The former baseball coach at Mansfield University, the late Doctor John Heaps, an elementary education professor and coach — damn good at both jobs — had a unique way of testing a player with a head injury. Doc would ask a question and judge from the player’s response whether or not he should remain in the game.
I didn’t play on the team, but I was the official scorer for many of the home games — I think I got $25 a game. I remember once a kid took a vicious fastball off the side of his helmet and dropped in the dirt. Doc — what Coach Heaps was called by those who knew and loved him — coached third, so when the hitter went down Doc ran to home plate.
Crouched down with his hand on his batter’s shoulder, he gave the kid the test question and as Doc returned to third I could see him laughing. I later asked him about it.
“Jeeze,” Doc said between spurts of laughter, “I asked Timmy who the second President of the United States was, you know, to see if his mind was clear after gettin‘ zonked, and you know what he says? ‘Damn, Coach, I didn’t know that before I got beaned. Ask me something I know.'”
Doc told that story at more than a few sports banquets.
Which brings me to another story, this one in Wednesday’s New York Times about concussions in baseball. On Tuesday, the Nat’s Bryce Harper got his bell rung sliding into second. In the new MLB ruling, a player suspect of a concussion must go through a series of tests before he goes back in the game.
Unlike Doc Heaps’ test, the new MLB tests take longer.
But, of course, in baseball, you can’t take a player out of the game, then put him back in, like in football. If he’s taken out, he’s out for the game.
With the clock running, the Nationals had time — two outs and three commercials — to get Harper into the clubhouse (the tests can’t be done on the field or in the dugout) do the required tests, and, if deemed okay, get him back on the field — all within the time of two outs and three commercials.
And you thought there was no clock running in baseball?
Concussions are serious business in all sports. In professional soccer, for example, a player cannot return to a game once removed. So teams will play 30 or 60 seconds, one-man-down, until the proper tests are administered. Professional rugby rules give a player five minutes for concussion assessment, after which he must be removed.
I think Doc Heaps at Mansfield had the right idea, using, of course, easier questions.