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Should Major League Baseball Protect Pitchers?

J.A. Happ, Toronto Blue Jays
J. Meric/Getty Images

Pitching in the Major Leagues is an occupational hazard, as MLB pitchers throw pitches at speeds up to 100 miles per hour. MLB pitchers take the risk every time of going to the mound of getting a line drive hit back at them. It happened again the other night.

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ was struck in the head after a line drive hit him in the head. Happ laid on the ground for 10 minutes before being taken to the hospital. Wednesday morning, Happ was released from the hospital.

Last season, Arizona Diamondback pitcher Brandon McCarthy was hit by a line drive in the head when he played with the Oakland Athletics, and Detroit Tigers pitcher Doug Fister was hit in the head in the World Series.

McCarthy suffered a fractured skull and an epidural hemorrhage, and underwent emergency brain surgery. Fister was able to stay in the game and continue to pitch against the Giants.

With pitchers being hit three times in about a year, the frequency of pitchers being hit by line drives has raised questions that have surrounded MLB with the possibility of adding protective head gear.

Last fall after McCarthy and Fister were hit in the head, there was consideration of producing a cap liner with Kevlar that is used by the military, law enforcement and NFL players.

MLB vice president Dan Halem told ESPN that further talks have developed, but nothing is imminent. Talks with about twelve companies about prototypes, including the padded-cap liner with Kevlar has been tested.

McCarthy told USA Today Wednesday morning, “I know that baseball has worked on it, and they’re trying to find people from outside of baseball who can solve the problem. Until someone makes something that works, it’s going to be tough for anybody to wear it, Most everything that’s come out, it wouldn’t have protected me, wouldn’t have protected Happ if he got hit directly on the ear.”

McCarthy went on to say that developing a head gear that provides the best protection may be difficult. “So you’re at the point where you’re looking at hitting helmets. You’d have to have something that protected the ear. At that point, how vulnerable is the face and beyond. It’s kind of a slippery slope where somebody will have to come up with something really good or really sound. Otherwise, I don’t know how to answer the question.”

There’s two sides of the spectrum. First, for some pitchers in baseball, they’ve never been hit by a line drive. It’s an assumed risk just like hard hits in football. In an interview with ESPN, Texas Rangers manager said it best. “What can you do? Tell hitters not to hit it back up the middle?”

On the opposite side since hitters aren’t going to not hit it up the middle, there are ways to protect the pitcher. Whether it’s by developing a Kevlar cap liner, or a helmet with face gear, the issue of protecting a pitcher must be heard by MLB, and some type of action needs to be taken. It’s worth it to protect MLB pitchers lives, and to prevent further brain damage for their post-baseball career.

The issue won’t go away until MLB addresses the issue, and it needs to be soon.

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