Safety Equipment used in Little League Baseball
By Frederick O. Mueller & Stephen W. Marshall
USA Baseball Medical/Safety Advisory Committee
June 2000

USA Baseball has been concerned with safety issues for many years, and in 1989 formed a USA Baseball Medical/Safety Advisory Committee. The Committee initiated a National Amateur Baseball Catastrophic (Deaths and Permanent Disability) Surveillance Program which has issued annual reports from 1989 through 1998.

In 1997 USA Baseball received funding from Major League Baseball to conduct a national injury/equipment surveillance program. Data collection included both injury and equipment information. Injury data was collected through the normal data collection system in place at Little League Baseball, Inc. Equipment data was collected by contacting every Little League Baseball, Inc. safety officer across the United States and asking them to complete a questionnaire detailing safety equipment being used in their league. Information was requested concerning type and use of baseballs, bases, batter masks, and batter chest protectors.

Initially a letter and questionnaire was sent, and was later followed by a telephone call. The response rate was over 95%. The purpose of the research is to link the Little League injury data to the Little League safety equipment information for a period of three years. When this task is completed it will then be possible to recommend using or not using a batters face mask, batter chest protector, breakaway bases, and the modified baseball.

Amateur baseball needs information that states baseball players are at risk or not at risk by using this equipment. This research is the best attempt to answer those questions. A summary of the 1997 data show the use of modified bases widespread, with approximately one-half of leagues using them in the senior divisions and about two-thirds using them in the junior divisions. Usage of the face guard was not common, with about one-quarter of leagues using them in the Little League division.

Modified balls were widely used in the Tee-ball and Challenger divisions, but usage in all the other divisions was low (typically less than 5% of leagues). Usage of chest protectors for batters was below 5% in all divisions. A significant proportion of leagues (19%) reported that they had introduced new safety equipment during the 1997 season. The most common item introduced was the face guard (23%), bases (12%), modified balls (8%), and chest protectors (6%). In addition, 13% of the safety officers reported that their league had discontinued one or more items of safety equipment.

The item most commonly discontinued was the face guard (53% of discontinued items), and the common reason for discontinuing the face guards was problems with visibility (34%). Modified balls were also discontinued by some leagues (12% of discontinued items). The most common reason cited involved either the bounce of the ball or some other aspect of play.

Both injury and equipment data were collected from Little League Baseball, Inc. during the summers of 1997, 1998, and 1999, and the data for all three seasons is currently being analyzed. USA Baseball, Little League Baseball, and many other amateur baseball organizations are excited about this research project and are looking forward to the final results.