Hazards of the Job - The MLB Pitcher.

Face It! What You Think You Know, You Don't.

9/13/12 in MLB   |   This_is_Rick   |   265 respect

It was a typical spring day among two MAC Conference opponents back in 2002; drunk people, more drunk people and college kids studying the media-guide in order to get info about the opposing pitcher's mother. It was college baseball at its' best. 

During one inning a Kent St. pitcher chucked a fastball on the outer-half, the Marshall hitter - who had a bat speed of around 106 mph - met the pitch, directly. The explosive contact and swing plane sent the return 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. A scary out. The play happened so quickly - lightening quick - that neither the pitcher, the hitter or any one else at the game knew what had just happened. The only sight witnessed was a pitch, a swing, then a 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. 

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, pro or minors, pitching, and the harm that comes with it, is nothing more than a job hazard.

The recent, and 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.
September 5, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy (32) holds his head after being hit in the head on a line drive by Los Angeles Angels shortstop Erick Aybar (not pictured) during the fourth inning at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

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 quickly as the threatening based on ideals that the speed of the game does not allow. The result is a brain wash towards the gifted players who are now afraid to tackle anyone above the knees - The rules to protect the heads are now stuck in the heads.

Slapping helmets on the pitchers of the MLB would be have the same outcome.

Pitchers know in the back of their minds that 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.
Sept 12, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros trainer Rex Jones (left) and Nate Lucero (right) help relief pitcher Mickey Storey (65) off the field after getting hit by a line drive in the face against the Chicago Cubs during the eighth inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-US PRESSWIRE

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 other factors of safety; one, 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 towards safety, but it cuts down the risk drastically. Ask Greg Maddux; two, if the rule of helmets ever existed, they may want to put a face mask on that thing. The last time I checked, helmets worn in baseball don't come with masks. Imagine that scenario: Felix Hernandez takes the mound wearing a Lacrosse helmet. It will never work.

Let that statement ring for a bit.

Let the game and its' 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. 

As a pitcher that faced this dilemma for years, and not just watched it from the couch or stands, I say this: Let the game be.

My deepest thoughts to the two pitchers injured. Get well soon, and keep living the dream many only can admire but will never accomplish - A pitcher in the Major Leagues.  

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