Dont look now, but the pitching helmets are coming.
They might not arrive this season, or next, or anytime soon, but whether its 5, 10, 15 years from now, the pitching helmets will eventually work their way into the forefront of public consciousness, charge the mound and turn Major League Baseball into a polycarbonate shell of its former self.
By then, there will be great debates about the long-term effects of helmetless pitching. Those who pitch without the equipment will be treated like the games last true warriors. When the last warrior retires, the game will carry on like it always has, and the pre-helmet years will be remembered as a grittier time in baseball history. A time when the league was so cavalier about potential line-drive danger that pitchers actually took the mound wearing only a cotton hat, with nothing but 60-plus feet, a glove and unbelievable reflexes to protect them from certain disaster.
You know that feeling you get when you see pictures or grainy highlights of the days when batters didnt wear a helmet? That weird sensation that gets you wondering: No helmet? . . . What the hell was wrong with those guys?
Thats how the future usses (does "us" have a plural?) will look back on this time.
But thats then. Or whenever. The future.
For now, what we have is the prototype, courtesy of Easton-Bell Sports.
Ladies and Gentlemen: The pitching helmet.
To help explain the new product, heres a description from the press release that EBS sent out to a bunch of people who arent me:
The Easton-Bell Sports pitching helmet prototype uses lightweight energy managing materials to provide protection to the most vulnerable areas of the head, without compromising comfort or performance. The helmet is made of expanded polystyrene polycarbonate, which is attached to a comfortable liner and elastic strap.
And so it begins.
Now I know what youre thinking. Stop being so dramatic. Whats your problem?
Funny, thats exactly what they said when I first stood up against the vuvuzuela.
And now youre thinking: This isnt a joke! Kids Little League, high school, college kids are dying, and have died as a result of line drives to the head. If even one Major League pitchers life is saved by a helmet, then its worth it!
And what can I say to that?
I wont, and no one can ever, suggest that it wouldnt be worth it. Of course human life is worth it. And despite the fact that no Major League pitcher has ever been killed on the mound (although many pitching careers have ding!), I cant say that its an unfathomable occurrence. Honestly, would you be absolutely shocked if some day a Major League pitcher died from a line drive to the head?
Sure, it would be beyond tragic, but no one would say, Oh my God, I never saw this coming! We do see it coming. Thats why they made this prototype. Thats why, even before this thing came out, Little Leagues across the country had begun requiring some sort of head protection for their pitchers. And thats why, in the end, however long it takes, the pitcher helmet will go from Little League to high school to college to the minors to the Majors.
And thats why people like me, who wonder if the whole thing isnt just a little ridiculous, will ultimately just sit back and quietly (at least after this column) feel weird about it for another 20-something years, or however long it takes. Just waiting until what once seemed so unnecessary becomes an acceptable part of baseball: Like the DH, the Wild Card, or Brian Wilsons beard.
Or until everything about the game starts to feel weird and I just lose touch with baseball all together.
OK, just made it dramatic again. Sorry.
And either way, it doesnt matter.
In the end, the pitching helmets are coming. Too many people are going to push it, and you cant take a moral stand against it. Ultimately, the helmets win. But you have to wonder: Where does it stop?
What about the first basemen? Or the third basemen? What if Miguel Cabrera smashes a drunken line drive to shortstop, only the suns directly in Marco Scutaros eyes? He instinctively adjusts his glove to where he thinks the balls headed, but then loses it completely in the glare . . .
Down goes Scutaro. Ball clocks him right in the head. Maybe hes hurt badly. Hmm, but what if he was wearing a helmet?
And why stop there?
What about fans? Its only a matter of time before Prince Fielder or Jason Heyward or some superhuman bat turns too quickly on a garbage fastball or a decent changeup and kills someone in the stands. Over the course of the average season, I probably worry about that far more often than I do pitchers. Half the fans arent even watching the field. Theyll never see it coming. Give everyone a helmet! Free with admission, or for 20 you can get one fitted with two beers and a funnel.
Getting back to the pitchers, and in the (kind of) words of Dumb and Dumber:
What if they hit you in the face?
These helmets protect a guy from taking a ball off the skull, but what about the eyes, nose or mouth? Or how about the throat? That could all do some serious damage. Maybe it doesnt directly hit your brain, but taking a ball between the eyes would ruin your weekend, too. And thats just as likely.
OK, so why not fit every pitcher with a Hannibal Lecter mask and put the batters in space suits?
I dont know. Maybe some day that will happen. But for now, well just have to embrace the evolution of the pitching helmet.
Coming (someday) to a mound near you.