The Hit Heard Round the League

The other night Toronto Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ endured one of the most viscous hits I have ever witnessed a player take.

No, the hit was not from a batter charging the mound. This hit to the left ear came from a baseball hit with enough force as to still travel nearly the length of the field after impacting Happ’s skull. The impact of ball on skull was also so violent that the sound could be heard all the way up into the press box at Tropicana Field.

Former Astro turned Blue Jay J.A. Happ was hospitalized overnight after he was hit in the head with a baseball. Photo R Anderson

Former Astro turned Blue Jay J.A. Happ was hospitalized overnight after he was hit in the head with a baseball.
Photo R Anderson

Granted one could argue that sound travels further in a dome but still picture the type of force required for the sound to be heard that far away.

During my years covering high school and college football I witnessed many violent hits. On a few occasions I even heard bones break and tendons snap so I know the sound of agony when a player goes down.  I just don’t expect that sound to occur in a Ballpark at the rate that they seem to be occurring lately.

Thankfully after an overnight hospital stay J.A. Happ was released and the 11 minute delay in the game that had thousands of fans silenced and players on both sides looking on with concern and disbelief will become just another footnote in the saga of near misuses and one of those viral videos that is passed along.  The video may even make one of those compilation shows that ranks the top hits in sports, etc.

Sadly, unless something is done the next pitcher to get hit in the head with a baseball off the end of a bat may not be as lucky.

To its credit Major League Baseball is looking into ways to make the pitcher safer out on the mound. Cap inserts made out of Kevlar, the same material that bullet proof vests are made of, are being looked at as a potential way to protect a pitcher.

Pitchers like J.A. Happ are often sitting ducks for well hit balls back up the middle. Sometimes they are caught and and other times injuries result. Photo R Anderson

Pitchers like J.A. Happ are often sitting ducks for well hit balls back up the middle. Sometimes they are caught and and other times injuries result.
Photo R Anderson

Unfortunately a Kevlar insert would not have protected J.A. Happ from injury nor would it have likely prevented an injury last season that led to a pitcher for the Oakland Athletics undergoing emergency brain surgery to deal with a fractured skull and a life threatening hemorrhage since both of those impacts occurred below where the Kevlar would be placed.

Since we at the Triple B Gigaplex are in the problem solving business here are some ideas for Major League Baseball to consider to protect the defenseless pitcher on the mound.

With the understanding that the solution needs to protect the pitcher’s entire head while still allowing full range of motion to perform pitching duties like throws to the plate and pick off attempts, a catcher’s mask and goalie style mask are ruled out as options.

While they would meet the criteria of protecting the pitcher, I an picturing a lot more stolen bases coming as the pitchers would lose most, if not all, of their peripheral vision and base runners would have a field day stealing on them.

Okay, so the goalie mask style is ruled out which leads us to the perfect solution, bullet proof glass aquarium heads. I mean if the Miami Marlins can install aquariums behind home plate that can withstand the force of balls being hurled against them surely the same technology in smaller scale can protect the pitchers.

Breathing holes will of course need to be drilled into the aquarium bowl helmets to ensure that pitchers can breathe and also not fog up the glass but it certainly answers the visibility issue and would prevent the rise in stolen bases that the other solutions would lead to.

An early design concept for a protective pitcher fishbowl. Photo R Anderson

An early design concept for a protective pitcher fishbowl.
Photo R Anderson

All kidding aside, I am of course not seriously thinking that the solution to protect pitchers is a fish bowl helmet. And it may turn out that there is no solution that will protect 100 percent of the possible injuries.

There always has been and always will be risk of injury related to sports. And as some athletes have famously said is why they are paid the big bucks.

Take the NFL and NASCAR for example. Both sports have spent millions of dollars on driver and player safety. Does that mean that athletes in those sports will no longer need to fear injury? Of course not. But it does mean that the sports are safer than they were say 50 years ago or so.

The same is true with baseball. Experts will put their heads together and conduct trials to determine what if anything can be done to protect players on the field from injury.

Regarding injury to pitchers whatever solution is found will need to be started at the Little League level to ensure that players are used to the protective equipment before reaching the majors.

To think that a solution can be found this year and rolled out to all pitchers in the Major Leagues is just not going to happen. Even if the technology is available pitchers will still be able to choose whether or not they want to wear the equipment and in many cases the answer will be no since it will fundamentally change how they pitch and will add an unknown variable to the equation.

J.A. Happ was lucky and evading serious injury and will likely pitch again. Time will tell if the next pitcher knocked down on the mound is as lucky. Photo R Anderson

J.A. Happ was lucky and evaded serious injury and will likely pitch again. Time will tell if the next pitcher knocked down on the mound is as lucky.
Photo R Anderson

Incidents like J.A. Happ’s injury will unfortunately continue to be part of the game for the foreseeable future and most pitchers accept that risk and try to keep the fear of getting hit out of their thoughts.

A few more viral videos of pitchers taking balls to the head though very well could change the culture sooner than perhaps anyone is ready for. And heaven forbid a player is killed on the field from injuries received.

A few years back a minor league first base coach was struck in the head by a ball and died from his injuries. Following his death first and third base coaches were required to wear batting helmets out on the field in all Minor and Major League Baseball games. Of course no one is wanting that to be what finally ushers in the move to pitcher safety.

So while there is no magic solution  to prevent all injuries it is nice to see that the issue is being looked at in terms of a solution.

Now if you’ll excuse me I am off to patent pitcher fish bowl helmets before someone beats me to it.

Copyright 2013 R Anderson

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