1/31/2014 4:23 P.M. ET
New padded hats will help keep pitchers safe
Sooner rather than later, hurlers won't complain about lids to avoid concussions
By Terence Moore / MLB.com
This is wonderful. Major League Baseball has approved specially designed headgear to help pitchers handle wicked shots toward the mound. Still, many among the beneficiaries of this move prefer style over safety. Said Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw to MLB Network of the new cap that is optional, "Obviously, it'd be a change. I'm definitely not opposed to it."
"I think it'd take a lot of getting used to," Kershaw added, speaking for the significant number of critics of the new cap among his peers. "You don't look very cool, I'll be honest."
To translate: Kershaw won't get near this new-fangled thing anytime soon, and the same goes for those critics. A few of them may test the cap during Spring Training, where pitchers will have their first option of wearing it or not, but I'm guessing most will stay several practice fields away.
Such a shame. The cap is exactly what Major League pitchers need since ESPN estimated that a dozen of them were smacked in the head by line drives in the past six seasons. The cap is manufactured by isoBlox, which is a subsidiary of 4Licensing Corporation. Compared to the standard cap of between three to four ounces, this one weighs 10 ounces or so. It also is about a half-inch thicker in the front and an inch thicker on the side, which means it's not the prettiest little thing. Even so, baseball studies indicate that the cap is stuffed with enough padding for a pitcher to withstand a 90 mph blow from the front and one of 85 mph from the side, which aids in keeping concussions away.
Everybody is talking about concussions these days in amateur and pro sports. Specifically, they are talking about how leagues should do everything they can to decrease concussions among athletes, and get this: Baseball officials spent months working in conjunction with the players union to exchange all of that talking with doing through the design and the implementation of these isoBoxCaps.
That sound of crickets you hear is coming from pitchers. As a whole, they want to be left alone, and this isn't surprising. The resistance of players throughout all sports to change along these lines is about as common as winning, losing and watching many of them get hurt needless courtesy of their refusal to protect themselves with the best available equipment. You can blame it on tradition, superstition, ignorance or all three.
With the Super Bowl upon us, here's a football example: NFL players went decades opting to have their mouths battered, bloodied and bruised rather than wear a silly helmet made of anything but leather.
So you want us to prance around with facemasks, too?
Surely you jest.
Well, that always was the suggested response back then from a bunch of toothless, black-eyed (or no-eyed), facially scared guys when it came to protecting themselves with the latest technology.
Let's fast forward to now. Come Sunday in the Meadowlands, every player for the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks will wear a thick plastic shell on their heads, and the shells will have (gasp) facemasks. In fact, despite those players knowing millions will be watching the Super Bowl, they couldn't care less they would have a better chance of making the cover of GQ magazine by breaking the huddle in a fedora instead of a helmet.
The point is, football players eventually got the message. So did Major League hitters, but it took a while. Ray Chapman died from a pitcher's throw to the head in 1920, and Mickey Cochrane nearly suffered the same fate 17 years later. Still, the resistance among hitters for helmets was so great that Major League Baseball didn't begin enforcing the practice until after the 1970 season. Even then, thanks to a grandfather clause, Bob Montgomery became the last Major Leaguer to comply. The former Red Sox catcher kept sauntering up to home plate in his regular cap until he retired after the 1979 season.
Then baseball made earflaps on batting helmets mandatory during the early 1980s, and there was grumbling about that. The grumbling related to headgear increased in 2007 when the death of Minor League coach Mike Coolbaugh after a line drive to the head prompted the Major Leagues to mandate that all base coaches wear helmets starting with the '08 season. The next year, Rawlings designed its S100 batting helmets that allowed hitters to withstand the impact of a baseball at 100 mph instead of the previous 70. Players despised the thing. Yep, looks. But the 2013 Collective Bargaining Agreement made the batting helmet mandatory for everybody.
See where I'm going? Sooner rather than later, you won't hear folks such as the D-backs' Brandon McCarthy refusing to wear this new headgear for pitchers because it's "too hot" and "too big."
Wearing that hat will keep pitchers from needing something such as brain surgery after suffering epidural hemorrhaging, a skull fracture and a life-threatening brain contusion. Actually, all of those things happened to McCarthy two seasons ago when a line drive from the Angels' Erick Aybar slammed against McCarthy's left ear when he played for the A's. According to research by ESPN's "Outside the Lines," McCarthy was one of five Major League pitchers ripped in the head by a batted ball between Sept. 5, 2012 (when McCarthy suffered his blow) and June 15, 2013.
Thus the need for the isoBlox cap.
"This wasn't something [baseball officials] were rushing to do," said Bruce Foster in a conference call, speaking as the chief executive officer of 4LC, the parent company of isoBlox. "They took their time and made sure that we dotted our i's and crossed our t's. There was nothing that was left unturned. They were prudent. They understood the importance of protective gear for a pitcher, and there was no cutting corners."
Nevertheless, closer Grant Balfour told MLB Network, "I am always appreciative of anything that will make the game safer. That being said, I may try it. Just not sure yet until I see it. Has to fit with a cap and be comfortable."
Being comfortable is overrated. Being healthy isn't.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.