How much should freak accidents guide sports’ rules? The horrifying injury to Toronto Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ during a game last week, when he was struck in the head by a hard line drive, was an incredibly rare event — yet still raises questions about whether pitchers are adequately protected.
Only 60 ½ feet from home plate, pitchers have little time to react to a fast drive like the one that rocketed off the bat of Desmond Jennings in the second inning of a game in St. Petersburg. Unable to raise his glove fast enough to protect himself, Happ crumpled to the ground as the ball bounded off his head. He was hospitalized with a head bruise and cut to his ear.
Major League Baseball has been working with a dozen companies to develop a padded cap for pitchers, but none of the prototypes have met the league’s requirements. Baseball faces a different calculation than the National Football League, where hits to the head are a regular part of the game and medical evidence of lasting damage to many players has become overwhelming. In contrast, most big-league pitchers go their entire careers without suffering an injury like Happ’s, and pitchers at recreational levels are less likely to face batters capable of hitting the ball hard enough to cause serious damage. But that shouldn’t stop the league from injecting more urgency into its research. Pitchers at every level, from Little League on up, should have the option to protect themselves with the best technology.