One year earlier, then Oakland A’s pitcher Brandon McCarthy was struck in the head with a line drive and required emergency surgery after suffering an epidural hemorrhage, a brain contusion and a skull fracture.
And it seems like every year, this happens at least once during the Major League Baseball season.
It’s only a matter of time before a pitcher is killed.
It’s time for Major League Baseball, and all levels of baseball, to be proactive and require pitchers to wear helmets.
Hitters stand 60 feet, 6 inches away form home plate. A baseball has the potential to strike their head at a top speed of 100 mph. Hitters are in a good position to protect themselves. They have been required to wear helmets since 1959.
In 2007, minor league baseball first base coach Mike Coolbaugh was struck with a line drive in the neck and died. The next year base coaches were required to wear helmets. Base coaches stand 90 feet away from home plate and are in a good position to protect themselves.
Pitchers are about 55 feet away from home plate at the time they finish their delivery and they are in a vulnerable position when they release the ball. The exit speed off a bat can reach almost 120 miles per hour. Yet pitchers do not wear helmets.
I played baseball throughout my youth and into college. At 16, I was hit in the head by a line drive and spent three days in intensive care with internal bleeding. I was fortunate that my internal bleeding was outside my skull and not in my brain. Otherwise I would have also required emergency surgery. I know that I am one of just many baseball players at all levels to have this happen.
Shortly after that time, metal bats companies were required to reduce the weight differential from -5 to -3 in high school and college, which helped to slow the exit speeds off the bat. Some colleges and high schools have also switched to wood bats in recent years.
But its time for all levels of baseball, from the majors through little league to take the next step. Pitchers need to start wearing helmets.
Now, since I did pitch for many years, I realize this is a little more complicated than putting helmets on batters. There are lots of moving parts in a pitching motion, and putting a bulky helmet on could alter mechanics and could potentially cause arm problems. In a sport where the smallest change in mechanics can mean the difference between being a superstar and being out of the game, many professionals will oppose this.
Certainly there would be an adjustment period. I imagine it was weird at first for batters to wear a helmet. But they adjusted and now it’s the norm. I think eventually helmets for pitchers will be the norm also.
Some companies, particularly Easton, have already worked on a prototype for a pitcher’s helmet. It’s a padded contraption that goes over the hat and is much lighter than a hitter’s helmet. Even if its not perfect and a little weird-looking, some protection is better than none.
Maybe the solution is to start at the lowest levels so future generations of major leaguers will be accustomed to it. Certainly little leaguers are the most vulnerable, given their age and lack of skill, coupled with the fact that there is often quite a disparity in talent. If wearing helmets is all young pitchers know, then it won’t be an issue for the ones that reach the highest levels of baseball in the future.
Let’s hope this gets done before it’s too late.
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