The events are eerily similar, in addition to the Cardinals being involved in both. As you recall, Aaron Miles hit the foul ball that struck Encarnacion. Kyle Lohse was pitching when Braves catcher Brian McCann lined the ball into the Atlanta dugout. Both events happened near the first base dugout. Both men were standing within 50 feet of the batters box, Encarnacion in the on-deck circle and Salazar, well, in the dugout proper. Both took the ball off the face, around the eye.
Salazar’s injuries are not life threatening, thankfully. He was knocked out by the force of the blow and fell hard on the concrete floor of the dugout, further injuring his head. He regained consciousness late Wednesday and, while suffering from a pretty serious concussion, does not seem to have any brain damage from the event. He was also lucky from the perspective that the ball hit him closer to his nose, as opposed to flush on the eye.
Juan Encarnacion was not so lucky. Miles’ liner found his left eye, crushed the eye socket and caused severe trauma to the optic nerve. The injury ended his baseball career. It was initially reported he had been blinded in that eye, but to my knowledge those reports have not been substantiated. Encarnacion retired to his native Dominican Republic.
I-70 did a ‘Where are they now’ series last week, and in that spirit I looked on the internet for Juan Encarnacion news. According to his Wikipedia page he has become active in Dominican national politics. Other than that, the internet is quiet on his comings and goings since that awful day in 2008.
After Mike Coolbaugh was hit by a line drive while coaching first base, and subsequently died from a brain aneurysm, baseball mandated that base coaches wear batting helmets while on the field. Juan Encarnacion’s and Luis Salazar’s injuries would not have been prevented by the wearing of a helmet, although in Salazar’s case a helmet would have helped lessen the trauma he suffered by falling. It is difficult to say what the right answer is to prevent these kinds of injuries. So what should Major League Baseball do, if anything?
MLB could ban players from exposing themselves at the top rail of the dugout, requiring them to sit on the bench. The additional 6-10 feet of distance between the hitter and the player sitting on the bench does not provide enough added time to get out of the way. MLB should seriously consider encasing the entire dugout in netting so any ball hit in there is deflected, and install some sort of access door at the far end of the dugout for players entering and leaving the field. Given their reluctance to extend the net behind home plate further up the baselines (like over the dugout, for instance) to protect the paying customer I doubt that’s going to happen either.
For years, players have creeped closer and closer to the plate while on-deck in order to get a better sense of what the pitcher is throwing and adjust their timing. Enforcing the ‘stay in the on-deck circle’ rule would help, but much like the ‘off the top step’ rule in the preceeding paragraph would not add sufficient time for a player to react if a line drive was hit right at him. Besides, Encarnacion was in the on-deck circle when he was hit. Juan Encarnacion is the only player I’ve ever heard of or seen hit by a batted ball while standing in the on-deck circle, so baseball has apparently decided it was a one-time random event and moved on. The only real way to protect the on-deck hitter is to get rid of the on-deck circle entirely. I am not advocating for that with this post, but is there really any utility to having the next hitter stand out there waiting while an at-bat is in progress? He’d get a better look at the pitcher from watching the TV feed in the dugout.
Like the paying customers, baseball players and coaches stand on the field at their own risk. Injuries like those Luis Salazar and Juan Encarnacion suffered are rare, but devastating. We hope for a speedy recovery for the Atlanta Brave coach and minor league manager.