Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Dangerous Drives

I almost titled this post "BOOM! Headshots!" but that wouldn't have been right of me. What happened Tuesday night was incredibly scary and I wouldn't want to make any kind of joke about it.

Tuesday night, Tampa Bay Rays' hitter Desmond Jennings hit a screaming liner in the second inning with a 3-1 count, striking Toronto Blue Jays' pitcher J.A. Happ directly in the side of the head. While it wasn't intentional, this is the second time since last September in which a pitcher sustained a line drive to the head, and it's still horrific to watch. Current Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy took a shot from a liner off of Erick Aybar's bat in September 2012, sustaining an epidural haematoma, a skull fracture, and a brain contusion. While McCarthy walked off the field on his own, Happ wasn't so fortunate, as he was stretchered off the field. Although McCarthy seems to be in top form now, the event that occurred was enough to make anyone nervous about whether he would return to baseball.

When something like this happens, I can't resist in searching for footage and watching it. It eventually leads to me screaming my head off because of how frightening the play is. From the sound of the hit to the aftermath, it's something you wouldn't even wish on your worst enemy. When a freak accident occurs like that in baseball, there is a hush that falls over the league as everyone waits for the prognosis of the player in peril. Another person that feels the fire from the incident is the man who hit the ball--in this case, Desmond Jennings. All he could do was stand from afar and watch everything unfold. It wasn't intentional, he wasn't out to hurt anyone, and because he did a natural act that found its way to injure the pitcher on the mound, that's a massive punch in the stomach. If I were him, I don't know if I could keep playing the rest of the game after that.

(UPDATE: J.A. Happ is reportedly in stable condition at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, FL. He has sustained a head contusion and a laceration the ear. He could be released from the hospital today. High hopes!)

A few hours after the incident occurred, I talked to Andrew about this on the phone. He asked me a question that really made me think: "What if he died? Would the hitter be charged with a crime?" It's an interesting question, indeed. Would a player, if he happened to hit a line drive or throw a pitch that hit a player in the head and kill him, be charged with something?

Only one baseball player has ever died after being hit in the head by a ball, so there really hasn't been any instances or references to do any kind of homework on this topic. Ray Chapman, a Cleveland shortstop, was hit in the head by a fastball delivered by Carl Mays in 1920. Note: This happened long before batting helmets were ever enforced for use in-game. After Chapman's death, Mays's action was deemed as accidental by a New York District Attorney, and no charges were filed. However, this led to the banning of the infamous spitball in Major League Baseball.

To give an answer to the question, if something like this were to happen today, it would most likely be deemed an accidental kill and no charges would be filed. However, there could be a can of worms opened as there may be a chance that the family of the deceased player could press charges or sue Major League Baseball for lack of player safety or something to that extent. Regardless of reason, it would be a stretch and a hassle, and there would most likely be a settlement at the end of it all.

A bigger question that popped up in my own head was: "What if--Heaven forbid--someone actually does die? What would baseball do in response to this?" It's a morbid thing to think about, but you can't help but let it cross your mind when a player takes a ball to the head. When it comes to a hitter, you can adjust and look to protect the head by adding more protection in the helmet. We saw this when Mets' third baseman David Wright took a fastball to the head in 2009. Sure, he looked like Marvin the Martian to some people, but you can never be too safe while you're in the batter's box. However, when it comes to a pitcher's safety, you can't really do a whole bunch to protect him. He's in a danger zone and he pretty much knows that he is. It's rather unlikely that Major League Baseball would enforce the use of the batting practice L-screen during the game itself.
Unfortunately, this would obstruct the field of play and it would really restrict a hitter's chance of getting a base hit up the middle, and it would actually restrict a fielder's chance of a double play. I would also find this annoying if I were a pitcher. In my opinion, there would be a fat chance of this being used during the game. The ensuing measures will have to take a lot of thought by the commissioner of Major League Baseball if this unfortunate event leads in death. In fact, nothing might not ever be done since the chances of a pitcher getting hit in the head with a line drive is incredibly slim. It may be acknowledged, and padding may be encouraged in standard caps, but that would be the only thing I can think of actually happening.

For now, it's best to keep J.A. Happ in our thoughts as these next couple of hours will give us a timetable as to when he will begin the road to recovery. It's rough to see anyone suffer through this, especially when injuries and safety in sports are hot topics at this time, and an incident like this doesn't necessarily help matters. When you play a sport, you are always putting your body on the line, regardless of where you stand on the field. In Happ's case, he is in one of the most dangerous positions in baseball. Playing a sport takes courage, and scars from any sort of injury are proof of bravery and survival. I'm an advocate of player safety just as much as the next person, but the positions of pitcher and batter are unavoidable cases; caution is always being thrown into the wind every time you step into the box or on the hill. You always have to hope for the best case to happen whether it can be good or bad.