Thursday, May 9, 2013

J.A. Happ...doing okay. So what next?

Quote of the Day:

"The whole baseball community has been unbelievable with the messages I'm receiving and things people are saying and all the prayers. I really think that helps."

-- J.A. Happ 

It's never good to see your starting pitcher go down after getting nailed by a line drive.  On Tuesday night, Blue Jays fans got to experience that gut-wrenching feeling when starter J.A. Happ was struck by a line drive off the bat of Rays' Desmond Jennings in the second inning.  

Happ was apparently conscious and coherent the entire ordeal, yet still needed a few stitches for a laceration behind his left ear and had a minor skull fracture.  The CT scans on his brain, neck and spine were negative, yet it's same to say that Happ was very lucky.  

With major league hitters getting stronger and hitting the ball harder today than ever before, Major League Baseball should address this issue before someone doesn't get lucky.  It is only 60 feet and 6 inches separating the human head from a projectile missile.  It's obvious that something needs to be done, but the answer may not be so simple.  

Brandon McCarthy, who last season needed emergency brain surgery after suffering a fractured skull off a line drive eerily similar to Happ, offered his thoughts via Twitter: 

@BMcCarthy32: 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.

@BMcCarthy32: Otherwise, you're accomplishing less than nothing. This goes for news organizations especially.

@BMcCarthy32: There is nothing acceptable out there so the discussion at this point is worthless.

@BMcCarthy32: 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.

In a statement that was longer than Twitter's 140 character count, McCarthy made some other points about safety for pitchers:

"Most everything that's come out, it wouldn't have protected me, wouldn't have protected (Happ) if he got hit directly on the ear ... You'd have to have something that protected the ear. At that point, how vulnerable is the face and beyond. It's kind of a slippery slope where somebody will have to come up with something really good or really sound. Otherwise, I don't know how to answer the question.

"We've put things on the moon before, so I feel like we could create some sort of a device that sits on your head and protects you. … It's going to be a money-maker whatever it is. You can sell it to youth leagues and people will wear it all the way through. Usually good ideas go where the money is, so I think if enough companies get into that or people in their basement who are good at creating, someone will do it. It's just a matter of when not if."

It wasn't long ago when many pundits believed that McCarthy's injury would be the one that lead to more of an urgency on the part of pitchers protective head gear (the outspoken pitcher is both popular and media-friendly).  After all, it was only a season later after Mike McCoolbaugh was killed by a line drive in a minor league game, that baseball made helmets for coaches mandatory in 2007.  

Yet here we are with yet another pitcher suffering from a scary line drive and seemingly no more progress.  McCarthy makes valid points: there are simply no cap liners that would adequately protect the human skull from a 100-mph line drive.  Having said that, what frustrates McCarthy is not that there isn't something available -- only that there has been little to no urgency to develop one.  

While baseball looked into protective gear for pitchers, sadly none were approved.  Perhaps McCarthy speaks the truth when he implies that money, not player's safety is going to lead to developing a truly safe head gear for pitchers.  

And even though a recent statistic cited by MLB Medical Doctor, Gary Green notes that a pitcher is struck by a liner in the head happens roughly once every 250,000 pitches, after watching Happ being carried off in a stretcher on Tuesday, I can only hope that baseball has a greater sense of urgency to resolve the questions about pitcher safety before the day comes when a pitcher doesn't get as lucky.