Catchers are said to be the quarterbacks of baseball teams. They are the leaders, the rally starters, the most intimidating players on the field at all times. They also take the brunt of the pain that comes with being a professional baseball player, and just like quarterbacks, concussions for a catcher can completely halt their playing career. An example would be Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, who was basically forced from the MLB due to the trauma that concussions had caused his brain. Concussions are dangerous, and though fans have the comfort that these injuries do not occur often in baseball, catchers are still at high risk to contract these injuries due to the blistering number of foul tips, long back swings, and even miscommunication with their pitcher that they intercept on a daily basis. When instances such as these occur and a catcher falls, time stands still and all fans stop what they were originally doing, their sole attention on the catcher. One of these such instances occurred on Monday night when the Cardinals took on the Cubs for the first game of a four-game set.
Every Cardinals and Cubs fan, young or old, knows the name of Yadier Molina. Whether they hate him, respect him, or love him, his name has become associated with hard-nosed baseball and an intimidating composer that fits comfortably with his performance. Molina played in his 133rd game Monday night, and he may finish at 133 after all. Molina took a foul tip off of his mask in an at-bat against Kris Bryant. This is commonplace, especially for catchers, and though Molina fell to his knees, he assured Mike Matheny that he was fine and that he only needed a few seconds to regain his composure. It seemed that the Cardinals All-Star would be fine…until the very next pitch hit him in nearly the same spot on another foul tip by Kris Bryant. This time, Molina did not get up and could not stand without the help of a trainer. Fans of both teams watched in stunned silence as Matheny popped out of the Dugout, backup catcher Carson Kelly following quickly behind him. Molina was escorted off of the field by a trainer, and it was reported that on the way to the clubhouse, he was hit with a bout of nausea and vomited. Even though moments like these do not happen often, they are terrifying and concerning when they do.
Even if Molina returns after concussion protocol, this is not a case to ignore. The Cardinals need to be careful with the eight-time All-Star, not only for the sake of Molina, but for the sake of all catchers in the MLB. Protecting catchers from concussion injuries is a legitimate movement. The hockey-style mask has replaced the original mask because it serves more protection for direct hits to the mask and protects the neck, though the original had more padding on the inside. Molina wears the hockey-style mask and has worn this style for the entirety of his major league career. Molina has not been sidelined prior to this season with a concussion injury due to foul tips. In fact, the only time Molina was taken out of a game for a concussion-related issue was when Josh Harrison collided into him on a play at the plate in 2012. The movement to prevent collisions at home plate as much as possible has already reigned successful, but that is another topic. Still, the collision rule is an example of the length the MLB is going to go to prevent concussions to catchers, who are the most exposed to these dangerous injuries. There are still collisions at the plate sometimes, but now catchers and their bodies are more protected as they cannot block the plate. The same goes for foul balls; foul tips are going to happen, and there are going to be a few that get fouled straight back into just the right spot to be harmful to a catcher. Someday, hopefully soon, there will be a way to reduce the severity of incidents similar to Molina’s like the collision rule helps reduce injury. In the case of the Cardinals and Yadier Molina, they should be strong advocates for advancements in protective headgear for these quarterbacks of baseball. For now, though, the best thing the Cardinals can do to prevent Molina for making his concussion worse is something no Cardinals fan has ever said before now: do not play him. If Monday was Molina’s last game of the 2017 season, in a situation such as this, there would be no complaint.