Playing the Field: Baseball must do better job of protecting pitchers

Toronto pitcher J.A. Happ was taken off the field in a stretcher Tuesday night in Tampa after a line drive went off his head. (Getty Images)
Toronto pitcher J.A. Happ was taken off the field in a stretcher Tuesday night in Tampa after a line drive went off his head. (Getty Images)

Concussions in football have been a hot topic for several years now and, after endless stories of tragedy coming from former players and even Congressional hearings, something is being done about it. The rule changes in the NFL are an annoyance for the old school, take-no-prisoners sports fan. But if they help save one life going forward, to hell with those “back-in-my-day” perceived bad-asses.

It’s Major League Baseball’s turn to now get with the times. Toronto Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ was struck in the head with a line drive comebacker Tuesday night and he had to be carried off the field on a stretcher. For minutes he laid on the ground and it was hard to avoid that awful question that pops into a sports fan’s head from time-to-time, “is this the moment someone actually dies on a professional sports field?”

Pro sports leagues owe it to their fans to not have to deal with that thought.

In the case of baseball, there’s no concrete answer on how to go about protecting the pitcher better. He can’t wear a batter’s helmet. Way too clunky. But just a little added padding in the temples area could go a long way. They’d look goofy as all hell in baseball, but what about the return of the leather helmet from football’s infant days?

Of course, this issue will be discussed for a couple of hours today on SportsCenter and there will be plenty of buzz the next time Happ hopefully takes the mound for Toronto. But then it will be forgotten … until the next time someone gets plunked in the head.

The Happ incident will be forgotten just like the Matt Clement incident (Red Sox pitcher hit in the head in 2005. By 2007 his MLB career was finished), just like the Bryce Florie incident (Red Sox pitcher hit in the head in 2000. By 2002 his MLB career was finished), just like the Steven Domalewski incident (12-year-old New Jersey Little League pitcher hit in the chest by a line-drive off a metal bat in 2006. His heart stopped upon impact and he is now brain damaged from loss of oxygen to the brain) and just like the Brandon Patch incident (the 18-year-old Montana American Legion pitcher who died in 2003 due to a ball striking his head off a metal bat).

It’s hard to watch, yes, but if you think pitchers should just “nut up” and not think about the fact that their head and body is exposed to a 100 mph flying piece of rubber and leather, give the Happ video a viewing.

Follow Metro Boston sports editor and columnist Matt Burke on Twitter @BurkeMetroBOS

 

 



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