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Baseball’s Brain Drain — Literally

Until last month, I hadn’t been to a tee-ball game in decades. So, it caught my eye right away: the pitcher wearing a batting helmet — on the mound.

An odd sight, to be sure. Almost jarring. But, considering (another) terrifying comebacker on Tuesday night, a helmet replacing a pitcher’s cap does something else — it makes complete sense.

“I came in and watched (video of) it and I wish I wouldn’t have,” former D-backs pitcher Joe Saunders told the AP. “It was ugly. It was scary. I just hope he’s going to be alright.”

Blue Jays’ pitcher J.A. Happ took a wicked line drive off his head that ricocheted into the outfield. Happ was wheeled off on a stretcher into an ambulance and rushed to a nearby hospital. He was released Wednesday morning.

Truth be told, I’m basing the above account on eyewitness reports, because I’m taking Saunders’ advice on the replay — just say “no.”

Which is exactly what Major League Baseball has been doing on this topic of protecting the pitcher. Well, guess what, three strikes (to the skull) and ‘yer out. Enough. It’s time for baseball to stop convening and start implementing.

Base coaches now wear protective headgear. Do we remember what it took to make that happen? Tragically, during a minor league game, first base coach Mike Coolbaugh was struck by a line drive, only to be pronounced dead about an hour later. That was July 2007. Come November 2007, MLB general managers mandated that base coaches must wear batting helmets.

“We are actively meeting with a number of companies that are attempting to develop a product, and have reviewed test results for several products,” MLB spokesman Pat Courtney told the AP in an email after Happ was injured. “Some of the products are promising. No company has yet developed a product that has satisfied the testing criteria.”

Would the players’ union need to approve any sort of rule change to make big league pitchers wear helmets? Yes. Is there resistance? Yes el grande.

“You know the risks,” Angels lefty C.J. Wilson said. “Guys get hurt crashing into fences. Guys get hurt tripping over first base and blowing their knee out. This is professional sports, and we are paid well to take those risks.”

On the other side of the pitching rubber, Rockies lefty Jorge De La Rosa said if a helmet or liner is developed for pitchers, he’d gladly wear one.

“It wouldn’t be hard for me,” De La Rosa said. “To protect against those kinds of things, it’s good for us.”

Of course, here in AZ, we’re well aware of how Brandon McCarthy absorbed a direct hit to the head by a line drive last September, causing a skull fracture, an epidural hemorrhage and a brain contusion that required surgery.
The D-backs pitcher started against the Dodgers on Tuesday night. Afterward, McCarthy told reporters he won’t watch video of Happ getting hit either.

“I don’t know what the GMs and the owners have to do with anything. It’s not like they’re pitching,” McCarthy said. “Until someone makes something that works, it’s going to be tough for someone to wear it.

“You’d have to have something that protected the ear and then the face and beyond. So it’s kind of a slippery slope. Someone will have to come up with something really good and really sound. Otherwise, I don’t know how you answer that question.”

We do. Big leaguers need to emulate Little Leaguers. Going to the mound should become just like heading to the batter’s box — grab a helmet.

“We’ve put things on the moon before, so I feel like we can create some sort of a device that sits over your head and protects you,” McCarthy said as he expressed hope. “Someone will do it. It’s just a matter of when, not if.”