Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher J.A. Happ is carted off the field after Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings (not pictured) hit him in the head by a line drive during the second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When Will It Be Enough For Major League Baseball To Change The Rules?

In case you missed the news, J.A. Happ suffered a terrible head injury after Desmond Jennings hit a line drive to the mound. He is apparently doing well and may be discharged later today, according to a Blue Jays press release. Our thoughts are with him as we hope that there will be no further complications and that he will soon be on the path to a full and speedy recovery.

An injury like this may have been prevented if MLB instituted Kevlar caps for pitchers.

This is not the first time that the notion was looked at. A similar batted-ball-to-the-head incident occurred to Brandon McCarthy last September. A CT scan revealed that he had an epidural hemorrhage, brain contusion and skull fracture that required emergency surgery. The complications from a head injury in baseball almost lead to the third death in plays sustained during play in Major League Baseball. A 29 year old man’s life was that close to ending prematurely.

So why didn’t Major League Baseball change the rules to protect their players? While it’s true that pitchers did try out a Kevlar-lined cap in the offseason, ultimately they did not allow even the option whether or not to use it this season. This lack of comprehension is not new to the MLB.

As recently as July 2007, a coach was killed during play in a minor league game. Mike Coolbaugh was a first base coach for the Arkansas Travelers until that fateful July evening where he was struck in the head by a foul ball line drive. He was pronounced dead within an hour of the play. He was 35. In the very next offseason Major League Baseball instituted a rule change forcing base coaches to wear helmets, taking place at the beginning of Spring Training 2008.

The spitball was used as a pitch among the majority of Major League Baseball players in the early stages. Usually players would either spit saliva or tobacco juice to both add action to the ball and cover it in a dark tobacco matte, in order to hide the ball on the way to the plate. It was on August 1920 that shortstop Ray Chapman was playing against pitcher Carl Mays that the spitball was used in a lethal manner. Mays threw a spitball covered in tobacco in a poorly-lit Polo Grounds at twilight, hiding the ball from his  Chapman’s vision, plunking him in the head. He died 12 hours later in a hospital. He was 29, just like Brandon McCarthy was at the time of his injury. During the very next offseason, the spitball was banned from baseball, grandfathered in only by those active pitchers who played in the MLB before the ban took place.

Is a pitcher going to have to die while playing a Major League Baseball game before player safety is at the forefront of their objectives? Is someone’s life going to have to be cut down in their prime before they line all pitchers’ hats with Kevlar? Are we, as Blue Jays fans, going to be okay with our players getting injured in catastrophic ways as long as they don’t pay the ultimate price?

Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that this was an accident. Sometimes batted balls that hit the pitcher do little damage to the player, like what happened to Doug Fister during the World Series last year when he got hit in the head by a Gregor Blanco line drive. Happ was unlucky in his endeavor. Hopefully this will get a conversation going about whether or not pitching caps should be lined with $60 Kevlar inserts for all Major League Baseball and Minor League pitchers, or even give the option to the pitchers themselves. It would be wise for professional baseball to see the cost of life drastically outweigh the financial cost to protect their players.

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  • Michael Wray

    i’m surprised this type of thing doesn’t happen more often in MLB…. at least once a year in my softball league somebody takes one off the melon, even with a screen… i could see every player wearing some sort of helmet at all times in 20 years or so based on the safety precedence being set in other sports

    • Shu_13

      Softball is way different…..pitchers are soo close and batters can place their hits….the softball bats these days cause the ball to comeback faster then natural human reflex…
      Happ and others hit are freak accident w/ you consider how many hits/pitches are thrown per day/week/month/season…..

      There is currently NO equipment made that will protect and not hinder production….even in 20 yrs I don’t see any kind of head gear/facemask that will not hinder performance…

      • Michael Wray

        I see your point… however rare, freak accident like this do happen. Take for example the coach that passed away – I’m assuming he would have been much further than where the pitcher would stand but his story sadly ended much differently. Now all base coaches wear helmets.

        Based on the fact MLB already is testing Kevlar caps I think head gear in baseball might be closer than some people thing. As a society things like this are becoming less and less tolerated – a couple major lawsuits and MLB will be forced to change their thinking.

        Glad to hear Happ was okay and to see him on the Blue Jays bench last night. Could have ended up much differently if it was a direct hit to hit temple… there’s research shows that a direct impact of only 40 MPH (even slower than my fastball!) to the temple would kill someone nearly instantly. Very scary stuff.

  • Michael Wray

    a few more lawsuits and i think even the baseball old boys club will start taking a hard look at what they can do to prevent this type of stuff…

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