The one of the more “famous” cases of a head injury in baseball occurred in 1957. Pitching prodigy Herb Score of the Cleveland Indians took a shot off the bat of the New York Yankees’ Gil McDougald to his right eye. His blurred vision would eventually improve, but Score’s budding career was effectively derailed.
Catchers have masks. Batters are helmets. What about pitchers though?
Boston’s Bryce Florie suffered a similar injury in 2000. It was the result of a ball off of Ryan Thompson‘s line drive that struck Florie in the right eye. Both were bloody. Both had irreversible consequences. Nonetheless, both were rare. Fewer have been seriously injured. Never has such an incident been fatal. Overall, few major league pitchers have been hit in the head by a batted ball.
That was until last season.
Three times in a span of less than two months, batted balls hit pitchers in the head. Three. Spurred by the first of those incidents, discussions within Major League Baseball immediately took on new urgency. League officials and equipment manufacturers began to examined possibilities for protective headgear to lessen the risk.
“MLB is right to do its due diligence,” said neuropsychologist Michael Collins to ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.” Collins is the Director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Sports Medicine Concussion Program. “There are missiles coming back at the pitchers, and MLB knows it.” The batters are stronger. In many cases, the pitcher has had to become a stronger athlete. They were taking their lives in their hands.
On Sept. 5, Oakland’s Brandon McCarthy suffered gruesome injuries — a brain contusion, epidural hemorrhage and skull fracture — when a line drive off the bat of the Los Angeles Angels’ Erick Aybar struck him in the head. McCarthy underwent emergency brain surgery, was cleared to return to pitching after a rehabilitation program. His story ends on a positive note as he just signed a two-year deal with Arizona for $15.5 million as a free agent. However, the jury is out on wether or not this injury will haunt him.
A month later, in Game 2 of the World Series, a liner by San Francisco’s Gregor Blanco hit Detroit’s Doug Fister in the head. Fister was able to remain in the game. Upon seeing Fister get struck, longtime Fox TV commentator and former big league catcher Tim McCarver said: “I never thought this before this year, but I think baseball is going to have to resort to helmets for pitchers like catchers wear.”
MLB and the protective equipment manufacturers with which it is consulting have not discussed helmets or masks for pitchers. Major League Baseball senior vice president Dan Halem said that they instead are focusing on padded linings for their caps. The objective, he said, is to find something that achieves a balance between comfort and protection. “If we have a product no one will wear, and pitchers are complaining, that doesn’t get us anywhere.”
McCarthy’s injuries, according to Oakland head athletic trainer Nick Paparesta and Collins — who worked with McCarthy on his rehabilitation — probably wouldn’t have been lessened by a padded cap. The ball struck him beneath the cap line. Halem said MLB doesn’t have long-term data on this issue, yet. Nonetheless in 2012, a total of three pitchers were struck above the shoulders by batted balls. In addition to McCarthy and Fister, on Sept. 12, reliever Mickey Storey of the Houston Astros was hit in the face by a ball hit by the Chicago Cubs’ Dave Sappelt. Storey left the game, but wasn’t seriously hurt and pitched again three days later.
“Outside the Lines” found video of 10 incidents over the past five seasons in which pitchers were hit in the head.