You don’t want to see the video of A’s pitcher Chris Bassitt getting hit in the head by a 100 mph line drive off the bat of Brian Goodwin on Tuesday night in Chicago. It’s terrifying, and thankfully Bassitt was conscious and aware as he was taken to the hospital. If you really need to see the video, it’s out there, but you’ve also seen it before.
Maybe the one that made you want to never see anything like that again was Bryce Florie. Or another A’s pitcher, Brandon McCarthy. Or Ryan Brasier, earlier this season. Or Herb Score, 65 years ago. Or Alex Cobb, whose injury inspired Alex Torres, who relieved Cobb after he was struck, to be the first pitcher in the majors to wear a padded cap for extra protection.
As Padres trainer Todd Hutcheson said in 2014, when Torres debuted the protective cap, “Who the hell cares if it doesn’t look sexy?”
Unfortunately, too many people cared that it didn’t look sexy, like the Padres teammates who laughed at Torres… and the broadcasters who clowned on his resemblance to The Great Gazoo… and even Torres’ wife. The padded cap, obviously, did not catch on.
There has been one death as a result of an on-field play in major league history. Tuesday, in fact, was the 101st anniversary of Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman passing away, one day after getting hit in the head by a pitch from Yankees righty Carl Mays at the Polo Grounds. It took more than 20 years after Chapman’s death for any major leaguers to start wearing helmets, and three decades after that for MLB to make headgear mandatory for batters.
As time has marched on, helmets have evolved. Earflaps were introduced, helmets have been made stronger, and many batters have added more facial protection, whether it’s the extended earflaps that are commonplace now, or Dave Parker’s experiments ranging from a hockey-style goalie mask to bars from a football helmet.
But since Torres’ hat was deemed unfashionable (IsoBlox, the company that made it, still exists, but has had a dormant Twitter account for six years), pitchers have continued to take the mound the same way they have for more than a century, with nothing but the same caps on their heads that you can buy at the souvenir shop. A padded cap wouldn’t prevent all pitcher injuries from line drives — some thought ought to be given to face guards — but the continued presence of nothing but fabric atop pitchers’ heads makes it likely that if there’s another MLB death, it’ll be a man struck on the mound, not in the batter’s box.
There was progress being made on protecting pitchers. That progress stopped, and the peril has only risen along with the exit velocities of batted balls smashed right back toward them. There’s a clear and present danger here, and every close call like Bassitt’s is a reminder of how little has been done to address it. That needs to change, and this time everybody needs to forget about whether or not it looks “sexy,” because a silly-looking hat looks a whole lot better than a pitcher lying face-down in a pool of his own blood.