Column: Baseball must act now to protect pitchers

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 10, 2013 at 7:03 pm •  Published: May 10, 2013
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"There is nothing acceptable out there," he wrote, "so the discussion at this point is worthless."

While we understand that pitchers are reluctant to wear something that could affect their performance, to balk at anything other than the perfect product is mind-boggling.

From all indications, several companies are working feverishly to develop a product that will address the two main concerns: pitchers don't want to anything that is heavy enough to affect their windups when their heads rock back, or is so thick that it causes them to sweat more — especially on blistering summer days.

Legitimate concerns, to be sure, but pitchers would surely adjust to whatever they had to wear (just as the batters did when finally ordered to wear helmets in the early 1970s). And what's a little extra perspiration compared to the possibility of avoiding a potentially career-ending or even life-threating brain injury?

I'm reminded of all the NASCAR drivers who objected when their governing body, in the wake of Dale Earnhardt's death at the 2001 Daytona 500, ordered everyone to wear a bulky device around the neck, known as the HANS, which helps to eliminate the sort of skull fracture that had killed the sport's biggest star.

These days, no one would think of getting behind the wheel without strapping on the HANS. More important, no drivers have died since then.

Baseball certainly doesn't rate with auto racing on the danger scale. There's no denying that someone getting struck by a baseball — especially in the head — is still a very rare occurrence.

But it's time for baseball, at all levels, to acknowledge there's a problem that must be addressed immediately.

While everyone focuses on the big leagues, the bigger issue might be at the grassroots level. There are no mandates for protecting a pitcher's head in the college game. Heck, there's nothing in the Little League rules.

That needs to change, too. Shouldn't be a problem, either, since they don't have to worry about a player's union getting in the way.

Little League spokesman Brian McClintock said one of the organizations corporate partners, Easton, is among those working on a device that would provide additional protection for a pitcher's head. But he said Little League is more focused on teaching proper techniques, such as making sure pitchers wind up in the best fielding position as soon as they deliver the ball.

"This is a very rare occurrence when these injuries do happen," he said Friday. "Having extra protections is really something that hasn't been developed yet. ... We're absolutely open to it as long as everything is vetted properly."

While the big leaguers could set an example that filters down to the lower levels, McClintock pointed out that Little League actually mandated batting helmets before the majors did.

We don't care who does it first.

Just do it.

Now.

___

Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963