Happ injury reignites discussion about head protection for pitchers


(Mike Carlson/AP Photo)

 

During a week in which an umpiring crew blew a crucial home run call, reviewed the replay, returned to the field and still blew the call – a topic for another day – there was a single indelible scene in baseball: Toronto pitcher J.A. Happ, crumpled in a heap on the mound at Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field. A split second before, Happ had been nailed by a screaming liner off the bat of the Rays’ Desmond Jennings. A split second later, players on both teams covered their eyes and held their breath – and players and coaches across the majors took notice.

“That touches everybody, both teams,” Detroit Manager Jim Leyland said. “Nobody wants to see anybody get hurt. That was ugly.”

So in the wake of such instances – Brandon McCarthy last year, Doug Fister a glancing blow in the World Series, Juan Nicasio in 2011 – there was, naturally, renewed discussion about what, if anything, can be done to protect pitchers.

“We are actively meeting with a number of companies that are attempting to develop a product, and have reviewed test results for several products,” MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said this week. “Although some of the products are promising, no company has yet developed a product that has satisfied the testing criteria.”

So the search goes on, even as there is no consensus as to what might work. Pitchers talk about the need to be “free and easy” on the mound, and any helmet-like equipment might hinder their motions. McCarthy — who suffered an epidural hemorrhage, a skull fracture and a brain contusion last September when he was with Oakland — took to Twitter to argue that discussions about wearing headgear are moot until something appropriate is developed.

“Anybody taking the hard-line stance today that pitchers should be wearing helmets, need to get out their tool kits and make a good one,” wrote McCarthy, now with Arizona. “There is no discussion to be had. It’s simple. Want money? Invent something that protects pitchers heads at all levels, make a ton of it.”

Happ suffered a minor fracture behind his left ear and was put on the disabled list, but he won’t need surgery. And there are still people in the game that believe more traditional means of defense provide the best hope.

“You just got to pay attention,” Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said. “Pitchers, first base coach, third base coach – it’s not so much the kind of gear you got on, it’s: you got to react.”

Barry Svrluga is the national baseball writer for The Washington Post.
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James Wagner · May 10, 2013

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