Watching a Tigers game with family recently, it was noticed some of the players’ batting helmets have been reinforced with an additional piece that extends over the jaw area.
Historically, safety features added to any sport have sometimes been met with ridicule when first introduced, but in time they were accepted and became accustomed to.
The first baseball helmets were the 1952 innovation of Charlie Muse, a Pittsburgh Pirates executive. “The players called them minor hats (coal miners), laughed at them, called players sissies for wearing them,” Muse said.
By the 1960s it became mandatory for all teams to protect the batter from an errant pitch ball. A decade later it was extended for the base runner as well. There have been suggestions for pitchers to wear helmets, too.
The discussion was raised nationally when Trenton’s own Matt Shoemaker, a pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels, was hit by a line drive on the mound on Sept. 4, thus capping an incredibly eventful season for Matt. To summarize Matt Shoemaker’s 2016 baseball season, it can be defined in four parts: Terrible, Terrific, Terrible, Terrific.
Part one of the 2016 season: Terrible. After displaying great talent as a major league pitcher in his first two seasons, which included coming in second in the vote for rookie of the year in 2014, Matt’s April with the Angels was a disaster as his earned-run average ballooned to 9.15, and Matt was assigned to the minors, a real low point in his promising young career.
Part two: Terrific. While with the Los Angeles Angels minor league affiliate, Matt did not rebound immediately, but within time Matt regained his fastball which complimented his excellent splitter pitch, and by May Matt was back in the big leagues pitching better than ever. As the season continued he was essentially the ace pitcher of the L.A. Angels. Including and despite the bad start in April, Matt lowered his ERA to an overall 3.88, and though he missed a large part of the season, ended up second in innings pitched for the Angels with 160.
Part 3 of the 2016 season was terrible; on Sept. 4 Matt was hit by a line drive, resulting in a skull fracture virtually ending the season for our local hero. Shoemaker’s injury brought baseball and head injuries front and center to the national conversation. Has the time come for baseball pitchers to wear protective head gear? The fear of the baseball being hit at a pitcher has always been problematic, that is why a protective screen is often used in all levels of baseball play during batting practice. A baseball is a wrapped yarn around a cork or rubber center, a tight stitching of horsehide cover, and weighs 5 and 1/4 ounces — it is rightly called a “hard ball.”
The speed of the ball that hit Matt Shoemaker was estimated at 105 mph — you can only imagine the severity of the skull fracture it caused. This is the reason why only wooden bats are used in the MLB. Aluminum bats are permitted in high school and college baseball. The ball comes off at a more rapid speed from aluminum bats, and with the higher level of skill for major league batters, it would leave pitchers in an even more vulnerable position for injury. There has not been a fatality in baseball since 1919, but there have been many career-ending injuries caused by beanings and balls hitting pitchers.
This past Oct. 4, Matt was featured on Good Morning America. It was the first time I got to view the replay of Matt’s injury. Matt showed ABC news’ Kanya Whitworth the extent of the injury and where the titanium plate was inserted in his skull. In the GMA segment the real life and death situation Matt experienced was revealed, and that he was now considering wearing some sort of head gear protection, stipulating a type that would not confine or detract from his pitching motion and delivery.
Part 4: Terrific! First of all, his medical prognosis is good and the symptoms of concussion have disappeared and Hematoma has been controlled. All signs are a go for the 2017 season. In addition, Matt received the Nick Adenhart award as the outstanding Los Angeles pitcher for 2016, despite missing a third of a season — this is an amazing feat!
Lastly, on Oct. 2 Matt and his wife, Danielle, became parents to a second child — a girl named Emma Ann. What can be more terrific than that?
Tony Mazzella welcomes readers to friend him on Facebook, where he frequently shares recollections about some of the interesting people and businesses in Trenton’s past.