Time to put a cap on pitchers' line-drive injuries
Chapman injury should prompt hurlers to protect themselves regardless of appearance
I'll get right to the point. I can't understand why Major League pitchers aren't wearing these newly designed protective caps. I understand, but I don't understand, but let's start with this: As soon as I heard about that line drive Wednesday slamming into the face of Reds closer Aroldis Chapman, it brought back memories, and they weren't good ones.
My mind did what it always does in these situations. It returned to a Monday Night Football game on Nov. 18, 1985 in Washington D.C., where I sat with wide eyes and an open mouth in the press box at RFK Stadium while witnessing the most frightening thing of my life as a sports journalist.
That was the night Lawrence Taylor made Joe Theismann's leg snap, crackle and pop after a sack you could hear from everywhere.
Since then, I've turned away as soon as the replays of these horrific injuries move toward their climaxes. So, regarding Chapman's moment of infamy during that Reds-Royals exhibition game in Surprise, Ariz., I saw the flame-throwing left-hander hurl his 100 mph pitch toward home plate. I saw Kansas City's Salvador Perez rip the pitch back toward the mound at the speed of light, and then I saw the inside of my eyelids, because I closed my eyes.
I can't watch these things.
There is nothing worse in sports than witnessing an athlete getting smacked by something or someone to the point of causing you to wonder if he or she ever will breathe again -- let alone play.
No wonder that heavy wind blowing across the universe Thursday was from a slew of folks exhaling after the update on Chapman. According to doctors, he will recover fully. Chapman needed surgery to repair a broken bone above his left eye, and he'll have to keep the titanium plate they inserted during the process above his left eyebrow. He also suffered a broken nose and a mild concussion, but there were no injuries to his eyes, and there was no brain damage.
Now get this: Reds team doctor Timothy Kremchek said Chapman could start throwing again within the next two weeks, and he could return to games for Cincinnati in about two months.
Talk about a miracle. But we're also talking about a mistake, especially since Chapman wasn't wearing one of those new protective caps that Major League Baseball urged pitchers to use this season to slow down the epidemic of pitchers taking shots to the head from line drives. The caps have been universally panned by pitchers -- partly due to discomfort (at least in their minds) and partly due to appearance. As a result, Chapman has joined the overwhelming majority of his peers in refusing to wear the caps on even an experimental basis during games in Spring Training.
"Clubs were informed in late January, after MLB and the MLBPA approved the use of the new product on a voluntary basis, that demonstrations of the protective hat are available, and that continues to be the case," MLB said in a statement issued on Thursday. "Any pitcher who is interested in trying a model of the approved protective cap should contact their equipment manager so that the company can provide a custom-fitted model in his size. We will schedule any interested player with a fitting.
"The company has received direct, constructive feedback from players who have seen the hat. The company is attempting to make modifications that address the players' suggestions, which included the comfort, 'breathability' and look of the cap."
I know what you're saying: Those new caps had nothing to do with what happened to Chapman. The new cap covers primarily the top and the sides of the heads of pitchers, which means it wouldn't have saved Chapman from the face shot he took. Still, Chapman made a mistake -- a huge one -- by not wearing the new cap, because Perez's wicked shot easily could have slammed into one of those areas that actually is protected by the new cap.
Take the Rays' Alex Cobb, for instance. He threw a pitch last season during a home game that rocketed off the bat of the Royals' Eric Hosmer and slammed into his right ear, dropping him to the ground. Earlier in the year at that same St. Petersburg stadium, the Blue Jays' J.A. Happ suffered a fractured skull when he was hit by a line drive from the Rays' Desmond Jennings.
Both pitchers returned during the season, but both pitchers would have missed fewer games -- if any -- if they were wearing the new cap.
Regardless of whether we're talking about a pitcher getting whacked by a batted ball in the head, the face or no place at all, these growing number of mound-related injuries should send a message to Chapman and to others around the Major Leagues: Just wear the new caps and let The Powers That Be take care of the cosmetics over time.
Yes, Chapman survived. Yes, he reportedly spent the past few days in good spirits in his Arizona hospital room. Yes, Chapman's teammates say he even jokes about the injury while anticipating a quick return to the mound to help the Reds' pursuit of winning the National League Central and more.
It's just that none of that minimizes the horror of it all, especially for those who were at the Royals' spring ballpark, cringing, praying and sobbing, as Chapman tumbled on the mound in agony.
"Honestly, when I saw it, I wanted to cry," said Reds catcher Brayan Pena, the closest witness to the whole thing. "That was my first feeling, because it was very scary. It was very scary because I saw the line drive going straight for his face, and then I saw him bleeding and kicking and moving around the way he was."
I've seen such things before, and after that night at RFK Stadium -- now part of infamy, courtesy of Theismann suffering a career-ending injury that still causes him to limp -- I never want to see them again.
Wear the new caps, pitchers.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.