By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Look at Mark Buehrle at the 1:35 mark. Look at R.A. Dickey at 1:50. The color leaving the faces of J.A. Happ’s Toronto Blue Jays teammates as blood exited his head.
The worry on the faces of the Tampa Bay Rays. Superstar Evan Longoria just a human being worrying about another human being. Desmond Jennings exhibiting that nervous, childlike chewing of the shirt that we all would be reduced to when hoping that what just happened—a total accident—could be undone.
And then it’s back to baseball! Seven-plus more innings to go! Peanuts, Cracker Jack, a mascot race, a Kiss Cam. Everybody back to business. Excuse me, back to fun. Hit the ball, catch the ball, even throw the ball again for the thousands of paying customers. (Sorry, hundreds. This was in Tampa, after all.)
Head trauma is on the front burner of the most brutal of American pastimes, football. Despite the best efforts of those who make money off men (or almost men) smashing into each other regardless of long-term health effects on the smashers and smashees, there are many people out there fighting the neurological fight to saves brains and lives, either through research or exposing the copious amounts of BS out there regarding equipment, technique, etc. Even in hockey, long celebrated for violence, though not for the choreographed variety as football is, measures are being taken to reduce the quietly alarming amount of head injuries, beginning with children in hopes there will be a trickle-up effect in the professional leagues.
Baseball wised up a long time ago and realized that its vulnerable players being hit in the unprotected head with an object traveling between 80-100mph was probably a bad thing (unless you’re a pud demanding undeserved privilege over others). Well, for some players, that is.
What happened to Happ on Tuesday night highlights the issue once again of pitchers being completely exposed on the mound to a line drive. We were all worried after seeing then-Oakland A’s pitcher Brandon McCarthy take one to the dome last season, but at least he was almost immediately alert and sitting up and talking. Whew.
Oh, but then he almost died hours later. His life changed.
But McCarthy is far and away the wittiest guy in baseball, and he helped ease our concerns with laughter. So then we let the issue pass without solving anything.
Putting helmets on pitchers in the field doesn’t seem like anything drastic, though aesthetically one might take some getting used to, but maybe it’s an overreaction. “Major League Baseball pitchers throw about 700,000 pitches each year, and about 0.0004% of the time–roughly two to three times per season–a batter’s hit makes contact with a pitcher’s head.” So why make an adjustment—even just a cosmetic one—for something so rare?
What’s even rarer is a player dying from the game itself. But it has happened, and with the evolution of the Major League athlete—both naturally and nefariously—it’s really a wonder a ball hasn’t done more damage in a game. With the sheer velocity batted balls enter the field of professional play today—and that’s without aluminum bats—the game is gambling on every first pitch.
Baseball separates itself from the other major sports in so many ways. Player safety shouldn’t be one of them, especially when the issue isn’t so much concussions or CTE, but immediate threat to the life of a player.
Players themselves seem sketchy on a potential adaptation, even those who have been affected. “In this game, we obsess over little things to make sure everything is just right, and all of a sudden someone is trying to put a bulky helmet on you that you’ve never worn before,” McCarthy has said. “Honestly, it sounds like asking a pitcher to throw with the opposite arm.”
Well, why do pro base coaches have to wear helmets in the field? Only one of them has died from being hit by a ball. And, hell, they’re not squaring up and bent over facing the speeding ball with momentum carrying them toward it before their own recoil can take effect and in almost no condition to protect themselves.
But one guy died. And now there are helmets.
And a pitcher will die. A similar McCarthy or Happ situation will occur—today, next month, maybe 20 years from now—and it won’t end well. And then we will mourn and have moments of silence and sew patches on uniforms and hang a jersey in the dugout and pan the teary faces of teammates as a country star plays an acoustic tribute before the next game and place flowers outside the stadium and ask how we talk to our kids about this and question whether this life had to end prematurely and do all those superficial things that absolve us from ignoring what stared us in the face and the temple and the skull the whole time.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa before earning his degree from Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @TimBaffoe , but please don’t follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago’s Beverly To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.