Among the most dreaded scenes to witness in sports is a baseball player, coach or fan being struck in the head by a line drive. The damage that results from being struck by a ball coming off a bat can be very serious and even deadly.
Recently, baseball fans witnessed two pitchers, J. A. Happ and Alex Cobb being struck in the head by line drives. To many, it was the sound of the ball striking the skull that was most upsetting.
One of the most severe injuries happened last September when Brandon McCarthy, a pitcher for the Oakland A’s, was struck in the head by a line drive that resulted in a fractured skull and hemorrhage that required surgery. This June he suffered a seizure while in a restaurant and currently requires anti-convulsive medications.
It is no secret that athletes have become bigger, stronger and faster. While this is a big concern in high-velocity collision sports like football, it is also a factor in baseball. A baseball typically leaves the wooden bat of a major league baseball player at approximately 100 miles per hour (faster with a metal bat).
The human skull is made of bone and is designed to protect the brain and the blood vessels that supply the brain. A direct blow to the skull can result in fracture and tearing of these blood vessels. It may also cause a shearing of nerve cells with subsequent long-term symptoms of concussion including headache, dizziness, nausea and confusion.
The challenge at this time is how to protect the brains of pitchers at all levels of play. The obvious answer is to have pitchers begin wearing helmets. Many pitchers find this impractical, but newly available Kevlar and gel liners that fit into a standard baseball cap may be a partial solution.