Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman will require surgery after taking a line drive to the head on Wednesday night. The 26-year-old all-star was drilled in the face after Kansas City’s Salvador Perez blasted a 99 mph fastball straight back at the mound. Chapman has been taken to Banner Good Samaritan Hospital located in Phoenix where he will undergo surgery to repair a fracture located above his left eye.
Dr. Tim Kremchek, the Reds’ medical director, said that the pitcher will require a metal plate placed above his left eye to stabilize the fracture, and also confirmed that he had sustained both a nose fracture and a mild concussion. Luckily for Chapman that was the extent of his injury and Kremchek even believes the talented young closer will pitch again this season.
But the Cuban-born lefty isn’t the first pitcher to take a significant shot to the head, in fact, he is just the latest victim of a player safety problem that seems to be dangerously increasing. Over the past six seasons there have been 12 instances of pitchers suffering injury from line drives to the head, five of which occurred in just the past two seasons alone. The most significant of the injuries being former Oakland A’s pitcher Brandon McCarthy who sustained a life-threatening brain contusion, epidural hemorrhage and skull fracture when he was struck near his left ear back in September 2012. McCarthy underwent successful surgery and has since continued his professional career as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, but not without complication as the 30-year-old right-hander was placed on medication after experiencing a seizure while out for dinner with his wife in June 2013. The seizure is thought to be connected to the previous year’s head trauma. It remains to be seen if McCarthy’s incident is a sign of things to come, but given that Chapman will require surgery after taking a line drive to the head, things are not looking up for big league hurlers.
Major League Baseball has acknowledged the problem in recent years, and though no major changes have been made to the game, there are plans in motion. The most recent development being the league’s approval of a new padded cap that can be worn by pitchers. 4Licensing Corporation, the manufacturer of the cap, claims that the technology is designed to absorb and disperse frontal blows up to 90 mph and up to 85 mph on the side of the cap. The only question is whether pitchers will choose to wear them or not. Brandon McCarthy has openly stated that he would not wear one as they are now. Think about that for a moment. A man whose life was threatened by a baseball to the head can wear a cap that could possibly prevent such an event from reoccurring, and he would choose not to wear it. He says that it is not “major-league ready” as the cap is “too big” and also “too hot.” Other pitchers have relayed the same sentiment saying that they would not want the cap to interfere in any way with their performance. Though, in all likelihood, those ideas are probably similar to the responses players gave when batting helmets were made mandatory back in 1971.
And that brings up an even bigger question. Would the MLB ever make padded caps mandatory for pitchers in the future? And if so, would they be mandatory for all players or would they implement a grandfather rule for pitchers already in the big leagues? Provided pitchers continue to take line drives off the noggin at the pace they are, it is very likely that such questions will be explored by the league in the near future. After all professional baseball is a business, and a business must protect its assets.
But rest assured, until something does change, Aroldis Chapman will not be the last pitcher to require surgery after taking a line drive to the head.
Commentary by Kalen Skalesky