Protecting A Pitcher’s Undervalued Asset

As we near the end of April, it seems not many pitchers, if any, have embraced the new protective head gear in regular season play. While it is always hard to change the habits of professional ballplayers, the league needs to keep pushing for their safety, regardless of the players’ existing uniform choices. It is only a matter of time before we see a pitcher take an unprotected shot to the head.

Players will be quick to disregard the new Boombang, marketed as “a hybrid of a cap and helmet” due to its aesthetics and 10 to 12 ounces of added weight. This is the same response from players of the earlier isoBLOX protective cap that Alex Torres has donned since Alex Cobb’s injury. Torres has mentioned he values his safety on the mound more than his appearance. His view is in the minority of pitchers.

The only item on the market, but has not been submitted for approval by Major League Baseball, that looks visually pleasing is Safer Sports Technologies’ SST Pro Performance Head Guard. The Kevlar padded inserts are placed under the cap. It has gotten plenty of publicity from Houston’s Collin McHugh who was a high school teammate of the company’s owner.

As much as we worry about a pitcher’s arm health, we keep neglecting the safety of the pitcher’s head. With Statcast adding the metric of exit velocity to baseball lexicon, it can have a real effect on a pitcher’s minimal reaction time when that ball comes back through the box. We have seen some scary situations following those injuries to pitchers.

It may be an extreme, but imagine if a baseball, with an exit velocity over 100 MPH, came back and struck a defenseless pitcher on the temple? That ball is traveling as fast, if not faster than it was thrown to a hitter wearing a league mandated helmet. The pitcher, only wearing a cap, is closer than 60 feet away and will have his skull absorb the impact.

Ray Chapman, who helped usher in batting helmet rules, needs to be the only player killed from an on-field injury. Hitters have been required to wear batting helmets since 1971. They have worn ear flaps since 1983. Even the first and third base coaches have worn them since 2008 following Mike Coolbaugh’s death. Pitchers need protection too.

Think of it another way. The NHL adopted a rule that any player who signed a contract following the 1979 draft was required to wear a helmet. While some, grandfathered in, signed a waiver to not wear them, this ushered in a long needed rule.

The macho attitude NHL players took prior to the 1979-80 season was that helmets were for players not tough enough to survive in the league and were viewed as ugly. This was still true following Bill Masterton’s death following a clean check in a 1968 game. The lack of foresight from the league prevented mandatory helmets for 11 years. Imagine if NHL players today did not wear them? Concussions would be the least of their worries.

While it is easy to agree with the pitchers that the league approved headgear is both bulky and ugly, there needs to be concern for their safety in the long run. Short of placing the L-screen in front of the mound, pitchers need to embrace safety. As baseball pundits and fans express concern over elbow and shoulder health, we need to keep in mind of protecting their heads as well. The last thing this great game needs is an easily avoidable tragedy.

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