak first hand with a brain injury of their own, they might not be so casual about the importance of protection.

    My 20 year old son was in the prime of his life when this happened, now life has changed for him. Therapy has been nothing short of a miracle as it has gone well, but he will now be on medication for a lifetime to prevent seizures from occurring but these medications are in turn hard on the liver….so time will tell if he will need treatment for that as well. See what I mean by life altering……until one knows, we can’t act so invincible.

    My son is all for wearing head protection on the mound. He has adjusted to wearing a hockey helmet, football pads, mouth guards, and nutcups for each sport. The pitching helmet would be just one more thing to adapt to. I am sure that after his experience, wearing this simple protection would be much easier to adapt to than to go through countless hours of therapy or sitting in a hospital bed wondering if you are going to get the feeling back in your face and be able to do simple tasks like speaking a full sentence or tapping your fingers together.

    His dream is to get back on the mound again, but he also wants to be safe and feel protected…please let it be known that there are athletes out there that are willing to adapt to protective equipment. He would rather put up with perhaps a bit of discomfort or even looking unusual on the mound by wearing a protective helmet than to have to live with the fear or effects of it happening again. Please let the baseball community know that there are athletes that are willing to wear protective gear for pitchers, so make the equipment available for purchase. Let the athletes make the choice, just make it available so that they have that option. Right now there is no option, the choice is being made for them.

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