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.
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”).
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!