On the same day recently, three major league baseball players were struck on the head by baseballs. Two of the incidents required hospitalization; all three raise the issue of safety improvement.
David Wright and Ian Kinsler were struck by baseballs thrown at high velocity. Hiroki Kuroda, a pitcher, was hit by a line drive back to the mound.
Although helmets provide some measure of safety, the impact of any projectile can cause skull fractures, bleeding into the brain and subsequent death. Even mild forms of traumatic brain injury like concussion carry repercussions of persistent headache, dizziness or cognitive impairment. In baseball, this is enough to end a promising career.
Athletes have become stronger and more proficient at their sports, necessitating better protective equipment. The need for improved batting helmets and designing helmets for pitchers is under discussion and supported by many sports medicine specialists.
The real problem in baseball lies beneath the surface. An unwritten rule in baseball is that a pitcher is expected to hit a batter in certain circumstances or be shunned by his teammates.
Organized baseball has tried to control “plunking” by giving umpires greater leeway in ejecting players. The legal question here is whether a baseball pitcher who uses his skill to intentionally harm another player should be charged with assault? In 2006, the Supreme Court of California ruled that baseball players assume the risk of being hit by baseballs even if thrown to intentionally cause injury.
Professional athletes must realize that their actions are imitated by youngsters. Intentionally throwing at an opponent is not the behavior of a sportsman. Hopefully it will not result in death.
Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is Chief of Neurology at The William W. Backus Hospital and in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC, in Norwich. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or listen to his podcasts, comment on his blog or buy his book at www.backushospital.org.