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KBO struggles with baseball collisions

Players have resisted efforts to boost safety over style concerns
Apr 28,2017
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Kim Myeong-sin of the Doosan Bears fractured his left cheekbone during a game against the Nexen Heroes on Tuesday. Also pictured is a helmet specifically made for pitchers in the Major League Baseball. [KIM MIN-KYOO]
Over the years, more and more pitchers are getting hit by baseballs, and most recently in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), it occurred when the Nexen Heroes played the Doosan Bears at the Gocheok Sky dome in Seoul on Tuesday.

Kim Myeong-sin, starting pitcher for the Bears, pitched against the Heroes’ first batter, Kim Min-sung in the bottom of first. When Kim Myeong-sin threw a fastball, Kim Min-sung made a hard hit and it went straight towards Kim Myeong-sin’s face and then towards the first base. As soon as Kim Myeong-sin got hit, he fell on the ground, covered in blood, and was transported to Korea University Medical Center

“Kim Myeong-sin fractured his left cheekbone,” said the Bears’ associate. “Fortunately, the injury didn’t affect his vision. He’ll undergo surgery once the swelling goes down.”

In professional baseball, it has now become a frequent occurrence for pitchers to get hit. Woo Kyu-min of the Samsung Lions got hit in the shoulder by a hit from Nick Evans of the Bears’ on April 19. Although there weren’t any fractures, due to serious bruising, Woo is now in the futures league.

With batters’ increased strength and improvement in the makeup of bats, hits come off bats at faster speeds and so the risk of injury for a pitcher has increased significantly.

A baseball is made out of a rubber or a cork center, wrapped in yarn and leather. Though it only weighs 145 grams (0.3 pounds), when it’s thrown 18.44 meters (60.5 feet) from the pitcher’s mound to home plate it can become a real threat. Batters are obligated to wear a helmet or other protective gear when on the batter’s box, but pitchers aren’t given any protection.

Kim Won-hyung of the SBW Raiders, who is now a pitching coach for the Lotte Giants, got hit in the face in 1999 by a ball from Chang Jong-hoon of the Hanwha Eagles, who is now a batting coach for the Giants. He fractured his nose as well as his jaw, which led him to be absent from the KBO for 10 months.

There were a few more incidents in the KBO where in 1995, Choi Sang-duk of the Pacific Dolphins, who is now a pitching coach for the Wiz, got hit on a face and broke four of his front teeth. Last year, Kim Kwang-sam of the LG Twins got hit while playing in the futures league and suffered a fractured skull. Kim ended up retiring as a result and is now the Twins’ pitching coach.

In “The Physics of Baseball,” Robert Adair, Sterling Professor Emeritus of physics at Yale University, writes that it takes 0.4 second for a pitch traveling at 145 kilometers per hour to reach a catcher’s mitt. The average speed of a pitch at the major league in 2016 was 146 kilometers, and 201 kilometers at the fastest.

It is close to impossible for either the batter or the pitcher to respond in 0.4 seconds, and getting hit by a baseball at that speed is almost the same as getting hit by an object that weighs 28 kilograms falling from a height of one meter.

In 2014, the MLB executive office introduced a helmet specifically for pitchers, but they refused to wear it since it had a funny design. Last year, they made changes to the helmet, making it lighter and trendier, but still, pitchers refused to wear it due to its poor design.

BY KIM WON [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]