Sidelines: Is baseball doing enough to protect its players?

Sidelines: Is baseball doing enough to protect its players?

Michael Keating

 

Last September, in a game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Florida Marlins’ star slugger Giancarlo Stanton took an 88 mph fastball from Mike Fiers to the face. With Stanton suffering a serious facial injury that forced him to sit out the rest of the season, much about the issue of safety in baseball has been brought to light recently.

Stanton now wears a custom batting helmet. This helmet includes a metal frame on the side that resembles that of a football helmet’s facemask.

Many people believe that these injuries are exclusive to batters. On the contrary, more facial and head injuries occur to pitchers than hitters. This makes perfect sense as even though the average MLB fastball hovers around 90 mph, the average line drive comes off the bat anywhere between 110-120 mph. In recent years, pitchers J.A. Happ, Brandon McCarthy, Alex Cobb and Carlos Carrasco all suffered serious facial injuries that forced them to miss substantial time on the playing field.

But, with the increase in the number of head injuries in recent years, has the MLB actually done anything about them?

The answer is no. This is interesting because there have been other safety issues in recent memory that the MLB did address. One example was the use of maple wood bats. The MLB banned them after realizing that they break more easily, resulting in flying shrapnel across the diamond.

It’s only a matter of time before the MLB comes up with a solution to the problem of fastballs to the face. For now though, some players are taking the issue into their own hands. In 2009, after being concussed from a baseball to the head, New York Mets star David Wright sported a new helmet. The helmet, which was a Rawlings S100, was essentially a normal helmet that was doubled in size. Wright only wore it for two games due to the criticism that he garnered.

Pitcher Brandon McCarthy once tested a special padded cap after he was hit with a line drive. McCarthy stopped using it, however, after saying that it was too unappealing for use in a game. This is consistent with many of the options available now. Many players are more than willing to improve the safety of the game, but they do not want to look foolish doing so. The only player right now in the MLB that wears a padded cap or special helmet is pitcher Alex Torres of the Mets.

“I don’t really consider a line drive a safety concern,” senior pitcher Toby Schwartz said. “It’s more a part of the game that you can’t avoid.”

However, if injured, Schwartz could see himself doing something about it.

“If I did get hit in the head then yes, I could see myself wearing a padded hat for a little until I feel comfortable again,” Schwartz added.

This winter the MLB finally approved the use of padded caps. But this approval does not come as a mandatory change for pitchers and infielders. With players reluctant to use such caps because they are not fashionable and are heavier than usual, these injuries will continue to occur more and more often.