By Nick Nunn
Jason Heyward getting hit in the head with a 90-mph fastball, breaking his jaw in two places, serves as a real reminder that sports in general, but major-league sports in particular, are a dangerous way to make one’s living.
Whether it is getting hit in the face by a ball moving as fast as the most intrepid interstate drivers, staring across the line at a 275-plus pound NFL lineman, or doing better than 200 mph in a little metal box around and around the track – not to mention really vicious sports like boxing, hockey and soccer – fans should consider part of the exorbitant salaries that professional athletes earn year after year to be nothing other than hazard pay.
In baseball, there is no question that pitcher will sometimes intentionally throw at a batter. No bones are made about the practice, which continues for a number of reasons, including: retaliating for a hit teammate, unnerving the batter or just getting the batter off the plate.
But, as an unwritten rule, pitchers don’t throw “beanballs” – shots at the head – in an actual attempt to hit the batter.
Not only is a blow to the head considerably more dangerous, the body is a more reliable target for a disgruntled pitcher.
Think about it for just a second; if you are a pitcher and you want to hit a batter in order to retaliate for a batter struck earlier, you could aim for the head, the batter would duck to get out of the way and they would only get their pants dirty.
On the other hand, you could aim for the thigh, which would be significantly more difficult to move in the brief reaction time allowed after a pitch is released, hit the batter and be done with it.
As dangerous and irresponsible as this all may seem, this kind of thing isn’t at all uncommon in baseball.
When Justin Upton was hit in the upper thigh by a pitch from Stephen Strasburg a week or so ago – before the Heyward incident – he recognized that Strasburg most likely hit him on purpose and stated simply to the Sporting News that “getting hit with a pitch is part of the game.”
Still, things can go very wrong very quickly.
If I think of dangerous pitches, I go first to James Earl Jones’ character in “The Sandlot,” who was blinded after receiving a fastball to the temple.
But that’s fiction.
In real life, the only man ever to die from being hit by a pitch was (pause for the trivia addicts out there in reader-land) Ray Chapman, who was killed in 1920 at the age of 29 by a pitch thrown by Carl Mays.
At the time batting helmets weren’t used – nor were they for the next 30 years – and his death created major changes in the way the game was played, including rules banning the spitball and requiring balls to be traded out when they become dark or dirty.
Chapman’s death and the changes it caused are typically held to be some of the reasons for the beginning of the “live-ball” era in baseball.
At any rate, hopefully Heyward’s surgery and subsequent rehabilitation will go smoothly.
Consider this a 544-word get well card, Jason.