Now They’re Starting to Use Their Heads

happ

It was announced Tuesday morning that Major League Baseball has approved the design of a protective form of headgear for pitchers. The headgear will be available for pitchers at all levels of professional baseball and it will NOT BE MANDATORY. The news of this development comes one season after TWO pitchers, J.A Happ and Alex Cobb, were seriously injured after they were struck in the head by line drives.

Both Happ and Cobb were struck in the side of the head, near the temple, and both suffered fractures to their skulls, not to mention facing the effects from the new, dreaded “C” word; concussion. The extent of Happ’s injuries were actually two-fold, as he injured his knee when he collapsed to the ground following the play.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKB_titozPA (Cobb)

Unfortunately the injuries to Happ and Cobb were not the only line drive related injury to befell a starting pitcher in the past three seasons. Just the season before (2012), then-Oakland A’s pitcher, and Twitter folk hero, Brandon McCarthy was struck in the head during a late season game against the Anaheim Angels.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_481oADJKqM (McCarthy injury)

That sound makes me cringe everytime…

Despite being able to get back to his feet, McCarthy was rushed to the hospital where he underwent a two hour emergency surgery to relieve cranial pressure, after CT scans revealed that McCarthy had suffered an epidural hemorrhage, a brain contusion, and a skull fracture. Despite missing the rest of the regular season and Oakland A’s playoff run, McCarthy signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks as a Free Agent during the offseason. Although he did make a “full recovery” from the injury and surgery, McCarthy did suffer a seizure during the 2013 season as a result from the head injury. Thankfully they were easily treated by medication.

These new protective head wear are designed to look and feel like the standard fitted baseball cap. The only real difference is the amount of padding and foam that will cause the protective cap to weigh upwards of seven ounces more than the current 3-4 ounce hat. The company that has created this hat has stated that the additional weight should not hinder or affect the pitchers delivery and motion. Despite the additional weight to the cap, the safety and health benefits cannot be ignored.

isoblox

Major League Baseball determined that the average line drive reaches a speed at 83 mph by the time it reaches the mound, so in order for the protective cap to be approved, it had to meet those requirements. According to the company that has designed the new headgear, the caps are slightly more than a half inch thicker in the front and an inch thicker near the temples than standard caps. They are designed to provide frontal impact protection for speeds up to 90 mph and for side impact up to 85 mph.

Now despite being one of the players who you would expect to immediately adopt the new hat, J.A Happ said that he would have to wait and see how the hat felt compared to the classic fitted cap. In an interview with ESPN.com Happ said:

“I’d have to see what the differences in feel would be — does it feel close enough to a regular cap? You don’t want to be out there thinking about it and have it take away from your focus on what you’re doing.”

The approval and implementing of protective equipment isn’t really anything new in the professional sports world. In fact, Major League Baseball can learn a thing or two from how the National Hockey League in the player safety department. Before the fear of concussions was in everybodys head (sorry), the big issue in the NHL was vision safety and the need for visors. This was spurred on by the infamous Bryan Berard eye injury:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdyHVGPdwT4 (sorry for the quality)

Berard was a young, exciting offensive defencemen who was the 1st overall pick as an amateur by Ottawa in 1995, and had garnered Rookie of the Year honours in 1997. All that changed after the high stick from Marian Hossa in April 2000. Berard would undergo seven eye surgeries in 2000-01 alone, but he would be able to make a return to the ice, although not to the same capacity that he had been at before the injury. One thing that did become noticeable was Berard immediately switching to wearing a visor for obvious reasons. At that time, visors in the NHL were frowned upon as they were associated with ‘soft playing’ European types (thanks Donald S. Cherry).

donald s

In the wake of the Berard injury the CHL (Canadian Hockey League) made it mandatory for all amateur players to wear full facial protection or visors. Yet ironically, most of these players take the visor off once they get to the pros. The most common complaint is that it impairs vision. So does a high stick to the retina though.

berard-bryan

Despite more and more players choosing to wear visors, there are still scary near career-threatening injuries on a near-annual basis. In the past two seasons alone both Mark Staal and Manny Malholtra have suffered severe injuries to their eyes. In Staal’s case, the injury was from a deflected puck, opposed to an errant stick. Ironically, Staal’s injury came on the same day that Bryan Berard celebrated his 36th birthday…

After missing the rest of the regular season and playoffs, Staal returned to the NY Rangers lineup for the 2013-14 season wearing a visor. In fact since his injury, Staal has become one of the bigger advocates for immediate implementation of visor use league wide. In an interview with ESPN.com following his injury, Staal stated that he “use to believe in ‘grandfathering’ in visors,” similar to how helmets were ‘grandfathered’ in 20+ years ago. But in the wake of his injury, he now believes that the should be immediately adopted. He has gone as far as voting in favour of mandatory usage in an informal NHLPA poll. In his own words Staal added: “Having gone through what I did, I don’t want anyone else to do that.”

This offseason has seen the MLB and MLBPA has investigated altering and implementing some pretty important rules. Some of these rules are being implemented to help better the game, as is the case with the expansion of Instant Replay in baseball. Other rules are looking to help protect players from debilitating injuries, as is the case with the apparent removal of collisions at home plate. So why are they not looking to at least make these mandatory for spring training games or for low levels in the minor leagues? I mean this is a game that has had no issues with adding and removing rules as it seems fit over the years. I mean it took an actual death in 1920 to outlaw the “spitball” and implement the use of “white” balls once the ball got dinged up. In fact, MLB even grandfathered the “spitter” out of the league which meant that Burleigh Grimes was allowed to LEGALLY spit on a ball until he retired in 1934; 16 years after it was banned.

burleigh

Career altering and ending injuries are an unfortunate reality that athletes in every sport must face. However, despite the advances in player safety and medical technology, it appears that most professional athletes still tend to “sit on the fence” when it comes to adopting protective equipment. Despite more awareness to what could happen, it appears that athletes are still more concerned with how the protection will effect their performance despite what the physical and health results may be.

– $

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The $30 Million Dollar Man

Miami Marlins v Los Angeles Dodgers

Rumours were abound toward the end of the baseball season that the Dodgers were once again considering opening their seemingly bottomless wallet, this time in an attempt to lock up the ace of their pitching staff; Clayton Kershaw. Unlike the other notable “long term” deals for elite pitchers that were signed in 2013 (Justin Verlander – 7yrs/$180 million), this one was a rumoured “deal for life;” somewhere in the neighbourhood of 10 years/$300 million. However, both sides were unable to come to an agreement, mainly because of Kershaw’s concerns of negotiating during the season; not to mention the thought of inking a deal of such magnitude.

Apparently all Kershaw needed was a little time. It was announced on Wednesday that the Dodgers and Kershaw had come to an agreement on a 7 year/$215 million extension. The deal, which has an annual payout of $30.714 million, is the not only the richest contract ever handed out to a pitcher, but also the highest average annual payout in baseball history; and the first one to reach $30 million.

The ridiculous thing to consider is that the contract may work out to be a bargain for LA in the long run.

Now as preposterous as that sounds, just take a look at Kershaw’s resume. This isn’t just another Barry Zito-esque contract, this is a long term commitment with arguably the best pitcher in the game today. Kershaw is a two time Cy Young Award winner (2011 & 2013) and finished 2nd in voting to R.A the Knuckle Man (remember that?) in 2012. Not only has Kershaw won the Cy in two out of three seasons, but he has also posted the best ERA in the NL in those three seasons; culminating in winning the Pitching Triple Crown in 2011. In fact, Kershaw’s 2.60 ERA to start his career is the best in the Live Ball Era of Baseball (since 1920). During his remarkable three year run (2011-13), Kershaw was the closest thing to a sure bet that you could find. Here are his stats in those years:

2011: 21 – 11 • 233.1 IP • 2.28 ERA • 0.98 WHIP • 248 K’s (Won Cy Young Award and Triple Crown)

2012: 14 – 9 • 227.2 IP • 2.53 ERA • 1.02 WHIP • 229 K’s (2nd in Cy Young voting)

2013: 16 – 9 • 236 IP • 1.83 ERA • 0.92 WHIP • 232 K’s (Won Cy Young Award)

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Miami Marlins

What’s more ridiculous is the fact that Kershaw will only be 26 come Opening Day!

Now I can’t continue praising the deal any further without mentioning the obligatory fear/concern about signing pitchers to long term deals. The mindset around the game is that pitchers tend to break down as they get older, and that they sometimes age quicker than a position player because of the amount of innings they pitch over their career. The other concern is paying such an astronomical price for somebody who is only going to play every five days. I can completely understand those concerns. What I also understand is the desire to win, and to win now. A pitcher of Kershaw’s calibre gives any team an immediate chance to win, especially a perennial contender like the Dodgers.

Now as far as the injuries and breaking down concerns, as I mentioned earlier, Kershaw is only 26! He is also entering what is considered the prime age for pitchers (26-28) and has never had a major injury or spent time on the Disabled List. By the time the deal expires, Kershaw will be 33, unless he opts out after year five when he’ll be 31. To put into perspective, both C.C Sabathia and Barry Zito were in their 31st years when they signed their 7 years deals.

zito

At the end of the day, yes it is a lot of money, and yes there is the potential for injuries and other unfortunate mishaps, but it’s a risk that is DEFINITELY worth taking. I’m sure if you poll any MLB GM they would jump at the chance to sign a 26 year old lefty who pumps mid 90’s and has the nastiest curveball in the game; let alone one that is a two time Cy Young winner. Seriously, you have to see Kershaw’s curveball if you haven’t

It has even caused Vin Scully to gush like a school girl…

http://www.metatube.com/en/videos/11056/Kershaw-s-curve-3-9-08/

Remember… this is a man who has broadcast baseball since the Dodgers were in Brooklyn. He even referred to Dwight Gooden’s curve as “Lord Charles” (a take on the popular term for the deuce Uncle Charles). For Kershaw, all he could muster through amazement was to refer to it as “Public Enemy Number One.”

Now anyway, where were we… Oh yes the Dodgers and the bottomless pockets of the Guggenheims/Johnson ownership…

We all know that money is not an option for the Magic Johnson driven Dodgers and we all knew that they were pretty much going to pay any price to keep Kershaw in Dodger blue as long as possible. What’s crazy is that this signing could very well be only the SECOND big signing by the Dodgers this offseason. Now although it may not be as high in dollar value, if the Dodgers were to land top free agent Masahiro Tanaka (which they are rumoured to be the favourites to do so) it would be equally as buzzworthy.

BASEBALL-WORLD-JPN-NED

It would also ensure that the Dodgers not only have the highest payroll in the majors, but also the highest paid rotation, as they feature the likes of Josh Becket, Zack Greinke’s $140+ million deal, rookie sensation Hyun-Jun Ryu, and newly signed Dan Haren. Clearly Magic is aiming to make the Dodgers the 1980’s Showtime Lakers of the baseball world.

showtime

Now that Mr. Kershaw has inked his long term deal, I wonder what the Dodgers AL brethren (the Angels) will do when it comes to resigning their own franchise superstar; Mr. Mike Trout. You have to assume that Trout is a shoo in to make $30+ a year. Perhaps this time next year we could be discussing the first $400 million dollar contract signing in North American pro sports. Only time will tell.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Oakland Athletics

– $

Hall of Fame Rant – 2014 Edition

2014

Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas were all voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, on Wednesday afternoon. All three men were among the best of their generations in their respected fields, and have the resumes that should garner a first ballot induction. This comes one year removed from the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) infamously voting in NO PLAYERS to the Hall of Fame.

It’s not like they didn’t have a decent ballot to choose from: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio, Sammy Sosa, and Curt Schilling. And those are just the players who were on the ballot for the first year. They joined the likes of Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Mark McGwire, and Rafael Palmeiro who were holdovers from previous ballots. Looks like an All-Star team from RBI Baseball ’94.

rbi

Anyway, despite their star studded careers, most of these players were alleged and admitted PED users, and most of them had lied about said PED usage to these same writers who now held all the cards when it came to getting immortalized in Cooperstown. And just like a bouncer at a club or a mall security guard on Boxing Day, these writers abused their power and decided that none of them should get into the Hall of Fame. Some of the BBWAA voters went as far as to submit a blank ballot. As great as these white knights intentions were, all the spoiled ballots led to a truly deserving player, Craig Biggio, getting only 68.2% of the vote and thus having to wait another year.

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The Hall voting process is a straight up farce. This is no secret, it’s like making the statement that the BCS Bowl Series needs to be changed. I’m not saying that it’s a bad idea to have writers hold the vote, I just think it’s a bad idea to let SO MANY writers hold a vote. The problem is not with too many, it’s with too many that are uneducated, or whom no longer follow the game! There is no secret that some of the writers are biased and give votes to players that they followed or gave them interviews.

sele

In 2013, one of these geniuses gave a vote to Aaron Sele and his 148-112 record and 4.61 ERA. But they still scoff at the idea of putting Jack Morris in the Hall. I’m not sure what the more frustrating aspect about the Hall vote is, the fact that writers can submit an unnamed ballot, or the fact that they can vote once they retire!?!? A few of the active BBWAA voters no longer follow and write baseball, instead they write for golf publications. I figure if you have the sack to vote for Aaron Sele, than you should have the sack to put your name on it.

morris

This year, despite improving on 2013 by actually INDUCTING PLAYERS, the BBWAA proved that there is still work to be done by giving votes to Armando Benitez, Jacque Jones, J.T Snow, and Eric Gagne! It actually boils my blood to see someone throw away a vote like that. At least people like the Green Party. Other things that came out of Tuesday’s ballot announcement was the fact that Jack Morris once again did not receive the 75% vote and will now be off the ballot as it is his 15th year on it. Look to Morris getting in as a nomination from the Veterans Committee in the future. It also looks like the members of the Steroid Era are going to have to wait for a few more ballots in order to get in… if they get in.

Bonds-Rocket-hof

It still baffles me that the (arguable) greatest player and (arguable) greatest pitcher are left to toil on the ballot in baseball purgatory, while BBWAA schlubs cast their peanuts for the Aaron Seles and Jacque Jones’ of the world. I get it, they cheated, they lied, and they were surly pricks to say the least. But the history of the game is full of those personalities. I’m not about to sit here and give you a history lesson, but the game is full of questionable characters and circumstances.

The fact that some voters sit on their high horse, looking down on the PED users, yet they still brag about the days of greenies, spitballs, and emery boards. Remember this is a game that didn’t even let other people of colour play until AFTER World War II. And that being said, PED’s and Steroids WERE NOT ILLEGAL OR BANNED during the 90’s and early 00’s. We can’t cast these players aside, while showcasing the days of racism, bigotry, and straight up cheating… I’m looking at you Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby.

hornsby cobb

Despite their best policing attempts, all the BBWAA voters have done is laid the foundation to a serious backlog of “DESERVING” nominees. This logjam will ultimately lead to “fringe” HoF’ers not receiving 5% of the vote, and getting left off the ballot altogether. In 2013, Kenny Lofton only received 3.2% of the vote and was left off the ballot for 2014. Now I’m not saying Lofton was a HoF’er by any means, but he was one of those guys whom you could make the case for getting in maybe 5-10 years down the road. Instead of the Kenny Loftons getting left off the ballot, we’ll have to worry about guys like Larry Walker eventually falling into that less than 5% category. I also worry about the upcoming induction classes, classes that are more than loaded with former All Stars, MVP’s, Cy Youngs, and other various awards.

unit-pedro-hof-2015

Next year alone sees the addition of heavyweights like Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and even Gary Sheffield. Now going into 2015 you have to assume that guys like the Big Unit and Pedro are locks to get in, perhaps with Mr. Biggio finally getting the 75%. Sheff though sits in a cloud of uncertainty. Half of it stems from alleged PED use, but the other half is a result of a loaded ballot, and voters who are less than willing to give a vote to anyone with a potential PED past.

Gary Sheffield

Congrats to the Hall of Fame Class of 2014. All very deserving. I’m very thankful to have seen you all play…

– $