On J.A. Happ, helmets for pitchers, and a rule proposal

USA TODAY Sports

Desmond Jennings knew immediately that something terrible might be happening, but he had to keep running until he was standing on third base with a triple. Is there a better way?

Today there's great news from St. Petersburg: Blue Jays right-hander J.A. Happ, knocked from the game by a line drive less than 24 hours ago, has been discharged from hospital and is in good spirits.

Happ's incident, coming on the heels of serious injuries suffered on the mound by Juan Nicasio in 2011 and Brandon McCarthy in 2012, has of course renewed talk about somehow protecting pitchers, who keep throwing harder to batters who keep getting stronger. Which means greater bat speed, and ever-faster line drives.

From the article linked above:

As it happened, Major League Baseball officials coincidentally met with a company looking to create some type of protective headgear for pitchers Wednesday morning.

Nothing is imminent, no prototypes have been tested since spring training and Daniel Halem, MLB's senior vice-president, general counsel labour, said in an interview while 12 companies are actively pursuing some sort of product, "at this point we have not been provided a product that meets the safety criteria."

Look, everybody's trying. They really are. In March, I asked Brandon McCarthy about protective gear. He said that while he'd tested some things, nothing was nearly close to being ready to actually help. Pitchers need something light that won't obscure their vision, and it's just a tough match. Indeed, while I was writing this article, this happened:

McCarthy's got all the reasons in the world to want something that works. And there probably will be something, eventually. But just wishing won't make it happen.

Leaving aside the headgear for now, there is another safety concern that might be addressed.

Tuesday night, there were two runners aboard when Desmond Jennings' liner caromed off Happ's noggin and into right field. Somehow -- I say "somehow" because I don't care to watch the video -- both runners scored and Jennings sprinted all the way to third base ... while Happ was on the ground, obviously in trouble.

Again, from above-linked column:

Bautista, first baseman Edwin Encarnacion and catcher J.P. Arencibia were among the players who had to fight the urge to run right towards Happ because the play was still alive, with Encarnacion having to retrieve the ball after it ricocheted into foul territory toward right field.

Gibbons and trainer George Poulis both jumped out of the dugout but had to pause until two runners scored and Jennings reached third base.

It was an awful position for everyone to be caught in, as the game became an afterthought.

"The instinct is that you want to run out there and try to help him but the ball’s live, guys are running home," said Arencibia. "So I was in between, wanting to run out there, trying to stay home, and as soon as (Jennings) got to third base I ran out there. …

"It’s a gut-wrenching feeling when you see something like that happen. I saw Desmond Jennings too as soon as he hit him and he even winced and he’s got to run."

Everybody's got to play baseball, and I have no idea if six or eight seconds would ever make a difference in a case like this. However, I can envision a rule that allows an umpire, when a pitcher has been struck in the head by a line drive, to immediately stop play and award the hitter an automatic double; as soon as the umpire's hands go up, medical professionals can immediately sprint to the mound and do their best work.

It just doesn't look good when baseball players are running around while someone in their midst might be serious injured. Especially if a few seconds might make a difference.

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