Helmets for pitchers? Possibility may become reality

Josh Beckett showed us that a pitcher doesn’t necessarily have to stand on the mound to put himself in danger of taking a line drive to the head.  While shagging balls yesterday in the outfield, Red Sox coaching staff assistant Ino Guerrero attempted to return one of the balls by hitting it back to the infield.  Unfortunately, Beckett’s head got in the way.

“At first I was pissed, but I know he didn’t do it on purpose,” Beckett said. “It’s one of the deals. Was it stupid? Yes. It was stupid and I think he realizes that now. There’s no sense making him feel worse than he already does.

“Maybe this will get all the pitchers out of shagging from now on.”

Thankfully for Beckett, he is displaying only minor concussion symptoms and should be able to return to playing form in a few weeks, if not sooner.

Now although the risk of catching a liner to the head in the outfield is small, the same can’t be said for pitchers standing 60 feet, six inches away from home plate.

Dodgers pitcher Hiroki Kuroda was carted off the field after taking a line drive to the head.

One of the most recent incidents took place on August 15, 2009.  Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Hiroki Kuroda was struck in the head by a line drive.  It was a horrifying scene.  The impact of the ball on his skull was clearly heard on the TV broadcast, and Kuroda remained motionless on the field for nearly ten minutes before being carted off the field. The injury landed the right-handed pitcher on the DL, but miraculously only kept him out for a little over two weeks.

Other players haven’t been so lucky.  On May 21, 2008, then-Padres pitcher Chris Young took an Albert Pujols line drive to the head and missed over two months before returning.  Another former Japanese Dodgers pitcher, Kaz Ishii, suffered a fractured skull in 2002.  And in May of last year, 12-year-old Brady Frazier, pitching against a high school team, died after a line drive struck him in the head.

On the mound, pitchers are virtually helpless to avoid such drives.  Off the bat, line drives can reach velocities close to the actual pitch speed.  So, let’s say a pitcher hurls a 95 mph fastball.  The ensuing line drive may reach the pitcher just as quickly.  The problem here is the batter is expecting it.  In contrast, pitchers will still be in their motion as the ball is flying towards them.

If the idea of baseball pitchers wearing helmets seems like a silly idea, consider this: players in little league all the way through the college level are already doing so.  Matt Hiserman of the University of San Francisco wears a protective shield under his cap that extends over his temples.  This precaution seemed like a no-brainer after he was hit in the head not once, but twice by line drives.

Matt Hiserman shows protective headgear doesn't have to be oversized and comical (a la David Wright's spaceman helmet).

How many times were batters hit in the head before helmets were mandatory for them?  Sadly, it will take a few more serious pitcher head injuries before significant talk begins on whether or not helmets should be worn on the mound.  Does someone in the majors have to actually die before these talks begin?  Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

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