Brandon McCarthy Scare Is MLB's Latest Excuse to Adopt Helmets for Pitchers

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Brandon McCarthy Scare Is MLB's Latest Excuse to Adopt Helmets for Pitchers
Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

We should all realize one thing about what happened to Oakland A's pitcher Brandon McCarthy on Wednesday: It could have been a lot worse.

McCarthy, as I'm sure all of you are well aware by now, was hit in the head by a line drive off the bat of Los Angeles Angels shortstop Erick Aybar on Wednesday afternoon in Oakland (MLB.com has the video). Amazingly, McCarthy never lost consciousness and was able to walk off the field under his own power.

The Associated Press reported that McCarthy was taken to a nearby hospital as a precaution, and Jane Lee of MLB.com eventually passed along word on Twitter that McCarthy was "conscious and doing well."

McCarthy didn't travel with the A's to Seattle on Thursday, but it sounds like he's going to be OK. One assumes he'll be able to get back on the mound again in the near future.

I'll take it for granted that you're all with me when I sit back and say, "Phew."

UPDATE: Thursday, September 6 at 7:20 p.m. ET

According to CSNBayArea.com, the A's have revealed on Thursday that McCarthy actually underwent surgery on Wednesday night after a CT scan revealed an epidural hemorrhage, a brain contusion and a skull fracture. Fortunately, McCarthy is "alert, awake and resting comfortably, and has shown signs of improvement." He is resting in critical care as of Thursday evening.

-End of Update-

 

Photo via the Boston Globe

In response to McCarthy's injury scare, we now have an excuse to reopen dialogue about the contraption in the picture directly to your right.

Yes, that thing is just what it looks like. It's a helmet for pitchers.

Courtesy of a report from Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe, that picture started making the rounds last March. The device featured in it was designed and manufactured by Easton-Bell Sports, and they provided Abraham with the following press release:

The Easton-Bell Sports pitching helmet prototype uses lightweight energy managing materials to provide protection to the most vulnerable areas of the head, without compromising comfort or performance. The helmet is made of expanded polystyrene polycarbonate, which is attached to a comfortable liner and elastic strap.

The company clearly wants to give off the impression that these helmets could be implemented without all the new wearers even noticing any changes, but that surely wouldn't be the case. 'Tis a weird-looking thing, and pitchers would no doubt be aware that they're wearing one no matter how lightweight and high-tech the blasted thing is.

Thus, it's going to be hard for Major League Baseball to actually implement these helmets, or any other helmets for pitchers designed by any other company. There will be resistance to helmets from pitchers and probably hitters as well, seeing as how most of them could argue that helmets such as these would be a distraction.

But MLB shouldn't worry itself with the possibility of receiving such complaints. Player safety is a hot-button topic not just in baseball, but in all sports right now. If MLB prioritizes adopting helmets for pitchers, it'll be making a concerted effort to make the sport considerably safer.

Making the sport safer is worth fighting off a few complaints, not to mention whatever resistance may come from players and the union. I'm going to trust I'm not alone in thinking as much.

Tony Medina/Getty Images
A's first base coach Tye Waller rocking his protective helmet.
Keep in mind that implementing new helmets to make the sport safer would be nothing new for Major League Baseball. Hitters wear helmets, obviously, and now first- and third-base coaches are wearing them as well.

It took something drastic for MLB to adopt helmets for base coaches. It was just five years ago that Mike Coolbaugh, a first-base coach for the Tulsa Drillers (Colorado's Double-A team), was killed after he was struck in the head by a line drive. A couple months later, MLB's general managers decided that it was time for first- and third-base coaches to start wearing head protection.

They've been wearing helmets ever since. I doubt anybody even notices them anymore.

Major League Baseball did the right thing after Coolbaugh was killed, but what worries me is that MLB isn't going to get proactive with helmets for pitchers until something similarly drastic happens.

Let's face it—something similarly drastic could definitely happen to a pitcher. If a screaming line drive off the bat of a minor league hitter can kill a first base coach standing 90 feet away from home plate, then a screaming line drive off the bat of a major league hitter certainly has the power to kill a pitcher standing less than 60 feet, six inches away from home plate. 

Photo courtesy of Comcast SportsNet, via MLB.com.
A situation like what happened to McCarthy on Wednesday is exactly what MLB should be worried about. As you can see in the screenshot directly to your right (from MLB.com, courtesy of Comcast SportsNet), Aybar's line drive hit McCarthy directly in the side of the head.

That's where your pterion is. That's the weakest part of the human skull, and bad things can happen when something hits it really hard. A blow to the pterion in a boxing match is dangerous. Just imagine what a baseball zipping through the air at 100 miles per hour could do to that area of a pitcher's skull.

You'll notice that the helmet designed by Easton-Bell Sports would cover the side of a pitcher's head, as well as pretty much every other vulnerable area. It goes without saying that it's more protective than a simple baseball cap, and it's not an exaggeration to say that such a contraption could save lives.

Major League Baseball does not have to implement helmets for pitchers tomorrow, nor can the league implement helmets for pitchers tomorrow. Implementing it will take time, and the league probably won't be able to get all pitchers to wear them in one fell swoop. Moreover, MLB could determine that the helmet itself is not good enough and that it needs to be further developed.

When the league does find a helmet to its liking, it's likely that individual pitchers will start wearing them first. Once they start to catch on, that's when MLB could work something out with the union to make it a requirement for all pitchers to wear them.

It will take time, to be sure, but make no mistake: This is something that needs to happen as soon as possible. We're talking about a pretty huge change that is going to be met with resistance from both players and fans, but that's no excuse to avoid making the sport safer. Helmets for pitchers need to be MLB's next equipment revolution.

The league would be wise to make it happen now rather than wait for another Mike Coolbaugh tragedy to happen.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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