Every time we write about player safety here at Baseball Nation, I get at least one e-mail. Paraphrased, they go like this:
"Stop mollycoddling baseball players, please! The game doesn't need to change!"
Like that, but with more misspellings and insults. And while they don't use the world "mollycoddle," they should.
"'Quit mollycoddling the likes of Johnny Wockenfuss!,' he wrote on the Internet. 'This isn't dressball!'"
Appeals to tradition and homophobic/misogynistic jabs aren't the only standard parts of these e-mails, though. There are also inevitable slippery-slope arguments. If you ban home-plate collisions, what's next, banning hard slides into second base? If you make pitchers wear protective headgear, what's next, bubble wrap?
Beware the shadow conspiracy to make baseball players safer. It always, always, always ends in bubble wrap.
This comes up now because there's a new protective hat for pitchers, and it's as laughably different as everyone figured it would be.
Here's a full look at the protective cap: pic.twitter.com/5NwtMwjGHN— Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinESPN) January 28, 2014
Which is just one step removed from …
Get in your chuckles now, because eventually it will be the norm. Not in this exact form, but hatmets are coming. Brandon McCarthy isn't going to wear this one, because it "doesn't pass the eye test," among other reasons. Focusing on McCarthy's refusal to wear it, though, is a little short-sighted. Just because he doesn't think this version is a workable solution, doesn't mean there isn't a solution coming, and soon.
"Hopefully, in a couple of years, they can come up with something that everyone wears and that you don't notice it being on your head while you're out there," he said. "I hope it gets there.
And when it does get there, with the changes to the rules regarding home-plate decisions, we'll have the death of slippery-slope arguments when it comes to player safety. The NFL and, to a lesser extent, the NHL are just getting started with the discussions on head trauma and concussions. I don't envy them. Baseball is almost done with the massive changes.
Here's the flowchart once the protective hats become standard:
That's much better than the old one, in which the "no" decision resulted in squiggly lines and slippery-slope arguments about why more protective equipment was going to lead to bubble wrap and suits of armor. Once we have pitcher helmets and home-plate collisions out of the way, the arguments will end. The e-mails will stop. I'll miss them. Fly free, stupid e-mails. Because with collisions and regular hats going away, there's an answer for almost everything.
You can't protect every player at all times! This is what society is coming to, and it makes me sick. There's no way to keep players from getting hurt when they're hit with a pitch!
Oh, are we talking about helmets? Okay, there's protective equipment for that, and it will continue to be refined and improved.
Catchers will never be safe. They can still get concussions from foul tips! You can't protect them 100% of the time!
Are we talking about home-plate collisions? Okay, there are rules for that, and they will continue to be refined and improved. Unless we're talking about catcher head trauma from foul tips, in which case there's protective equipment for that, and it will continue to be refined and improved.
I chose "hospital" and "life-threatening," but obviously your mileage may vary. My point is that every danged year, players are shipped by an ambulance somewhere because of a common baseball-related event. Once the technology of hatmet is refined and they become aesthetically pleasing (or barely noticeable), we're almost completely out of the commonplace, run-of-the-mill-yet-still-completely-horrifying on-field injuries. The only thing that would be left are the parts of the pitcher the hatmet doesn't protect.
Aw, dang it.
Forgot about the face.
So I guess we'll have these arguments again in the future, possibly with me old enough to reach crotchety-old-sportswriter status and be a voice of dissent. Maybe there will be a push for Dave Parker masks for both hitters and pitchers, which will never happen. But forget about that for now. All of the realistic safety precautions are either in place or coming soon. We won't have to talk about bubble wrap anymore.
There's a balance between stupidity and mollycoddling. By gum, we're just about there. Baseball will never be able to prevent gruesome accidents like the Mike Cameron/Carlos Beltran collision, but when it comes to the commonplace, annual horror shows, we're almost there. The Internet will have to argue about something else.
Somehow, I think we'll all find a way.