Pitcher safety is becoming an increasingly important issue in baseball, and MLB could potentially take a huge step in that department as early as the 2014 season.
Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who suffered a head injury while pitching for the Oakland Athletics in 2012, revealed to Jimmy Traina of Fox Sports that MLB pitchers may be permitted to wear protective headgear on the mound during the upcoming season.
McCarthy also said that the headgear would be optional rather than mandatory:
They're coming. From everything I know they'll be available this year. I don't believe they're going to be mandatory. Actually, I'm almost certain they won't be mandatory.
I did get a chance to sit down with the head MLB doctor last year during spring training, who's overseeing the whole thing, and it has been a high priority for them. It's just that there has been very few answers. We both agreed on it not being mandatory at the time, there's just no need to do that. But whatever gets proposed has to be correct or we're not really doing too much.
Protective headgear is something that could appeal to many MLB pitchers considering the dangers of line-drive come-backers. According to Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca, J.A. Happ of the Toronto Blue Jays and Alex Cobb of the Tampa Bay Rays expressed support for such advancements back in August.
Both pitchers missed a significant amount of time after getting hit in the head by batted balls in 2013, and they have definite interest in exploring headgear options.
Happ commented, "You’d be crazy not to look into it if it was available. Function is the big issue. We were struck in the ear, so it would almost have to be like a helmet situation, but if it was functional and comfortable and it didn’t hinder the performance, then absolutely."
Cobb agreed, particularly when it comes to ensuring that the headgear doesn't impact the act of pitching: "I would explore it, I definitely would. If it affected my pitching that the point I’m not going to be successful on the mound, no, but, absolutely if it’s something I can work around, I would definitely love to have something out there."
Per Traina, an MLB spokesperson confirmed that some form of protective headgear for pitchers is on the precipice of availability:
One product that has passed the testing standards should be available to players for next season. We are still evaluating a number of other potential products. Our conversations with the MLBPA are ongoing. We expect this issue to continue to evolve, but we believe this is an important first step.
McCarthy added that the biggest issue related to the headgear will be getting over the way it looks.
"It looks ridiculous and we get so used to the way things look," said McCarthy, who recently took a picture of himself with the headgear on and sent it to other pitchers in the league. "You mentioned the new football helmets and batting helmets, everything looks silly until it doesn't look silly anymore."
Baseball is a sport followed primarily by purists, so there is often resistance to change. The headgear may look non-traditional, but that shouldn't be the main concern.
If there is a logical, operative way to protect players, then Major League Baseball has to take every step necessary to do so.
There was a time when helmets in football or goalie masks in hockey were considered laughable, but they have since become staples. The same can be said for batting helmets in baseball.
If hitters are protected, then there is no reason why pitchers shouldn't be as well. Perhaps this is the first step toward making sure that happens.
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