Should Baseball Pitchers Wear Helmets?: Debate Renewed After Cleveland Pitcher Gets Beaned

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Posted on 3rd June 2010 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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 It hasn’t even been a week since New York Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez hit Cleveland Indians pitcher David Huff in the head with a line drive. But Huff seems to have emerged magically uninjured by that heart-stopping accident.

 Huff, who had to be carried out of Yankee Stadium on a stretcher after getting beaned May 29, is back playing ball. The pitcher, who never lost consciousness after A-Rod’s hit struck him, didn’t sustain a concussion, or get so much as a headache, from being hit. His CT scan came back negative.

 The evening of the day he was hit, Huff tweeted, “Everything is good. Was a little scary, but I’m out of the hospital and with my family.”

 That’s all pretty remarkable, in that Rodriguez hit the ball with such force that it after it struck Huff’s head it flew and landed roughly 275 feet from home plate.,244510

 Although the Huff case had a happy ending, the scary incident has some sports writer bringing up a question that’s been debated in baseball: Should pitchers be required to wear helmets for protection, like catchers?

 The knee-jerk reaction might be to say yes, pitchers should don helmets. After all, they face hardballs shooting back at race car-like speeds, more than 90 mph.

 And some players who have been hit in the head like Huff didn’t fare as well as him. The Cleveland Indians seem to be particularly jinxed. In 1920 Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman was killed by a pitched ball. And Indians pitcher Herb Score’s promising career ended when he was hit in the face with a line drive in 1957.

 But how far do you go to eliminate risk in sports? By their very nature, sports involve all kind of risks. You can’t eliminate them all.

 And if you believe baseball pitchers should wear helmets, then it follows that you would want to mandate that basketball players wear helmets, as well. In a recent week there were two concussions in just one basketball game. Basketball has a much higher frequency of concussions than baseball, except when it comes to batting.

 That said, the biggest risk of severe brain injury in baseball is not a pitcher taking a line drive in the head. It’s two outfielders going after the same ball and then colliding at a very high speed, head on head. Each year, some player dies as the result of such a collision.

 My answer to making baseball safer for pitchers isn’t a helmet, but rather a ban on aluminum bats. A player can swing an aluminum bat faster than a wooden bat, accelerating the speed the ball comes off the bat – and at the pitcher. That’s why for at least a decade the use of aluminum bats has been a controversial issue.

 Back in 2000, ESPN Magazine did a story headlined “Bat Controversy Lingers Over NCAA.”  In part, that article described how player stats soared as “hot” aluminum bats became more prevalent in the game. In the College World Series championship, from 1994 to 1998 there were 105 runs scored, versus only 33 in 1989 to 1993.

 Last year a Montana jury awarded a family $850,000 for the death of their son, who was killed in a 2003 baseball game where aluminum bats were used. The jury found that Louisville Slugger didn’t properly warn people about the potential dangers of the bat.

 But even that jury award didn’t convince people like New Mexico State University baseball coach Ricky Ward that aluminum bats were unsafe. In an interview, Ward said that deaths from batted baseballs were very uncommon.

 Ward suggested that instead of worrying about the aluminum bat, that the specifications on baseballs themselves be changed.

 That’s a new answer to an old problem, but we don’t know if it would work.