Mets-Cardinals feud gives MLB the perfect opportunity for new player safety rules

Major League Baseball has made some pretty radical rule changes in the name of player safety in recent seasons.

In 2020 and 2021, the two-headed games were down to just seven innings. In those two years and again in 2022, the extra innings began with a magical runner at second base. The goal of both rules has been to reduce the number of innings played in certain circumstances, in an effort to prevent injuries that could occur in long games/days of baseball.

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And now is the time for MLB to introduce at least one more radical change in the name of player safety. It is far beyond time, actually.

“I had a moment last night,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said Wednesday morning before his team played an afternoon game in St. Louis against the Cardinals, “when I was holding Pete’s helmet and It was broken”.

He paused.

Pete Alonso had been hit in the back of the head by a pitch from Kody Whitely in the eighth inning on Tuesday. Fortunately, the hull, made of the aerospace-grade carbon fiber composite Rawlings S100 Pro Comp, absorbed most of the impact, as designed, and Alonso was fine. But if the throw had been a couple of inches in another direction and hit Alonso in the face or neck, with the same amount of force that broke the helmet, serious injury would have been almost certain.

“You know,” Showalter said, “it’s kind of funny how football saw a problem and addressed it. Something still happens, but there is a big fine and penalty for it. The guys know they’re not supposed to do that.”

Nothing happened to Whitely. He stayed in the game. He threw a pitch that broke a player’s helmet and didn’t get ejected, and under current baseball rules, that’s exactly how it should have played out. That has to change.

“I’m not a pitcher, but I can’t understand pitchers failing so much,” Alonso said after Wednesday’s game. “It’s not even close. I’m 6-3, I’m a tall guy. I know guys are being incentivized to throw hard and throw up, but I don’t know how to miss that much. To me, that’s a head scratcher, how the big leagues can fail so much.”

I have no idea if Whitley intended to hit Alonso in the head or not. That’s a completely different conversation, one I’ve written about before. If there is unmistakable intent when a pitcher hits a batter in the head, there must be swift and severe punishment, measured in weeks, not days. Prevention, not punishment.

But for the purposes of this column, the intent is irrelevant. That’s where this conversation so often derails, turns into something that shouldn’t matter, and gets into the weeds a lot.

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There have to be immediate and established penalties for hitting batsmen in the head, starting with this: Hit a batsman in the head and you’re ejected.

“You get to a point where it’s about the safety of your players,” Showalter said. “We’re in luck. We’re talking about a pitch that cracked his helmet. Not good.”

And since MLB seems to be in love with magically placing runners on second base, let’s do it here, too. If a batter is hit in the head, he, or his replacement runner, automatically goes to second base. If there are two guys on base, one of them scores.

Unfair? Don’t hit hitters in the head.

It’s time for a player safety rule that matters.

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