Commentary: Baseball Safety Concerns
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Mar 28, 2014, 07:23
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
All it took was a little more than a week for the concern to slowly drift away. Just one week for the public outcry for some type of change to occur to become a murmur and just one week for not even a mention of the timetable for a recovery for Aroldis Chapman.
If you have not heard or read about what happened to Chapman — and considering the media reports it's likely you have not — he was hit by a line drive to the face during a Spring Training game against the Kansas City Royals. Chapman, a Cuban import who defected four years ago, is known as the hardest throwing man on earth.
The left-hander's fastball has been clocked as high as 105 mph and last year his average fastball was clocked at around 96 mph, according to fangraphs.com. The radar reading of the pitch he uncorked before it was lined back at him? It was 99 mph.
Spend a few days around baseball players at any level and they all have their own tales of near-misses and horror stories of seeing a teammate of theirs on the wrong side of a 120 mph laser off a hitter's bat. In fact, Chapman's ordeal is not the first and most likely won't be the last.
There was Brandon McCarthy, J.A. Happ and even Carl Pavano who all have been struck in the head off of line drives. Yet, after a few days the chatter always quiets and most people move on, forgetting the innate danger which each pitcher faces while on the mound.
Credit Major League Baseball for instituting a policy where all base coaches need to wear a protective helmet following the death of Mike Coolbaugh in 2007, but shouldn't there be more concern over a player who is just 57 feet away from home plate following his delivery?
At least in the Majors, opposing hitters use wooden bats which slow the ball down considerably, giving the pitcher a fighting chance to defend himself. However, in states across the country, many high school leagues continue to use aluminum bats instead of wood.
Sure, high schools have taken a stand by introducing a rule two years ago on not allowing any bat which does not carry the Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution or BBCOR seal of approval to be used in the game. But how much has it really helped?
These bats do have a different sound to them — when the ball connects with the barrel it has more of a 'thud' sound which is a lot different than a 'ping' — but they still produce a punch that is more powerful than the the wooden bats. When the bats were first implemented in 2012, power numbers dwindled.
However, as the companies have studied the bats, they have implemented their own changes which gave the bats even more power. It's why in New York City, aluminum bats are not allowed to be used. Players have to use wooden bats to help with safety reasons.
"I hate to say it this way, but when you are looking at budgets and you are trying to equip your team — back when I played we used wooden bats and we used a lot of them because we broke them — I think a lot of it is economics," Hopewell baseball manager Bobby Pershing said of the issue. "For a team like us, not every one of my players have their own bats so I have to have the school buy bats for us to use."
Yes, wooden bats do come with a price — they can be expensive and break often — but what price should be put on a child's safety. While Major League Baseball still struggles to find a way to keep pitchers safe with the ideas of implements hats with reinforced padding for pitchers to wear, it's something which can be implemented into the high school game.
It would be difficult to ask grown men to adopt to a change in something they have done throughout their lives, but if it developed as part of the game from an early age, future Major League players will be used to it.
"There's always a potential for danger," Pershing said. "Baseball is a dangerous sport and we're going to do everything we can to keep them out of harm's way but unfortunately those things happen ... I don't think changing equipment will eliminate it, but it might slow it down a little."
In a sport where decisions have to be made to swing or not in less than a second's worth of time, any time saved brings with it a better chance to avoid devastating injuries to players like Chapman and the Colonial Heights man who was hit in the head by a softball.
Often it has been Major League Baseball which has inspired the lower levels, but this time the lower levels can impact the Majors a change into a safer direction.