Home > Celebrities, Dementia risk, Head injury, Medical issues, Prevention > Helmets for Baseball Players?

Helmets for Baseball Players?

Those of you who visit this site regularly will have noticed that one of my pet topics is concussions and brain injury in athletes (especially our youngsters).  I’m glad to see that this subject is getting a lot of attention from others as well, including research into how we can prevent such things from happening.  And the large number of professional football players who recently brought suit against the NFL only serves to illustrate how wide-spread the development of dementia in these and other athletes has become.

But, at least football players wear helmets that provide some degree of protection against concussions.  (On second thought, after seeing the large number of former players mentioned in the recent lawsuit, I have to wonder just how much protection these helmets actually offer.)  Participants in many other sports frequently place themselves at just as much risk of serious head injury, but typically wear no protection at all.  The current attention given to soccer and the World Cup illustrates this very well.

In baseball, the batter does wear a modicum of protection on his head, and the catcher is dressed as if he was involved in a medieval jousting match.  But the other players are left to their own resources.  Now, of those in the in-field and outfield, it could easily be said that the player should be able to see the ball coming in time to get out of its way.  But what of the pitcher?  He will hurl a hard object at 90 mph or better at the batter, from 50 to 60 feet away, only to have the batter hit it with a force that sends it spinning at an even faster rate of speed — sometimes right at the head of the pitcher.

I’ve inserted some footage of a baseball pitcher being struck in the head by a batted ball, just to illustrate how dangerous this can be.  A word of warning here — this might be hard to watch for some people, so if you choose not to view it I will understand completely.  Even though this man walked out of the stadium on his own steam, I learned that he later had to have brain surgery, and has since suffered at least one seizure related to this incident.

Well, apparently our cries have been heard, and research has been on-going to develop a safe and practical helmet for baseball players — particularly for pitchers.  Major League Baseball announced recently that it has plans on the table for six different helmets.  Actually, the ones that I saw were nothing more than a regular baseball cap, with extra padding over the head.  Most of the players interviewed stated that they would not wear such a helmet, if the choice was voluntary — even players who had been hit in the head.  They viewed the danger of getting hit as an occupational hazard that they were willing to accept.

Some of us may have forgotten (or never knew) about the furor that accompanied the ruling that batters were to wear helmets, in 1971.  And I’ve also heard about the problems involved in getting football players to wear helmets, many more years ago than that.  I wonder, though, why a baseball player will gladly put on a helmet when he picks up a bat, and yet refuses to do so.  Is it merely because his paycheck depends on it?

Dr. Gary Green, MLB’s medical director, has a few ideas as to why pitchers are reluctant to wear helmets.  For one thing, players at bat are trained to keep t heir heads as still as possible, in order to hit the ball.  This keeps the helmet from wobbling around.  But the very gyrations that  a picture goes through would make it difficult to throw with the accuracy, and at the velocity, to which they are accustomed.  Not to mention what the addition of several pounds of weight would do to a player’s biomechanics.

Dr.  Barry Jordan, director of brain injury rehab at Burke Rehabilitation Center in White Plains, N.Y., has an idea as to why the number of this type of injury has increased in recent years.  He points out that today’s pitchers use a different style and posture when they throw, to add force and velocity to their pitches.  So, whereas pitchers used to end their throwing cycle in a basic fielding position, ready to catch the ball if it was hit toward them, these modern pitchers are nowhere near in a position where they are ready to field a ball.  And he quite logically argues that it would most likely be difficult to talk these pitchers into sacrificing a little speed and accuracy, for the sake of safety.  Most of them would probably just as soon take their chances.

So, what’s it going to take to get MLB to produce helmets, and to entice players to wear them?  Unfortunately, more than one source has said that someone’s going to have to die.  I certainly hope that’s not the case.  I think it would be incredibly tragic for the young people of our country to have to watch one of their heroes die on live TV.  Gosh, I hope that doesn’t happen.  But lately, something did happen that makes me think we may be on the verge of a turn-around in attitudes.

On June 22, Alex Torres of the San Diego Padres took his turn on the mound wearing one of the new helmets.  I read that he had taken over the mound, last year, when another pitcher had been struck in the head by a batted ball.  He also stated that he himself had a “close call” during spring training this year. He reasoned that the cap was free, and why not give it a try?  I’ve seen a lot of comments from other players about how they wouldn’t consider wearing something like that — even players who have been the victim of line drives to the head.  (Boggles my mind how the man who was involved in the clip presented above would refuse to wear something that might prevent him from further injury.)  But others have said that it doesn’t look as bad as they thought it might.  And, it is a first step.  Who knows what might be developed down the road?

Here is a clip of Torres on the mound, wearing the helmet.  There is some interesting conversation between the commentators about it, that is worth listening to.

Bravo, Alex.  I hope you have a lot of people following in your footsteps.

http://keepingscore.blogs.time.com/2013/05/09/why-pitchers-wont-be-wearing-helmets-even-after-latest-scare/

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  1. August 11, 2014 at 7:26 PM

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