New York Yankees

After Masahiro Tanaka close call, it’s time for MLB pitchers to wear helmets on the mound

It’s long overdue for pitchers to wear protective gear.

Masahiro Tanaka getting hit in the head by a line drive off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton was a freak accident that we don’t see often, yet it still happens way too much.

A hard comebacker to the mound is one of the scariest parts of baseball, let alone all sports. With technology giving us exit velocity off the bat that is meant to attract fans, it also has made those instances much scarier. The ball Stanton hit left the bat at 112 miles per hour.

Unfortunately, baseball has always been reactive, rather than proactive, to these certain events. Hitters weren’t required to wear helmets until 1958, despite Ray Chapman being killed from being hit by a pitch in the head in 1920. Netting wasn’t mandatory along the dugouts until 2018 to protect fans of screaming line drives, despite thousands upon thousands of severe injuries over the years.

Baseball needs to protect its pitchers from dangerous comebackers.

But now, it’s time for baseball to make one more change before the worst happens.

Major League Baseball needs to make it mandatory for all pitchers to wear some sort of protective headgear.

Tanaka’s injury reminded us of the scary reality that is sports. Amazingly, Tanaka walked off the field with the help of trainers, was released from the hospital later that same night, and was back at Yankee Stadium the following day. He has since been diagnosed with a mild concussion, and manager Aaron Boone said Tanaka “dodged a bullet.”

In 2016, MLB was designing protective headgear after five pitchers were hit with comeback line drives the previous season. About 20 pitchers were given prototypes, yet none committed to the equipment beyond spring training.

“It looks funny,” Mark Melancon said in February of 2016 as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. “Just because of the looks, it might not be something that I wear during the season. As shallow as that seems, and I’m definitely not that guy … I don’t know. I’m just not there yet. Give me a little time, and maybe I’ll get there.”

Juan Nicasio, who was struck by a liner in 2011, wasn’t sold, either.

“The past few years, everybody has talked with me about using one, but I didn’t feel comfortable with it,” he said. “I don’t want to pitch when I’m wearing something on my body that makes me uncomfortable.”

Players certainly have the right to feel comfortable while playing, but how many safety regulations in all sports felt uncomfortable at first that players, and fans, have gotten used to rapidly?

Are goalies complaining about wearing masks when pucks are being shot at them? How about those fans behind the nets when shots are blocked away and hit the net, instead of a human’s head?

NHL didn’t institute protective netting behind its nets until the death of Brittanie Cecil, who was 13 years old when she was struck by a puck in 2002. Do we see hockey fans complain that the net is in their way?

Maybe we see it in baseball still, because it’s still new. Remember, it wasn’t made mandatory until the 2018 season. But nonetheless, injuries to fans have decreased dramatically, and soon, the net will just be second nature.

Very seldom are fans and players worried about the safety of fans on a deflected puck or a liner ripped foul.

Remember, Stanton was hit in the face by a fastball himself in the batter’s box in 2014. In his case, the helmet did no help. But since then, Stanton has sported protective gear attached to his helmet that stretches over his jaw, a piece of the helmet that is widely gaining traction throughout baseball.

Batters today probably wouldn’t think about getting in the box without a helmet. Was that the case for Opening Day in 1958? Because helmets looked funny and were uncomfortable?

Plenty of softball pitchers wear masks on the mound. Sure, they’re only 46 feet away from the plate, but we’re not seeing MLB exit velocity in softball.

Your health is more important than your comfortability. Hell, your health should make you more comfortable.

Sports will never be injury-proof. They will never be 100 percent safe. But no player deserves to face the risk of dying on the field. Baseball needs to make this change, before it is too late – although, after plenty of scary comebackers, one could argue it already is.

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