08 September 2012

Pitchers Probably Should Wear Helmets, Too

Easton-Bell's Pitcher Helment
I have never really been a proponent of pitchers wearing helmets.  I have never given the idea much thought and it reminds me of how silly guys like John Olerud looked wearing a helmet.  Olerud suffered a brain aneurysm in college, so it medically made sense.  Otherwise, the practice seems like overprotection.  It also harkens back to Steve Tasker, who wore an extra large helmet.  That seemed silly to be as well, but with the increase of information about potential brain injuries in football...it makes much more sense to better protect the head.

That change of thought about football...keeping an open mind as new data or experiences challenge my perspective makes me more open to the idea that baseball can be dangerous.  Base coaches wearing helmets had also seemed silly.  Then someone had to die for people to take those risks seriously.  That is how our society operates.  Our rules and regulations require blood before action is taken.  A textile plant needs to burn down before sweatshop conditions were dealt with.  One out of every five tunnel workers have to die from silicosis before that is handled.  The Cuyahoga had to burn 13 times before people thought maybe that we should take better care of our drinking water supplies.  And now, we wait for global warming (aka climate change) to somehow show us more explicitly that bad things are happening.  For many shrinkage of ice coverage, reduction in coral, movement of planting zones, pH changes in high latitude seas, increased understanding of how carbon dioxide fits into global ecological/geological cycles.  It is simply how we are.  We see immediate things that are right in front of us that are hard to ignore.  I mean, how long did people ignore cigarettes or leaded gasoline?

This roundabout thought process leads us to pitcher head injuries in baseball.  A pitcher gets hurt at each level every single year.  This year, the notable bull's eye shot happened to Brandon McCarthy.  Just a quick internet search brought up these incidents:
  • In 2002, Kaz Ishii suffered a skull fracture.
  • In 2005, Kyle Denney at AAA suffered a skull fracture.
  • In 2009, Darin Downs at AAA suffered a skull fracture.
  • In 2010, a high school pitcher was placed in a medically induced coma for several weeks due to brain swelling from a skull fracture.
  • In 2012, a high school pitcher suffered a severe skull fracture.
So, it happens and it is a dangerous event to occur.  It is relatively rare.  In the professional ranks maybe a handful of headshots happen each year and only a couple at most result in a serious fracture event.  Similarly, batters were plunked on occasion before helmets were issued with some serious beanings, but it took Ray Chapman to die for anyone to consider doing anything about it and it took a long time for them to actively do something about it.

The positives are clear...in the incredibly unlikely situation a pitcher is unable to defend himself on the mound and is hit in the head with a ball, he is substantially less likely to suffer a severe injury or death.  The negatives are...well, that the pitcher looks silly.  Pitchers simply get hit in the head and get injured.  Something should be done to protect them.  It makes sense, it is cheap to do, it likely has no effect on performance, and the only true cost is people getting over it looking silly.


Anonymous said...

Great point. Although it would take some years of evolution with pitchers wearing helmets at the lower levels I think it's a good idea. I've always admired pitchers for standing in there with that ball rocketing back at them. I do wish you had made the post without the global warming argument though, makes it seem like this post has an agenda. Otherwise, keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

It might be safer but I cant imagine it wouldnt affect performance. if it moved or fell off that would surely be a distraction, and many pitchers move their heads quite violently during delivery. and perhaps it would interfere with peripheral vision needed to hold baserunners?

and of course, the global warming "agenda"... those crazy book learning science men are always up to some evil shenanigans

Jon Shepherd said...

1st anon - I am not sure why mentioning global warming gives the post an agenda. I imagine the simple notion how a large proportion of the population is ignoring obvious evidence about what is happening to the earth falls right in line with other major issues that the population has ignored until it has been too late.

As a scientist, it baffles me and concerns me that people somehow think the existence of global warming and man's contribution is really something to have an argument over. The point of argument is really trying to figure out how much we are really hurting ourselves and how long will it take to undo the damage we are causing.

2nd anon - the helmet is designed to stay put, so it would surprise me if they could not figure a way to easily keep it in place. I mean, hats don't fall off when pitching.

It does sadden me that somehow global warming is an argument. As one of those scientists...I mean, it is not much of a thing to discuss other than what effects are we able to measure and how does our understanding of the world help us model what may happen. I am not sure why we have such a difficult time relaying this information in the USA. European nations and Canada do not have this trouble as I understand it.

Jon Shepherd said...

Thanks, Marc.

Anonymous said...

It is only a matter of time before skull cap become mandatory for the baseball player/base coach that are at risk. Some 15-20 years ago we never wore helmets for cycling, snowboarding, skiing and today myself and thousands of others never start our descent until the lid is strapped on. A simple 'lock-ring' adjustment attached to the back of a skull cap would keep it secure to the players head during the infield. Lets hope that most people understand the true nature of sport soner then later. It's not about fashion before function!!