It was a typical spring day for two MAC opponents back in 2002: Drunk people, more drunk people and college kids studying the Media Guide to get info about the opposing pitcher’s mother. It was college baseball at its best.
During one inning, a Kent St. pitcher threw a fastball on the outer-half of the plate. The Marshall hitter – who had a bat speed of around 106 mph – met the pitch, directly. The explosive contact and swing plane sent the ball screaming violently at the unprotected pitcher. Luckily for him, like a twist-of-hurling-fate, the ball hit right into his glove for an out…an extremely scary out.
The play happened so quickly—lightening quick—that neither the pitcher, the hitter, actually every fan at the park, knew what happened. The only sight witnessed was a pitch, a swing, a loud crack followed by, less than a second later, another crack.
It was like a game of target practice, and thankfully, the target was hit. If the ball would have hit the Kent St. pitcher anywhere but his glove…well, it’s not even worth thinking about what could have occurred.
But that’s the way it goes. That’s pitching.
The velocity and impact of a baseball hitting a pitcher can be deadly. It’s true. But that is part of the position. Regardless if it is now or then, college or high school, major leagues or minors, pitching, and the harm that comes with it, is nothing more than a job hazard.
The recent, drastic incidents that pitchers Brandon McCarthy of the A’s and Mickey Storey of the Astros encountered were definitely scary—and hard to watch. However, if you asked these two pitchers if they would take the mound tomorrow—if they could—the answer would be a confident, yes!
And I bet the house they would not ask for a helmet.
Don’t get me wrong, the idea of extra protection for players is a noble cause, and I respect what certain distinguished writers and analysts have opinionated. But it’s overkill – nothing more.
Sports society has gasped to a shade of purple in an attempt to protect athletes in any sport, sometimes at unreasonable costs. The NFL has all but removed the ferociousness of the game, flagging non-threatening hits as threatening hits…based on ideals that the speed of the game does not allow. The result is a brainwash toward the gifted players who are now afraid to tackle anyone above the knees – The rules to protect their heads are now stuck in their heads.
Slapping helmets on the pitchers of the MLB would carry the same outcome.
Pitchers know, in the back of their minds, they are an open prey to laser-like baseballs flying at speeds well over 100 mph every time they take the mound. But that doesn’t mean they dwell on it like a bad prom haircut. It’s their job to take the ball and get hitters out, not shake in their boots over how many times they will get drilled.
If you check the stats, it doesn’t happen that often anyway. A study from 2005 showed about 17.2 balls out of 100.000 struck a pitcher somewhere other than his glove. The numbers may have risen since that study, but they may have also dropped. Baseballs do not have vendettas and certainly are not predictable towards their desired destination.
If coaches do head the warnings—by those that never played the game —and take action to protect the pitchers of a staff, they may want to consider another factor of safety: Teach better mechanics.
Too often pitchers land off-balance, leaving their body unprotected. The motion is meant to end in a fielding position, ready for what ever comes off the bat. Yes, it is not a guarantee toward safety, but it drastically cuts down the risk. Ask Greg Maddux.
Let the game and the already-damaged integrity stay as is. The position of pitcher is not completely safe. No position on the field is safe for that matter.
The moment officials start driving that into the heads of the players is the moment when pitchers begin cringing every time they paint a fastball on the outside corner—the plane where most come-backers start—simply out of sheepish fear.
My deepest thoughts go out to the two injured pitchers. Get well soon, and keep living the dream many ex-chuckers can only admire, but will never accomplish.
The Couch Journalist
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