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What, exactly, are we supposed to do to prevent Aroldis Chapman-style injuries?

Mar 20, 2014, 8:53 AM EDT

aroldis chapman getty Getty Images

The scene from Arizona in which Aroldis Chapman was smacked in the face by that Sal Perez comebacker is simply awful. He had literally no time to react and, while the latest reports from the hospital are encouraging, it may be a while before Chapman is pitching again. And there is no guarantee that the injuries and the experience won’t change him. Just terrible stuff.

Baseball fans and commentators haven’t had much time to react either, but they’re reacting all the same. Here’s a column from 2AM this morning — just a couple hours after the incident — from Fox’s Jon Paul Morosi:

But the sad reality is, as a practical matter, pitchers aren’t much safer now than on Sept. 5, 2012 — when Brandon McCarthy, then with the Oakland Athletics, was hit in the head by a line drive . . . Whatever engineering expertise needs to be mustered — and however large the checks that need to be written — an $8 billion industry should be able to find the answers . . . And so the next step is both obvious and imperative: Baseball must find a way to offer its pitchers a little more protection, to lessen the chances of our national pastime witnessing the worst kind of tragedy.

I sympathize with the sentiment, but I’m not sure what exactly is so obvious about the next step. At least in any specific terms. As Morosi himself notes, a helmet wouldn’t have protected Chapman here and even if it would have, pitchers have uniformly rejected the new reinforced cap that was introduced this spring. If we can’t easily or practically put helmets on guys in the line of fire (and I acknowledge the difficulties in doing that) it’s not going to be any easier to develop or mandate things like masks, face guards, reinforced rec-specs or whatever else may cut down on the risk to pitchers.

And if they were to mandate such measures, it’s not like we’d see a safer game overnight. Practical considerations would mean that any significant new equipment — especially ones that would mess with a pitcher’s comfort, vision and range of motion — would mean that they’d have to be grandfathered in. Kids who pitch with face masks in little league now would probably be the first generation that could reasonably be expected to do so when they’re 25 years-old and playing in the bigs. You can’t expect Clayton Kershaw to wear one of these next week.

I’m not one of those people who just blithely throw up their hands and say “accidents happen, that’s life in baseball!” But I do believe it’s way easier to say “we must do something!” than it is to actually solve a problem like this. Or, really, to even define a problem like this. Believe me, if it was, it would’ve been addressed long before now.

  1. Jason @ IIATMS - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:00 AM

    As the father of two boys who love to pitch, this is my nightmare. I have a hard enough time trying to get them to use a mouth guard, so getting them to use a mask will be impossible until it’s a rule required to take the hill. They wear the gel heart guards but still, a mask is wholly different.

    Maybe something like basketball players wear when they have a broken nose? That doesn’t move and shift like a mask would. And they could customize it like a hockey goalie mask to be terrifying.

    I hate having to think about this.

    • sdelmonte - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:03 AM

      And that basketball player’s mask? The one that LeBron looked so cool in? He ditched it after three games, without a doctor’s say-so. Even that isn’t likely to be a solution.

      Which isn’t to say we can’t think about the problem. But some injuries might just be too hard to eliminate.

      • Sign Ahead - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:37 AM

        Wasn’t he asked to ditch it by the NBA? I thought other players were complaining because they couldn’t see his face.

      • sdelmonte - Mar 20, 2014 at 10:01 AM

        He was asked to ditch the Batman mask, but played in a slightly less cool for two more games. (I think at this point, everything he does seems cool, though. And I was one of the Decision haters, too.)

      • Jason @ IIATMS - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:54 AM

        I agree. You can’t eliminate injury. Nor can you legislate it. But you can allow players to consider things for themselves.

        Maybe the basketball style mask is a bad idea, maybe it’s good. But if there’s a clear, shatterproof version that can protect the nose and eyes (and part of the forehead) without being too much of a distraction, it’s at least something.

        I don’t think a softball style mask will work as they would move too much and have bars in the line of sight.

      • richkraetsch - Mar 20, 2014 at 10:03 AM

        He was asked to take off the black mask and replace it with a clear one. He had some struggles with the mask on so he just ditched the whole thing one game but it’s coincided (well, after a huge scoring game) with a bit of a drop in production and aggressiveness around the basket.

    • jm91rs - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:31 AM

      My boy loves pitching and I hate it for all of the same reasons you just mentioned. He won’t wear anything other than the heart guard, cup and the helmet and that’s only because the league requires the helmet and cup.

    • culturecesspool - Mar 20, 2014 at 12:35 PM

      I pitched at multiple levels, pee wee, babe Ruth, high school, college…. every coach told me the same thing, always have your glove ready for a liner back at you. Injuries happen, the only thing you can do is prepare yourself.
      If I was told to wear a helmet or mask I wouldn’t. …never wore long sleeves in the cold either. Too much will throw off your personal feel and balance.

      Man up, take the risk or go play right field.

      • Jason @ IIATMS - Mar 20, 2014 at 2:42 PM

        So that’s it, Man up or play RF?

        Well sir, that’s clearly the smartest answer for this whole riddle.

      • culturecesspool - Mar 20, 2014 at 6:08 PM

        Jason @ IIATMS-
        Lets consider the most dangerous jobs in the united states… logger, fishermen, underwater welder… on avg they make 13-16 US dollars in a hour. MLB players are payed and compensated well past that without the life threatening risks the others take.
        How many times a season does a pitcher get hit?
        I do not remember this big of a deal when Mussina got blasted in the face…
        Should we also stop throwing balls to stop rotator cuff injuries?

  2. phillysports1 - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:00 AM

    Face mask ? Require pitchers to wear mouthpiece ? Move the pitching mound back few feet ?

    • spudchukar - Mar 20, 2014 at 11:20 AM

      A mouthpiece/teethguard may in fact be a reasonable option. Moving the pitching mound back a few feet? Are you sober?

    • chc4 - Mar 20, 2014 at 11:55 AM

      That mouthpiece will come in real handy when a guy gets drilled in the eye like Chapman. Reminds me of the Dumb and Dumber scene when Harry brags about having on a bulletproof vest and Harry asks “What if he shot you in the face”?

  3. tfbuckfutter - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:04 AM

    I think you just chalk it up to “these things happen sometimes.”

    It’s a couple instances in over 100 years.

    • realgone2 - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:56 AM

      Exactly. Freak accident. It’s terrible but like you said not that many times has it happened.

      • richkraetsch - Mar 20, 2014 at 10:06 AM

        Sure but much like Ray Chapman in 1920, it only takes one death for wide-spread changes to occur. Obviously, players wearing masks is a whole different animal than making sure the balls are clean but still. People say freak accident and yeah whatever now but when someone dies on the mound, there will be changed and there will be people asking why MLB didn’t do something to prevent it.

      • realgone2 - Mar 20, 2014 at 10:08 AM

        what’s the solution then? Full face masks like catchers wear? i think it’d be very difficult to pitch in that.

      • richkraetsch - Mar 20, 2014 at 10:24 AM

        I’m not sure. I think the facemasks worn by softball players would be a viable option or perhaps as others mentioned here, the protective facemasks basketball players will wear if they have a broken nose. That won’t prevent a lot of injuries but provided they are well made they can certainly add a barrier.

        I don’t know that there is a viable solution that will please everyone right now, I’m just saying there needs to be a real discussion and discourse about it before it’s too late.

      • tfbuckfutter - Mar 20, 2014 at 11:19 AM

        Great. You protect their face. What happens when one gets hit in the throat and dies? Throat protection. Cool. OK now one takes a line drive to the heart. Dead. What’s next?

      • infieldhit - Mar 20, 2014 at 12:32 PM

        Hitters may as well not wear helmets then.

      • tfbuckfutter - Mar 20, 2014 at 2:08 PM

        100% of pitches are thrown in the direction of the batter. A very small percentage are hit in the direction of the pitcher and at a height of less than 6 and a half feet.

  4. shyts7 - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:05 AM

    There is really nothing that can be done. This doesn’t happen that often thankfully, but, you are never going to be able to prevent injury 100%. You can’t expect major leaguers to wear face masks.

    • NatsLady - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:13 AM

      In theory, you could (hockey players do, though they resisted for many a year). But I’d rather they didn’t. I like seeing the faces of the players during the game.

      • tfbuckfutter - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:22 AM

        Look up pics of Terry Sawchuck. Is not worth it.

      • yahmule - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:59 AM

        Gerry Cheevers helpfully illustrated what his face would have looked like without a goalie mask.

      • shyts7 - Mar 20, 2014 at 11:17 AM

        Hockey goalies are different. They are consistently getting the puck shot AT them at high rates of speed. Hitters are only hitting the ball right back at the pitchers a very small percentage during the year. This is one injury, while unfortunate, that doesn’t need to have a reaction because of it.

    • Jason @ IIATMS - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:58 AM

      False. There are things to be done. They don’t have to be legislated, but players can push for their own choice. Saying “nothing can be done” is just a bit lazy, to me. There are always solutions to every problem. Some might be more difficult than others, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth exploring.

      And yes, thankfully it doesn’t happen more often.

      • offseasonblues - Mar 20, 2014 at 12:44 PM

        It seems to me that a pitcher’s best defense is his own vision. Anything that inhibits or distorts that vision, even a tiny bit, would need extensive testing.. How many near misses would turn into contact? To the scientists / engineers: is it possible to design something optically perfect enough and light enough to withstand a hard hit line drive at close range?

        (and yes, I worry about Jake Peavy and his already limited vision).

      • wjarvis - Mar 20, 2014 at 3:28 PM

        Because of the shape of a baseball you can have fairly wide gaps in a facemask without increasing the risk to a player, so they would wear cage style masks instead of the window style. The biggest problem for a pitcher is not going to be vision, but the fact that the weight of a helmet/facemask will likely cause it to shake during the violent deliveries pitcher have. I have no doubt that players could adapt to this, but it would take time and most players would likely choose not to adapt unless they are forced to.

      • shyts7 - Mar 21, 2014 at 11:25 AM

        I haven’t hear or read a solution that would really work. Facemasks will hinder vision and could cause the pitcher to be a little more wild. They could change the way they land, but, that could affect their delivery which could affect their job. There are no good solutions to this “problem.” I say “problem” because how often does this really happen? If you were to take all the pitches thrown in the majors and take all the balls that are contacted with a bad then factor in all the pitchers actually hurt from come back shots, what would that percentage be? My guess is that it is so small that you are wasting your time on trying to change something that isn’t really a significant problem.

      • Jason @ IIATMS - Mar 21, 2014 at 1:39 PM

        Again, just because the answer’s not obvious or it doesn’t occur often (thankfully!) doesn’t mean it’s not worth discussing or pursuing. A shatterproof mask that fits close to the face, that is clear, with no bars or things to impact vision might be an option. Not an answer, an option. I’m envisioning a smaller version of what the NBA guys wear to protect a broken nose. Would only rise up to hat level and provide enough protection for the eyes, nose and brow.

        I know it’s not perfect, but it might be a reasonable option for those seeking an extra level of protection.

      • shyts7 - Mar 22, 2014 at 11:06 AM

        I highly doubt very many if any pitchers would wear that. Can you imagine how hot that would be in SD in August? By the face mask logic, why not make every hitter wear a face mask to prevent what happened to Jason Heyward. This occurs so infrequently that something doesn’t have to happen. It’s just like the rest of society. Every time something that rarely happens, happens, society thinks there’s got to be sweeping changes. Like I said, nothing needs to happen. This is not a problem. I can accept changing plays at the plate since there are a few a year. I can’t accept facemasks and such because there is one a year or one every couple years.

  5. cur'68 - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:05 AM

    I don’t think anything can be done. Some things, like crossing a street, are inherently dangerous. You can’t protect everyone from everything. Take reasonable steps, try to get everyone to comply with the rules, hope for the best. Its like raising children. You can’t protect them from everything. At some point, they are going to be in harms way.

    Still, I think the reinforced hat for pitchers isn’t a bad idea. Someone’s going to try it. The face shield, too. The first person to have one or the other save them from a horrific accident like what Aroldis is going through will make it worth while.

  6. paperlions - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:14 AM

    Here is my answer:

    • themanytoolsofignorance - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:34 AM

      I like the way you think, my friend. The tools of ignorance should not be kept from anyone who wants to wear them.

  7. sportsdrenched - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:29 AM

    If you do pile on a bunch of gear for a pitchers protection…how much to do degrade their reaction ability?

    • paperlions - Mar 20, 2014 at 10:46 AM

      You mean, compared to say, a hockey goalie?

      • sportsdrenched - Mar 20, 2014 at 12:27 PM

        Whose job it is, is to GET in the way of things. Not get out of the way.

      • paperlions - Mar 20, 2014 at 1:28 PM

        Yes, but they wear a lot of equipment and it doesn’t inhibit their ability react quickly to objects travelling 100+ MPH in order to get in the way of them.

  8. DelawarePhilliesFan - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:29 AM

    I was thinking this same thing this A.M., and I too don’t see what you could do shy of a fence in front of the mound. And clearly, that is unworkable.

    Just terrible to see this happen

  9. Francisco (FC) - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:38 AM

    We need some of the futurist stuff from Demolition Man, as soon as a high speed baseball screaming at 100mph is within 2 feet of the Pitcher’s head a foam like substance will auto-deploy from the bill of the players cap expanding as the mixture reacts with the air around it to trap the baseball and harden to protect the pitcher. The player will still absorb the kinetic energy and fall down but the energy will be transferred to the hardened foam and avoid any fractures.

  10. rbj1 - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:40 AM

    Short of mandating football style helmets you can’t do anything. Not everyone can be Jim Abbot and be set to catch immediately after throwing the ball. Especially if you are throwing at 100 mph.

    In an intramural high school softball game I was playing in, one guy hit the ball right back to the pitcher, hit her square in the mouth. There were teeth flying. Guy was a total a$$hole after, remarking “hey I didn’t lose today.”

    This is something that can happen but there are always going to be risks unless we bubblewrap society. And I don’t want that. Do we ban the Winter Olympics because four years ago a guy died on a luge practice run?

    • wjarvis - Mar 20, 2014 at 3:16 PM

      No the sliding events in the olympics weren’t banned, but they immediately lowered the start point for events in Vancouver and had uphill sections in Sochi to reduce speed.

      You can’t eliminate risk, but there are ways to reduce it without making drastic changes to the sport.

  11. lukedunphysscienceproject - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:50 AM

    The hand wringing that comes with each of these terrible events is as understandable and predictable as it is absurd.

    I’m guessing there are over 500,000 pitches thrown every regular season. When you calculate the number of pitches thrown, and the number of balls put in play, the fact is that this type of thing happening is nearly as statistically likely as a lightening strike.

    That two pitchers have now been injured in two years is a statistical anomaly, not a reason to change the way the game is played. When you measure the possibility for catastrophic injury in baseball against the other three major sports, baseball players are doing just fine.

    Best wishes for a speedy recovery for Mr. Chapman, but let’s not go crazy.

    • yahmule - Mar 20, 2014 at 10:42 AM

      People just seem to be discussing if there are any possible solutions. I don’t see this as hysteria and hand wringing as much as public discourse about a current event.

      • lukedunphysscienceproject - Mar 20, 2014 at 10:48 AM

        I would consider the tone of Morosi’s piece, where he basically says if we don’t do something someone will die, to cross the line from discourse to hand-wringing, although reasonable minds can disagree.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 20, 2014 at 10:52 AM

        I would consider the tone of Morosi’s piece

        Morosi is a moron. Put that lens filter on every time you read one of his articles.

      • yahmule - Mar 20, 2014 at 12:08 PM

        My mistake. I thought you were describing the tone of the comments on this thread.

      • lukedunphysscienceproject - Mar 20, 2014 at 2:53 PM

        No problem, yah. The comments have been as you said- thoughtful discourse. It’s interesting that most people that even attempt to propose solutions seem to realize that they probably would be impractical or ineffective.

        It’s not in our nature to throw up and our hands and say “what are you going to do?”. We want to be problem solvers. It seems unnatural to watch something like that happen and NOT think something needs to be changed. But sometimes in the heat of the moment we overestimate the problem and propose outsized solutions.

  12. cktai - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:54 AM

    The solution is, of course, quite simple and obvious: implement a force field which is instantly activated when a baseball enters a circle with a radius of 1 ft centred around the pitchers face, and deflects the ball in such a way that it simulates the movement of the ball would have had if it had hit the pitcher.

    The technical implementation, however, may still require some work.

    • yahmule - Mar 20, 2014 at 10:39 AM

      And if the batter hits the force field, automatic ground rule double.

      • lukedunphysscienceproject - Mar 20, 2014 at 2:55 PM

        Nah, just ball in play like it hit the fence. Assuming the force field is flat in front of the pitcher, most balls should be fieldable by the catcher. It would be like fielding a bunt that was moving 95 miles an hour.

  13. eagles512 - Mar 20, 2014 at 10:35 AM

    Maybe use the batting practice cage on front of them? Won’t look good but maybe that’s what it takes.

    • yahmule - Mar 20, 2014 at 10:38 AM

      Then he can’t field his position and batters can’t hit singles through the box.

  14. chunkala - Mar 20, 2014 at 10:39 AM

    This play is one reason why you can’t predict the future of a player’s career.
    Hopefully he recovers and his career doesn’t emulate that of Herb Score.

  15. tsi431 - Mar 20, 2014 at 10:54 AM

    The only option is to teach pitchers how to finish correctly, in a defensive position (use Tom Glavine for an example). It won’t fix the issue 100%, but Chapman, in this case, and most other pitchers, are always off balance at their finish.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 20, 2014 at 11:15 AM

      It won’t fix the issue 100%, but Chapman, in this case, and most other pitchers, are always off balance at their finish.

      The ball that hit Chapman has been estimated at 110mph. Assuming he finished his delivery around 55′ from the plate, that gives him a whopping 0.34 sec to react. Is that really enough time to react if he’s in the proper position?

      (110mph = 161.3 fps)

  16. jjschiller - Mar 20, 2014 at 10:56 AM

    I think about stuff like this every time I’m behind a city bus stopping at a railroad crossing.

    I’ve seen in my life, three separate accidents where some bus or truck or other vehicle has to stop at a railroad crossing, because they’ve been mandated to do so, and someone back in the line gets rear-ended.

    And because this is the internet, I’ll say, that’s NOT the fault of the bus driver, I’m not saying it’s the bus driver’s fault. It’s absolutely the fault of some jerk not paying attention.

    But, my point is, does stopping at every railroad crossing really prevent buses from getting hit by trains? How often do buses and oil tankers get hit by trains? But more importantly: the guy driving the bus that got hit by the train in the first place, was he paying attention? Would that guy have even stopped at the crossing if the law had been in place, or would he have just rolled through and been hit anyway? Is anyone keeping statistics, do we even know how many unintended minor accidents are caused by pointless stopping at clear railroad crossings? Are we, as a whole, any safer because buses and trucks stop at railroad crossings, or we exactly as safe before, only slightly later? Do we even have numbers?

    My larger point is: this is what happens when we stand up and scream “Something must be DONE! Think of the CHILDREN!” Some one does something stupid just to show he’s doing something.

    And hey, sometimes there are solutions! Sometimes if you analyze a problem properly, what appeared unsolvable becomes solvable. So always, ALWAYS look for solutions. But don’t do something to look like you’re doing something.

  17. scoutsaysweitersisabust - Mar 20, 2014 at 11:14 AM

    Short of placing a screen on the field and changing the rules to where if you hit the screen it’s a dead ball and everyone advances one base (Or making it an automatic out or do over) there isn’t anything that can really be done. Not until we are at the point where we can have personal force fields or lasers that knock balls off course after a computer determines it will strike a player in the face. Unfortunately, this is the nature of sports, and life in general. Sometimes things just line up in a very unfortunate manor, and in essence crap happens. It stinks, but it’s the risk we take every day getting out of bed.

  18. mgv38 - Mar 20, 2014 at 11:20 AM

    Easy fix: no equipment changes whatsoever.
    Just move the pitcher’s mound back 40 feet (right in front of 2B). Wayyyyy more reaction time.
    Ancillary benefit: more offense! (And cool bunting scenarios.)

  19. perryt200 - Mar 20, 2014 at 11:41 AM

    This is just a knee jerk reaction to a lightning strike chance. Yes something bad happened, but give us another year of it not happening to anyone else and we really will just forget about it for a few years until the lightning inevitably strikes again.

    But lightning does strike and barring changes to the game that are preposterous we have to live with that fact.

    And while I understand wanting to overly protect your precious snowflakes, MLB players are grown men who are highly compensated for their skill set that in the usual environment subjects them to far less catastrophic‎ (though perhaps career ending) injuries than most other sports.

  20. nsstlfan - Mar 20, 2014 at 11:45 AM

    I agree with the whole mask thing. Here is a picture of one.

  21. khar9 - Mar 20, 2014 at 12:03 PM

    Stop being soft America

  22. chunkala - Mar 20, 2014 at 12:05 PM

    In regards to pitchers uniformly rejecting helmets, etc, remember when seatbelts were uniformly rejected as well? I don’t think anyone thinks that seatbelts are a bad idea these days. The pitchers should have about 1% input into this decision.

  23. bh192012 - Mar 20, 2014 at 12:19 PM

    Maybe a powerful blast of air from under the ground in front of the mound if the ball is seen to be headed that way and low enough to hit the pitcher. Of course to make such a device powerful enough to work, might potentially make it dangerous if someone steps over it to field a bunt and it goes off for some reason. Hard to say for sure. It could work.

    • bh192012 - Mar 20, 2014 at 12:23 PM

      Alternatively could shoot up some strips of leather or cloth material to slow the ball down 90%, or just change it’s trajectory. I’d generally prefer anything shooting up on the field to be a “soft” material so as to not possibly injure a player if it goes off on bunt plays. (so no walls springing up at 100mph)

  24. wjarvis - Mar 20, 2014 at 12:40 PM

    Batting helmets were forced on players, hockey helmets were forced in the NHL, visors are now forced in the NHL, helmets were forced in the NFL, that’s among just a few of the many, many safety precautions that were forced on players of major sports that were rejected by most players initially. However, as is usually the case with the best athletes in the world they are able to adjust and we the fans still enjoy the game.

    There is no way anybody can convince me that it’s not possible to design a lightweight helmet with a facemask that is reasonably comfortable and able to lessen catastrophic injuries to pitchers. If you get hit in the head with a line drive, there is really nothing right now that can avoid a concussion, but you can make it so a pitcher hopefully will be able to play again within a week.

  25. brianc6234 - Mar 20, 2014 at 1:32 PM

    He could cut 5 or more MPH off his fastball. That would give him more of a chance to jump out of the way. Other than that you can’t do anything. If they wear a helmet to protect their whole head they won’t be able to pitch. I guess they could stand behind a screen like in batting practice.

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