Baseball Preview Day 4: Concussions In Baseball

This was the play that ended Justin Morneau's season.

Justin Morneau was 0-10 in live baseball games this spring up until this week. He was hit by a few balls and took a few good cuts, but he just couldn’t seem to get going.

 

Recovering from a concussion in baseball may be harder than one would ever think.

 

Morneau hasn’t played since July 7th of last year when his head met the knee of Blue Jays infielder John McDonald during his attempted breakup of a double play. At first it was supposed to be a mild concussion that was going to keep him out for one-maybe two games.

 

Then the All-Star game past… then August… September… the playoffs… and a month of spring training. Morneau had not had an at-bat in over 90 games of live ball due to that one seemingly harmless play that has hurt him in the short-term and possibly could effect him for the long haul.

 

It’s also raised awareness about the severity of concussions in Major League Baseball and what the future holds for players who could end up like Morneau.

 

Concussions as you know have become a hot topic in football and hockey circles recently. Head injuries have been moved to the forefront in light of devastating injuries that have occurred recently to Sidney Crosby, Austin Collie, Marc Savard and a slew of other players.

 

Crosby’s case is similar to Morneau’s in the sense that the hit he took he took in the Winter Classic seemed relatively harmless but has kept him out for nearly 4 months.

Concussions have been a major cause for concern in the NHL and NFL.

The difference in the cases of the NFL, NHL and now the MLB is that football and hockey are much more physical sports with a higher risk for injury. The NFL reported that this year had the number of recorded head injuries in the history of the league. The news has made the league more cautious of how to handle head injuries and it is going over guidelines on how to make the league safer for players.

 

You wouldn’t think that Major League Baseball would have the same cause for concern. Even in instances when we do see a player hit in the head by a pitch or by a line drive the severity of the injury is relatively low.

 

There have been instances where I’ve seen players hit in the head by wild pitches and the fall, get up, shake it off and act like nothing happened.

 

The dynamic changed four years ago when Mike Coolbaugh, a first-base coach of the Texas league’s Tulsa Drillers was killed by a line drive in the ninth inning of a game. Ever since then first and third-base coaches have to wear batting helmets as a mandatory guideline mandated by the league.

 

However, most batting helmets protect against a certain level of speed that a ball is thrown. Most Major League batting helmets to tend to protect against speeds that hit only up to 80 mph (even Barry Zito’s fastball hits 80… sometimes). But for the most part there’s no way that those helmets are going to be useful if a Justin Verlander fastball goes AWOL and knocks a guy out.

 

In recent years, helmets have been designed to protect against 90 mph and Rawlings introduced the S100 helmet, which can protect batters against 100 mph fastballs. The thing is that these helmets are not required to be worn by teams. Simply put, baseball’s motto is, wear a helmet, it doesn’t matter what kind it is as long as you got one on. The reality is that the S100 should be a mandatory piece of equipment worn by Major league Baseball teams.

 

Then there are other instances where head injuries can occur.

Jason Bay's season was also cut short after running into a wall.

 

Mets outfielder Jason Bay suffered a season ending concussion by running into a padded wall at Dodger Stadium on July 23rd. Anyone who watches baseball knows that those walls have as much padding as the Mets have good luck. Very little.

 

Up until the Bay injury no one has ever really though of how to make those walls safer. Now they may want to. Padded walls have led to injuries suffered by Ken Griffey Jr. and Aaron Rowand amongst others. In Bay’s case losing a guy to a concussion by running into a cement wall with 3 inches of foam padding might be cause for greater concern.

 

We always see players give up their bodies to make plays to keep a game in their favor. Now those types of plays can knock a guy out for long periods of time. I’m not saying the MLB should make outfielders wear helmets incase something were to happen, but they have to view their options before someone gets seriously injured again

 

These are issues that should be made relevant by players in the CBA talks, which will be ongoing all season as it is set to expire in December.

 

Player safety in baseball should be just as equal of a concern as it is in the NFL and NHL. Before MLB starts having the same issues as the other two sports they need to act now. They can’t afford to have many more incidents like the Morneau and Bay cases before it becomes prevalent in the national.

 

The good news is that last night Justin Morneau smacked two doubles against Boston Red Sox last night and that his fielding has been superb all spring training.

 

The Twins need him to make a deep postseason run this fall. Let’s hope he’ll be healthy enough to be there.

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