When Lawn Mower Makers Played Ball

Baseball and a lawn mowerIt’s easy to criticize the federal government these days, with politicians seeming to invite abuse in every way short of wearing “Kick Me” signs on their backs. But the approaching World Series brings to mind one thing the feds got very right. Had they done so 30 years earlier, they could have altered the outcome of one particular baseball championship.

Curt Simmons was one of the Philadelphia Phillies’ top pitchers in the early 1950s, and in 1953 the team’s prospects looked good for making it into postseason play. In early June of that year, however, Simmons slipped while mowing his lawn. His foot slid beneath the mower deck, and he lost part of his big toe and injured other toes. Somehow, he returned just a month later, after weeks of therapy. Although the lefty later downplayed the effects of that accident on his performance, his ERA that year was 3.21—compared to 2.81 the previous year. The Phillies tied for third that year.

Safe at Home
The potential hazard of sliding beneath a mower deck is one part of the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s mandatory safety requirements, which took effect June 1982. As part of the standard, a foot-like probe must not have room to slip beneath and contact the whirring blade. This would likely have prevented Simmons’ accident.

Lawn Boy lawn mower
Credit: The ROP Shop and Ebay

Also very important is that an automatic brake must stop the mower blade in three seconds from when the operator lets go of the handle-mounted control bar. Some mowers have a blade-brake clutch, which stops the blade but not the engine when the operator releases the control. Whether or not the engine stops, the operator should be protected. But the original standard as written would have required all mowers to have a blade-brake clutch. Manufacturers objected over the prospective costs of adding this feature across their lines; having a blade-brake clutch is also a matter of convenience, not of safety. Either way, the resulting standard has made us safer.

We might consider today’s ballplayer salaries out of this world, but one welcome result is that no ballplayer today has to cut his own grass. If he still wants to? He has the government in part to thank for his safety.

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