Rumors of Major League Baseball implementing protective headgear for pitchers have been floating around for years, though there hasn't been any significant movement on that front for a while.
Until now, it seems.
During an appearance on the podcast The Buzz (via Fox Sports' Jimmy Traina), Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Brandon McCarthy said it's possible pitchers will have the option to wear protective gear as soon as next season.
"From everything I know they'll be available this year," McCarthy said. "I don't believe they're going to be mandatory. Actually, I'm almost certain they won't be mandatory."
McCarthy is the ideal candidate to speak on the subject. Pitching in a game for the Oakland Athletics on September 5, 2012, the 30-year-old took a liner square to the head off the bat of Los Angeles Angels shortstop Erick Aybar.
That scary scene resulted in McCarthy suffering an epidural hemorrhage, brain contusion and skull fracture requiring surgery (via CBS Sports). He also suffered a seizure in June 2013, per USA Today, nearly one year after the incident.
Taking necessary precautions to avoid an incident like McCarthy's trauma should be at the top of Bud Selig's to-do list. It hasn't been forgotten, but finding the right technology to withstand a blow as hard as the one McCarthy suffered is problematic.
McCarthy also said on the podcast that he's been in contact with the doctors who are trying to find a way to implement this new safety gear, and that the new headgear being worked on would be so effective that "if I got hit by the same exact ball, I would have been able to keep pitching in that game."
If this technology does get implemented by MLB, whether it's in 2014 or later, it would be a revolutionary leap forward. Concussions have been around as long as people have been banging their heads on things, but public knowledge on the subject didn't increase until a few years ago.
MLB recently agreed to change rules to avoid unnecessary collisions at home plate and keep both the catcher and runner healthy. The change still has to go through the Rules Committee, owners and players, but making it this far is a big deal.
Change is hard for some people to take.
There's going to be some resistance to preventing catchers from blocking the plate when it gets voted upon, even though it's one more way to ensure player health.
McCarthy also said that the new headgear "looks ridiculous." though he admitted most people feel that way about something new until they eventually get used to it.
However, even if the protective headwear looks insane, if it can prevent another significant injury like the one McCarthy suffered—and was still dealing with the effects of nearly 12 months later—the sport would be better for it.
No longer would pitchers have to be completely exposed after releasing a pitch. We all see on the follow-through that after the ball leaves the hand, a pitcher's head is ripe for the picking.
The new headgear, whatever it looks like, won't be a drastic change. Like McCarthy said, people just need to get accustomed to seeing it.
Having it as an option, rather than a mandate, does seem strange. If you want to build something that protects players, it has to be universal.
MLB has tried to find protective measures in the past, with no results to show for it. In 2012, the league tried to put extra padding into hats with hopes of reducing the chances for injury.
Unfortunately, after testing and careful examination, MLB decided against using the padding in caps because it didn't provide a noticeable difference in preventing injuries after intricate testing.
It doesn't do anyone any good to have extra protection, tell someone he doesn't have to use it and then have a pitcher not using it get hit in the head and suffer a significant trauma that plagues him the rest of his life.
It all goes back to this idea of change.
Human beings are creatures of habit—especially athletes. They settle into a daily routine that prepares them to pull off incredible physical feats the rest of us can only dream about.
Implementing a new rule that would alter, however slightly, what an athlete does to prepare for a game, or that changes the uniform, could throw his mechanics off.
That sounds goofy when you first hear it, but think of what goes into being a pitcher. The key to being successful is repetition. Finding the right moment to move your legs back, move your body and arm forward, push toward the plate and release the ball is paramount.
Pitchers get used to a certain way of doing this and grow accustomed to the weight of everything on their bodies. Suppose this new headgear adds an additional two or three pounds of weight. That will require an adjustment in mechanics to compensate for the added weight.
However, protective headgear that could, in theory, have allowed McCarthy to finish a game after taking a liner off the side of his head would be a huge step forward in the battle against head injuries.
It won't be an easy adjustment, but sometimes you have to sacrifice some comfort in the name of safety.
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