By Ken Reed
There are folks in a couple other professions out there besides football player and hockey player that have to think about the dangers of blows to the head: baseball catchers and umpires.
For both catchers and home plate umpires, foul tips that go off a hitter’s bat and straight into the face mask can not only stun you but also cause concussions. Moreover, catchers and umpires get numerous foul tips into their masks during a season. Repetitive subconcussive brain trauma is a risk factor for CTE, the brain disease that’s drawn national attention because numerous football players and hockey players have been afflicted with the condition, which can lead to depression, memory loss, bursts of anger and anxiety and other symptoms.
Last month, Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli suffered a sixth documented concussion. He openly questioned whether or not he would, or could, continue catching.
Some catchers have retired due to a series of concussions caused by foul tips, including former Cardinal Mike Matheny, a four-time Gold Glove winner as a catcher. Former Twin great Joe Mauer gave up catching and finished his career at first base due to concussions suffered behind the plate.
Those foul tips to the mask, in which the ball can be traveling 90 to 105 mph, or more, are nothing to take lightly.
“Your ears start ringing, you lose the sense of where you are and then the headaches start coming,” Rays catcher Travis d’Arnaud said.
“I’ve had back-to-back pitches get me, straight on, and I couldn’t even stand after that. They had to take me out of the game.”
People have described the blow as being similar to a punch from a heavyweight boxer.
“The cells are, in a sense, stunned,” said Chris Nowinski, the chief executive of the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
“You have this ongoing struggle for the cells to get the energy level back to normal. It’s an intense time frame for about five minutes.”
Umpires are every bit as vulnerable as catchers.
“The moment you get hit, all you see is white, like a bright light,” the former umpire Jim Joyce said. “And believe me, it hurts like hell.”
Umpire Dale Scott retired after missing almost all of the 2017 season due to head injuries.
Like it or not, the risks from blows to the head are a factor that catchers and umpires from the Major Leagues on down will need to consider before deciding to put on the mask.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
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League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
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