"Beanball" is a colloquial sports term for a ball thrown at an opposing player with the intention of striking him such as to cause harm, often connoting a throw at the player's head (or "bean" in old-fashioned slang). The term may be applied to any sport in which a player on one team regularly attempts to throw a ball toward the general vicinity of a player of the opposite team, but is typically expected not to hit that player with the ball. Primary examples are baseball and cricket (where it is usually known as a beamer). A pitcher who throws beanballs often is known as a headhunter.
The number of hazardous beanballs thrown during and previous to the 1950s caused Major League Baseball to require that all batters wear batting helmets, starting in 1956. The helmet with an earflap has been required since 1983, the one with earflaps covering both ears for Minor leaguers. A pitcher who is known for a habit of purposefully throwing at opposing batters' heads is called a headhunter. Some purported headhunters (whose reputations as such are not always correlated with fact, as shown by statistics) include Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson, Sal Maglie, Hugh Casey, Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martínez.
There is only one player who died after being hit in the head. Indians shortstop Ray Chapman, hit by a pitch on August 16, 1920 at the Polo Grounds in New York and died twelve hours later, is noted as the only player in the history of major league baseball to be killed in a game. It is important to note that Chapman's death occurred many years before the wearing of batting helmets was a common practice.