"If we settle on something that is going to make sense, and obviously, the pitcher has to be comfortable with it, we'll obviously put that in as soon as possible," Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, said as three days of General Managers Meetings continued here on Thursday. "We'll talk to our doctors and make sure they're comfortable with this in advance."
The concept already was being analyzed, but it came to the forefront after an incident in which A's pitcher Brandon McCarthy was struck in the head by a line drive near the end of the regular season, and Detroit's Doug Fister took a glancing blow during Game 2 of the World Series.
McCarthy, who suffered a skull fracture and brain contusion, underwent surgery to stop internal bleeding. He is expected to make a full recovery. Fister remained in the game.
MLB officials did not discuss the possible rule change with general managers here this week, said Dan Halem, MLB's senior vice president of labor relations. He added that Dr. Gary Green, MLB's medical director, will make a report to a group of the 30 team medical officials during the Winter Meetings, slated for Dec. 3-6 in Nashville, Tenn.
"We're exploring the potential of using Kevlar liners to protect pitchers," Halem said. "We're at the early stages of our investigation. Dr. Green is talking to various companies about the products they offer. And we're going to have a fuller discussion with the clubs' medical staffs at the Winter Meetings."
The McCarthy incident occurred during the fourth inning on Sept. 5 at the O.co Coliseum, when he was struck in the head with a liner hit by Angels shortstop Erick Aybar. McCarthy went down, never lost consciousness and was able to walk off the field on his own power. The extent of the injury was later discovered at the hospital, where he underwent surgery to relieve pressure on his brain caused by internal bleeding.
He remained in the hospital for a week and his season was over.
A's president and general manager Billy Beane said on Thursday that he would favor any new rules that would protect the players.
"Anytime you're talking about safety it should be part of the narrative, it should be a topic of conversation," Beane said. "We don't want to wait until it's too late. So if and when it comes up, I think we'd all welcome it."
Fister was hit on top of the head with a shot off the bat of Giants left fielder Gregor Blanco during the second inning of Game 2 of the World Series on Oct. 25. The ball deflected off Fister and continued into center field for a single. Tigers manager Jim Leyland and head athletic trainer Kevin Rand quickly visited the mound. Fister was asked a series of questions to test his cognizance and then was allowed to remain in the game.
The right-hander pitched six innings of one-run, four-hit ball as the Tigers lost the game, 2-0, on their way to being swept in the World Series.
Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski endorsed any new safety precautions for pitchers, with one qualification.
"I think anything from a safety perspective is good," he said. "I don't think anyone objects to safety, but you also have to feel comfortable from a player's perspective. For example, if you mentioned the topic to Fister, I don't think he'd be high on doing it. He likes to wear his hat a certain way. He'd want to be sure he can still wear it that way and still be comfortable. I'm not against it, but it's just a matter of making it work."
To be sure, MLB is still in the early stages, although it has become a high-priority issue. It must be sanctioned by the GMs and approved by the owners, then collectively bargained with the MLB Players Association.
The liner is likely to be tested first in the Minor Leagues, then offered on a voluntary basis to Major League players.
"Like I said, we've started the process," Halem said. "We have to make sure we find the right product and test the product. This can't happen at the snap of a finger. We have to make sure we do it right."