Player Safety Needs To Be MLB’s Top Priority
It’s the scariest play in baseball–the line drive comebacker right at the pitcher. No matter where the pitcher gets hit, it can cause serious damage that could potentially end a career.
Batters face the same risk at the plate–if the pitcher is just a fraction of a degree off on his release point, a 95+ miles per hour fastball could end up hitting the batter.
We have seen countless instances of both batters and pitchers (not to mention baserunners and fielders) getting seriously injured on freak plays. Some miss a few weeks, others a few months, others never come back. Some players just don’t play at the same level that they did prior to the injury. Whatever the case, Major League Baseball (and all sports for that matter), owe it to their athletes to make these freak plays as infrequent as possible.
I wrote recently about MLB’s decision to outlaw plate collisions, and how it was a step in the right direction toward player safety. News came out today that Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who suffered a skull fracture, brain contusion, and epidural hemorrhage that required emergency surgery from a comebacker in 2012, has teamed with doctors to develop a form of protective headgear for pitchers that could be implemented as early as 2014.
“It should be strong enough and capable enough that literally if I got hit by the same exact ball I would have been able to keep pitching in that game,” McCarthy said in his interview on FOXSports.com’s podcast, “The Buzz.”
If the headgear is available for 2014 like McCarthy says, it will be another large step for Major League Baseball toward controlling the frequency of these disastrous injuries without compromising the overall competition level. All things considered, it’s a win-win-win situation for the MLB. Their players (presumably) stay healthier, the fans get to see the players they want to see, and the league/each team continues to bring in revenue.
So what’s the holdup?
1) The players union
The MLBPA, as with any professional players union, makes it incredibly difficult to change any kind of rule or modify equipment. They have the right to do this, of course, as they are the ones playing the game and dealing directly with the change. However, McCarthy stated in his interview that the headgear would not be mandatory. Players would have the option of donning the protective cap if they so chose.
2) It’ll change the game
Will it, though? How often do batters get beaned in the head, or pitchers get hit with line drives? It’s infrequent, so why not make it less likely to happen? Again, if you’re watching baseball for the hit batters and injured pitchers, you’re not watching for the right reasons. As for the rest of the game, whether it’s a protective cap or a harder batting helmet, I can almost guarantee that a pitcher/batter will be focused on the at-bat rather than what’s on his head. In no way will balls fly farther, or fields change, or rules be altered by giving these players more protection. The competition level will stay the same, and fewer injuries will hopefully be the result.
3) Adjusting to the new equipment
For guys who have been playing baseball for 20+ years without many equipment changes, implementing a new hat would take time to adjust to. With a hat that simply feels different than what they’re used to, pickoff moves, cadences to the plate, etc. would all have to be slightly adjusted. But honestly, people adjust to new computers, new whiteboards, new programs all the time at their own workplaces, so why can’t a pitcher? I personally think this argument gets blown way out of proportion–yes, it will take some getting used to, but after a much shorter time than a pitcher may think, he’ll be used to it.
4) The look
My least favorite argument. This is ridiculous–it’s a hat with some more padding that is explicitly designed to prevent major head injuries… just wear it! The same issue has been brought up with batting helmets–helmets with more padding have been cast aside due to their looks before gaining any kind of headway in safety discussions. The helmet looks goofy enough as it is, it’s going to look goofy no matter what you do to it. Wear a more padded helmet, and thank the creator when it comes in handy.
Call me crazy, but I will take more head protection for the off chance that a comebacker comes at my head or a 100+ mph pitch gets away from Aroldis Chapman than complain about how a hat or helmet looks on my head. With the strength of players increasing each year (legally or not), these potential dangers become increasingly pertinent. Taking the necessary steps to eliminate as many of these risk factors as possible–as they did by banning home plate collisions–will hopefully go a long way toward ensuring player safety and longer careers without sacrificing any of the competitiveness of the game.