Professional sports have done a tremendous job adapting to the times in order to protect their players from major injuries. But for all the recent advancements, Major League Baseball is still slightly behind the times.
On Saturday, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Alex Cobb became another victim of that sad truth, taking a line drive off the right ear in the Rays’ 5-3 win over the Kansas City Royals, per Matt Snyder of CBS Sports.
It was an ugly scene that drew eerie comparison to a similar scene from last month when Toronto Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ took a line drive to the head that resulted in a skull fracture (Warning: MLB.com video has potentially upsetting images).
While traditionalists will cite unorthodox changes to the game as a reason to skirt the issue, Major League Baseball can’t afford to put its players in risk of serious injury. Instant replay is one thing. Keeping players safe is a different story.
As quoted by ESPN, even Cobb’s teammates want a solution to the issue. Former Cy Young winner David Price chimed in on player safety following the incident:
Whoever comes up with the solution for this, they're never going to have to work again in their lives. It's scary. We know about that. You think about it, and then you don't think about it when you're on the mound. But when you see it happen, and you see line drives and hard groundballs up the middle, it definitely cross your mind.
While a solution probably isn’t all that obvious at this point, players are at least receptive to the idea. Rays pitcher Matt Moore added his opinion for a potential solution, claiming he would give it his best effort to better ensure player safety, per ESPN:
A cricket helmet, or whatever it was, I would give it my best effort to make sure I pitch with that. If I could prevent something like that by wearing something, without a doubt I would.
At this point, there doesn’t seem to be much momentum for defined safety measures, but as incidents like the one Cobb experience Saturday keep happening, the MLB has to make it a top priority to find a solution that will limit the damage.
The problem, however, is that defining those safety measures is no easy task. Even the most obvious solutions present a number of drawbacks and significant changes to the sport itself.
It would be easy to suggest moving the mound back or requiring full helmets and face masks for pitchers, but the problem remains. Those types of changes will have a significant impact on the way the game is played, from the youth ranks all the way to the major league level. Functionality and safety have to meet in the middle at some point.
Whether major advances happen remains to be seen, but it’s hard to believe there isn’t a solution out there that will both keep the integrity of America’s Pastime intact and still better protect its players. As the NFL has done ad nauseum in recent years, improvements have to be made, whether they change the game or not.
That’s not to suggest the game has to change on a macro level. But when safety becomes a concern, concessions have to be made.
Given time, someone will come up with a solution. The problem is, time is of the essence, and until something is done, pitchers will continue facing the risk of major injury—or worse—as the result of a well-hit hit ball up the middle.
At the very least, the MLB has to put in a greater effort to negate that risk. The clock is ticking.