Toronto Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ took his sign, came set and checked the Tampa Bay runners on second and third on May 7. He then delivered the pitch, and almost instantly, a collective gasp could be heard not only at Tropicana Field but also on television sets nationwide.
Desmond Jennings lined the pitch off the side of Happ’s head, and Happ went down hard. He had to be carted off the field in a stretcher and suffered a skull fracture that has landed him on the disabled list.
In watching the gruesome incident over and over again, it raises the question: Could this injury and others have been prevented?
Though MLB has explored the issue, no suitable head protection for pitchers has been invented. Some prototypes are out there but have not been rendered effective enough to be implemented.
But based on Happ’s injury and Brandon McCarthy’s head injury from last year, the time is now for the league to agree on a new standard measure for pitcher safety.
We can’t let it get to the point where a pitcher (God forbid) is killed by a line drive in plain view on the mound. That’s why before the unthinkable happens, something must be done.
Think back to 2007 when 35-year-old Mike Coolbaugh was coaching first base for the Tulsa Drillers. Coolbaugh was struck by a line drive in the neck and died nearly instantaneously. In November of that year, MLB general managers decided that base coaches would wear helmets.
The base coaches are roughly 90-100 feet away from home plate, yet even at just 60 feet 6 inches, pitchers are rendered defenseless. Philadelphia Phillies starter Cliff Lee said taking that risk is “part of the gig.” However, how would he feel if it were he instead of Happ that got drilled by the Jennings’ liner?
In the aftermath of Happ’s injury, McCarthy was the first to admit that the kinks of a foolproof method of head safety for pitchers are still being ironed out. He did say though that it’s a matter of time before a system is put in place.
A new safety feature may take some time to get used to, especially for veteran pitchers. But it could potentially save lives, which certainly trumps comfort.
Hopefully, we’re never faced with a situation in which immediate adoption of a safety measure is implemented. That would mean that a pitcher suffered a life-threatening injury.
At the very least, some sort of safety mechanism should be optional for pitchers. In this case, the league would acknowledge the risk involved and would leave it up to the players as to whether they choose to protect themselves.
That could be the next step in all this, and the sooner the better as to limit any other potential head injuries.