The scene from Arizona in which Aroldis Chapman was smacked in the face by that Sal Perez comebacker is simply awful. He had literally no time to react and, while the latest reports from the hospital are encouraging, it may be a while before Chapman is pitching again. And there is no guarantee that the injuries and the experience won’t change him. Just terrible stuff.
Baseball fans and commentators haven’t had much time to react either, but they’re reacting all the same. Here’s a column from 2AM this morning — just a couple hours after the incident — from Fox’s Jon Paul Morosi:
But the sad reality is, as a practical matter, pitchers aren’t much safer now than on Sept. 5, 2012 — when Brandon McCarthy, then with the Oakland Athletics, was hit in the head by a line drive . . . Whatever engineering expertise needs to be mustered — and however large the checks that need to be written — an $8 billion industry should be able to find the answers . . . And so the next step is both obvious and imperative: Baseball must find a way to offer its pitchers a little more protection, to lessen the chances of our national pastime witnessing the worst kind of tragedy.
I sympathize with the sentiment, but I’m not sure what exactly is so obvious about the next step. At least in any specific terms. As Morosi himself notes, a helmet wouldn’t have protected Chapman here and even if it would have, pitchers have uniformly rejected the new reinforced cap that was introduced this spring. If we can’t easily or practically put helmets on guys in the line of fire (and I acknowledge the difficulties in doing that) it’s not going to be any easier to develop or mandate things like masks, face guards, reinforced rec-specs or whatever else may cut down on the risk to pitchers.
And if they were to mandate such measures, it’s not like we’d see a safer game overnight. Practical considerations would mean that any significant new equipment — especially ones that would mess with a pitcher’s comfort, vision and range of motion — would mean that they’d have to be grandfathered in. Kids who pitch with face masks in little league now would probably be the first generation that could reasonably be expected to do so when they’re 25 years-old and playing in the bigs. You can’t expect Clayton Kershaw to wear one of these next week.
I’m not one of those people who just blithely throw up their hands and say “accidents happen, that’s life in baseball!” But I do believe it’s way easier to say “we must do something!” than it is to actually solve a problem like this. Or, really, to even define a problem like this. Believe me, if it was, it would’ve been addressed long before now.