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Archive for September 8th, 2002

Sunday, 8 September 2002

Baseball shouldn’t be this scary

Watching the Astros-vs.-Dodgers game on television earlier, I saw L.A.’s starting pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii get hit in the forehead by a line drive. I was so shocked that I couldn’t even say anything — not even a gasp or an "oh no." It looked really nasty, and when Vin Scully speculated (and hoped) that Ishii might at least have put his glove in front of his face to deflect the ball, the replays showed no such luck. Upon being struck, Ishii just crumpled in front of the mound, writhing in pain, and was taken away in an ambulance that drove onto the infield. It was really awful to watch. As I write this, the latest AP report states that Ishii suffered a concussion and a small skull fracture. The report also said that after the ball hit Ishii, "it ricocheted all the way to the backstop behind home plate." Geez. There was a somewhat reassuring moment, though, when he moved his arms and showed that he was conscious while being strapped to the stretcher.

Like many baseball fans, I just wish that he’s okay. I didn’t see Dodger Alex Cora sustain his concussion while sliding into second base a few weeks ago (I’m glad that he’s recovered nicely), but this accident was just gruesome to witness. It made me think of John Olerud, first baseman for the Seattle Mariners. When playing defense, Olerud always wears a helmet — it looks kind of like a slimline version of a batting helmet — instead of the usual baseball cap. I’m sure he gets a lot of ribbing, but I’ve always thought he was smart to do it. The helmet is cheap insurance, and it makes a lot of sense on the field. When something like today’s accident happens, it makes even more sense.

Also, as Vin Scully pointed out, the difficult lighting within the stadium did not help at all. At the time of the accident, the last rays of sun were slowly moving away. The mound was bathed in a patch of sunlight, but the entire area in front of the mound, including the batter’s box, was in shade. Scully guessed that Ishii may have lost sight of the ball as it crossed the shaded area into the sunlight towards him, and hence couldn’t move out of its way in time.

As the medical personnel were examining Ishii and the game was put on hold (there was no break to commercials until the ambulance left the field and Kevin Beirne came in as the emergency reliever), Scully kept saying that pitchers don’t like talking about the hazards of working on a mound a mere sixty feet in front of the batter, and the possibility of getting seriously hurt. I got the impression that it was a taboo subject among both pitchers and players — that they just ignore the negative possibilities and hope for the best, considering any accident part of the job. But why is that? That just seems so wrong. If the players don’t want to talk about it, why don’t the team trainers and management at least pick a bone about it? Ishii certainly isn’t the first pitcher to ever get struck in the head by a hit baseball. Is it because accidents like this don’t happen everyday?

Okay, so I’m not sure if requiring helmets for fielders would be the answer… I know pitchers and many infielders would balk (no pun intended) at a helmet on the field, saying it would hinder their abilities. I would really be interested in learning about Olerud’s experience in wearing a helmet while playing first base. I tried Googling for interviews or articles quoting him on the subject and how it affects his play, but couldn’t find anything of substance. In any case, I can’t come up with the perfect solution right now, but all I’m saying is that this really shouldn’t be a taboo subject to sweep under the rug and ignore, hoping that an accident won’t happen. It should be addressed carefully and thoroughly, because safety should never be a low priority.

Posted at 12:00 am | Filed under Baseball, sports, Favorite posts |