When minor league coach Mike Coolbaugh was killed by a line drive in July of 2007, the call went out for base coaches to start wearing batting helmets. By the following year it was mandatory throughout professional baseball.
On March 9, Atlanta Braves' minor league skipper Luis Salazar was hit in the face by a line drive off the bat of Brian McCann. Salazar was leaning against the railing on the top step of the Braves' dugout during a game with St. Louis when McCann fouled a ball in his direction. Salazar was unable to get out of the way and after he was hit, fell headfirst back into the dugout. He was airlifted to the hospital where doctors treated him for facial fractures, but his injuries necessitated removing his left eye.
Salazar's injury is extremely unfortunate, and truthfully, it's amazing that more dugout-based coaches don't get hurt by balls or bats. The game has a pretty good track record over the years, at least on the professional level, as far as injuries like that are concerned. But maybe the time has come for anyone who positions themselves above the screen in front of the dugout during game action be forced to don a helmet - with flaps - as a precautionary measure.
I spoke with Nationals' hitting coach Rick Eckstein about it in Viera last week - but don't look for him to be the first to do it. "A helmet wouldn't have stopped Salazar from getting hit in the face," he said. "I'm not going to start wearing a helmet just because of one incident."
But, Rick, aren't you better safe than sorry? "I don't look at it like that," he responded. "I've been standing in the same spot for such a long time, I think I've got a pretty good handle on keeping track of the ball."
It wouldn't be much of a surprise if MLB, at some point, dictates that helmets be worn beyond the dugout screen. It wouldn't be particularly innovative if they did. In the early 1950's the Pittsburgh Pirates wore helmets as their regular caps. The helmets were black fiberglass that had been flocked with a black fuzz to give them a flat, rather than glossy, surface. Pitchers wore them on the mound, manager Danny Murtaugh wore one, the coaches, everyone. They had no regular wool cap for a couple of years. It didn't last, but they can still be seen on some vintage baseball cards.
Some base coaches who complained about wearing helmets a couple of years ago said they thought it wasn't "manly" to do so. No one's brought it up much since then, but in the wake of the Salazar injury, I'll be surprised if it's not discussed at a GM's meeting this year.