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Pitching Helmets II Another site
2002-09-13 01:05
by Mike Carminati

Pitching Helmets II

Another site criticized my idea of pitching helmets as overly protective and P.C. I could take the high road by quoting my idol (or is it idle?) Joe Morgan and simply say that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. But I won't. Instead I'll say that he's probably right.-it probably is a silly idea. I remember thinking when I wrote it that I had become the school marm who tells Ralphie that he'll shot his eye out if he gets a bee-bee gun as a present in A Christmas Story. Or that I was acting like a retiree who writes letters to network executives about the lurid content of their TV shows.

But then I recalled the replay of Ishii getting plunked so hard by a batted ball that it hit the backstop and allowed the cringing Brian Hunter, the batter, to advance to second. I thought of Bryce Florie and Norm Charlton and Bill Wagner and the legendary Herb Score. Herb Score is to the pitcher being plunked by a batted ball what Ray Chapman was to the batter being plunked by a pitched ball. Chapman, of course, died. Score's career died though he did enjoy a long second career as a broadcaster.

Herb Score came up in 1955 to join a strong but aging Cleveland staff that had won 111 games the previous year. It included future Hall-of-Famers Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, and Hal Newhouser. He instantly became a star and was one of the dominant lefties of the day. He struck out over a man an inning but had only a 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He was the AL Rookie of the Year and was an All-Star in 1955 and 1956. He also led the AL in strikeouts his first two years. The veteran Newhouser said that he would trade his own past for Score's future-he looked that good. He did, however, have an unusual delivery that left him out of position (his range factor was about a third of the average pitcher).

On May 7, 1957, Score was hit in the eye by a Gil McDougal line drive. His season was over and concerns grew about his eyesight. When he did come back he still could strike men out but never pitched at his established level again. He was exactly one month short of his 24th birthday when he got hit. Here is a comparison between his pre- and post-injury stats:

      G GS CG SH   IP    H  ER  BB  SO  W  L SV ERA
pre  73 70 30  8 512.2 338 150 309 547 38 20  0 2.63
post 77 57 17  3 345.2 271 170 264 290 17 26  3 4.43

No batting-style helmet could have prevented Score's injury. His like Florie's was caused by being struck by a ball straight on, not in the head like Ishii's. I would have to think that anything that would protect the pitcher's face and eyes would be too cumbersome. Wearing any protective gear on a pitcher's head would be constrictive, wouldn't it? I guess. I don't really know though-I'm no expert.

Isn't it worthwhile for the owners or the union to fork over one or two hundred grand to some research lab to find out for sure? They invest in Blue Ribbon Panels that provide them with facts about their business that they already "know." Why not sink some money into finding out the available options given that they invest hundreds of millions in their pitching staffs? If they find out that nothing can be introduced that would effectively protect a pitcher while not inhibiting his motion with today's technology, then fine, at least we'll know for sure. Doesn't Ishii deserve that much after having fragments of his own skull surgically removed from his nasal passages? Now that Ishii is done for the year, how would the Dodgers feel if they fail to advance as far as they could because they hadn't thought to invest in some protective gear for their team?

It's probably a silly idea. Let's find out. But then again other silly ideas like the wild card, interleague play, and contraction are promulgated by the keepers of the game. It wouldn't be out of place.

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