The tragic death of Australian cricketer Philip Hughes cast a dark shadow over sporting events over the past few days.
The Minnesota Twins’ pitcher of the same name quickly had to tweet to clear up some initial confusion over the news in the States, but that was far from the only way in which the desperately sad incident had a bearing on the world of baseball.
The tactic of bowling a bouncer in cricket has a clear similarity to pitchers throwing a ‘purpose’ pitch up-and-in to a batter.
In both cases the person wielding the ball is trying to intimidate the person wielding the bat, making them feel uncomfortable and taking some of their concentration away from their batting on to worrying about avoiding a painful blow instead.
Pitchers generally are not trying to hit the batter in baseball as that giftsÂ them first base. In cricket, shaking a batsman up is part of the longer running sequence of trying to get him out on the basis that he (or she) is standing in front of the very wicket that the bowler is normally aiming for. England’s pace bowlers reportedly practice hitting the helmet badge on a dummy as a way of sharpening their accuracy when bowling some short stuff, so there is more of a body-hunting intent to the cricketing practice compared to baseball.
However, in both cases, the end result is that a person propels a hard ball at a batsman or hitter with limited protective equipment at a speed that could cause significant injury if it lands in the wrong spot. And in the freak case of Hughes, can be fatal.
The lucrative contract signed by Giancarlo Stanton has been the biggest headline grabbing news of the offseason so far and we only have to consider how his 2014 season was brought to a premature close to see how fickle fate can be.
On 11 September, Stanton was hit squarely in the face by an 88 MPH fastball thrown by Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Mike Fiers. It was a scaryÂ incident- catching it once on a news package was more than enough times for me and I don’t wish to watch it again – and it was sheer luck thatÂ he only suffered multiple facial fractures rather than anything life-threatening.
Because Stanton was ‘alright’ after a short recovery period makes it easy to dismiss the incident as just one of those things, just as the equally scary sight of seeing a pitcher getting hit by a come-backer (such as happened to Brandon McCarthy in September 2012) can be forgotten about once the injured party returns to the mound at a later date.
Although there is risk in pretty much everything in life and playing baseball will never be completely safe, it is not giving into a nanny state culture to think that any near miss or worse should prompt a considered review as to whether steps could be taken to improve safety, even just by 1 per cent, without taking anything of importance away from the sports we love.
Stanton was adamant when asked that his incident didn’t have any bearing on his decision to sign a contract extension with the Marlins. There’s no reason to doubt that, but there’s also no reason to not pause for a moment and be thankful that he was still here to be able to make that decision.