By definition, sports are physical. And as a result, injuries are a part of the game. A few injuries, however, aren't necessarily of the dime-a-dozen variety. And sports eye injuries and injuries around the eye have especially proven to be among the most gruesome and career-threatening.
Below are 10 of the worst — and most infamous — eye-related injuries in modern American sports. These examples not only serve as testaments to the need for protective eyewear, but also force all of us to consider an important question: Are we doing the best that we can to protect our athletes?
Herb Score — Baseball
On May 7, 1957 — two years after winning American League Rookie of the Year honors — Cleveland Indians pitcher Herb Score was struck in the face by a line drive. He was carried off the field and spent nearly three weeks in a local hospital, where he received treatment for damage to his retina, hemorrhaging in the eye and fractured orbital bones. Score eventually recovered his 20/20 vision and returned to the mound the following year. However, he was never the same pitcher. As Hall of Famer Bob Feller said after Score's death in 2008,"He would have been probably one of the greatest, if not the greatest, left-handed pitchers who ever lived."
Bernie Parent — Hockey
On February 17, 1979, during a routine play, an opponent's stick poked through the eyehole of Bernie Parent's goalie mask. The Philadelphia Flyers Hall of Famer was quickly hospitalized and suffered complete loss of sight in the right eye for two weeks. Although he eventually recovered, his retina had been badly damaged, and the subsequent visual impairment forced him to retire. Considered one of the greatest goalies of his generation, Parent was a two-time Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy winner. After the incident, many NHL and junior league franchises made the switch from the fiberglass mask to the modern-day cage mask.
Juan Encarnación — Baseball
On August 31, 2007, Juan Encarnación, an outfielder with the St. Louis Cardinals, was struck in the face by a foul ball as he stood on the on-deck circle. Encarnación suffered multiple fractures to his left eye socket as well as severe trauma to the optic nerve. The Cardinals' team physician, Dr. George Paletta, described the injury as "the worst trauma I've seen" and compared the injured area to the disintegration of an eggshell. Encarnación underwent successful surgery to repair the fractures and optic nerve, but his vision was permanently damaged. He missed the remainder of the 2007 season and never returned to play professional baseball.
Steve Yzerman — Hockey
On May 1, 2004, Detroit Red Wings star forward Steve Yzerman took a puck to the eye when a shot ricocheted off the opponent goalie during Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals. He was not wearing a face shield. The future Hall of Famer was down on the ice for several minutes before being taken to a local hospital, where he underwent over four hours of surgery to repair a scratched cornea and broken orbital bone. The 10-time All Star missed the remainder of the playoffs but fully recovered and returned to the ice for his final season before retiring. Because of the prominence of Yzerman — he remains the sixth-leading scorer in NHL history — many in and around the league used the injury to advance their cause for mandatory visor use.
Larry Sanders — Basketball
On February 8, 2014, Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders was violently — and accidentally — elbowed in the right eye as he and an opponent were competing for a rebound. Sanders left the game immediately, having suffered multiple fractures to his eye socket. The Bucks were initially hopeful that, after surgery, he could return by the All Star break; however, persistent double vision forced Sanders to skip the remainder of the 2014 season. For reasons unrelated to the eye injury, Sanders career sputtered and he was out of the NBA by 2017.
Tony Conigliaro — Baseball
On August 18, 1967, Boston Red Sox slugger Tony Conigliaro was hit in the face by a pitch. Although he was wearing a helmet, it did not have the protective earflap that is standard in today's models. Carted off the field on a stretcher, the outfielder suffered a broken cheekbone, a dislocated jaw and severe damage to his left retina. Although he did make a strong comeback two years later, his career was never the same, and he was forced to retire in 1975 because of his impaired eyesight. In 1990, the Red Sox named an annual award for the fan favorite, which honors the player who best overcomes obstacles and adversities on and off the field.
Marc Staal — Hockey
On March 5, 2013, New York Rangers' defenseman Marc Staal was struck above the right eye by a deflected slap shot. After collapsing to the ice, Staal was able to skate to the dressing room. He was not wearing a protective visor. Later that evening, Staal was seen by an ophthalmologist, who found an orbital fracture and a tear to his retina — the optic nerve, however, remained attached. Although surgery wasn't necessary, Staal did require different medications and eye drops, and he missed the remainder of the season with dizziness and facial pain. Staal returned to the ice the following season at 100% and became a vocal proponent of mandatory visor use in the NHL. The league began requiring new players to wear visors in the 2013-14 season, and nearly all players wear them today.
Bryce Florie — Baseball
On September 8, 2000, Boston Red Sox pitcher Bryce Florie was hit in the face by a line drive. He didn't lose consciousness but was taken to Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, where he was diagnosed with a damaged — but not detached— retina and a fractured orbital socket and cheekbone. He then underwent multiple surgeries to relieve the pressure around his right eye and to repair the fractures. Although physicians were concerned that a pool of blood behind the retina would permanently damage his vision, Florie's sight eventually improved to 20/50. The 30-year-old would return the next year to pitch in seven games, but his Major League career ended shortly thereafter.
Bryan Berard — Hockey
On March 11, 2000, Toronto Leafs defenseman Bryan Berard took a stick to the face on a slap shot follow-through. The blueliner immediately fell to the ice in a pool of blood before being rushed to a local hospital. He suffered a retinal tear and detachment, and the sclera of his right eye had been severely slashed. The top overall pick of the 1995 NHL draft would miss the remainder of the season. The following year, Berard underwent multiple eye surgeries to improve his vision and was fitted with a contact lens that helped him achieve 20/400, the league's minimum vision requirement. He then returned to the ice and eventually won hockey's Masterton Memorial Trophy for his perseverance.
Aroldis Chapman — Baseball
On March 19, 2014, during a spring training game, Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman was hit in the face by a line drive off the bat of Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez. The two-time All Star was taken immediately to a local hospital, where Chapman had a titanium plate inserted to stabilize a broken orbital bone above his left eye. Luckily for Chapman, the injury is not considered career threatening. Chapman returned to live game action later that season.
What did we miss?
This is our list of the worst eye injuries in American sports. What's on your list? If you think we missed and important eye injury in American sports history, go to the Eye Health Facebook page and let us know.