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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.