After the stories of Kazuhisa Ishii yesterday and Bryce Florie in 2000, two pitchers severely injured by a ball batted back at them, is it time that baseball did something about protecting the pitcher? Severe injuries to pitchers and even infielders are common in high school and college when aluminum bats, that reporting propel batted balls back at the pitcher up to 30 miles per hour faster, are the standard.
Florie's injury, caused by a ball batted back by Yankee Ryan Thompson, was particularly bloody and effectively ended his career at the age of 30. Ishii may be luckier, but his injury was no less gruesome: the batter, Brian Hunter, cringed and looked away as the batted ball ricocheted off of Ishii's forehead and hit the backstop--he didn't feel sufficiently moved to stop from stretching the hit to a double, however.
The option of requiring pitchers to wear helmet may be the solution. However, the main opponents to such equipment would undoubtedly be the pitchers that it would be designed to protect. The problem with such protection is that the visibility and mobility of the wearer would be negatively impacted should the devise prove sufficient protection. The eyes and face of the wearer must be shielded given that batted balls usually come straight back at the pitcher and the natural reaction of a ballplayer is to get in front of a batted ball and try to field it. The pitcher's reflexes are just not fast enough to prevent the ball from hitting him. This type of protection would prove unwieldy for a major-league pitcher.
Would a batting helmet by sufficient? The ball that hit Ishii could have been stopped by a batting helmet since it hit him on the forehead. On the other hand, in Bryce Florie's case, a football helmet with a birdcage-like face mask would have been required to stop the ball.
Baseball seems content to ignore this as a non-issue, but with pitchers throwing close to a 100 MPH and today's stronger batters stroking the ball back at probably 30 MPH faster, there is a chance that some hurler will become the pitching version of Ray Chapman. It's time for baseball to at least investigate the options.