In the past few days there has been some publicity given to a new safety cap that is available for pitchers to use on the mound. It’s a bulky looking padded cap that MLB is endorsing. The problem is that few players will wear it because they think that it isn’t fashionable and too bulky. Even Brandon McCarthy, who two seasons ago suffered a near fatal skull fracture from a batted ball says he won’t wear the protective cap.
“It doesn’t pass the eye test,” he said. Still preferring fashion style to safety, even at the risk of his life. McCarthy tried the cap out and pitched a bullpen session with it. He came out complaining that it’s too uncomfortable, hot and itchy.
These protective caps provide ½ inch more of padding in the front and a full inch over the temples than the current caps in use today. That, according to the manufacturer, MLB and the players union, will have a significant impact on reducing injury. Below are some players’ comments about the cap:
- Brett Anderson, Colorado Rockies: “I’ll pass on the Super Mario inspired padded hat.”
- J.A. Happ (Blue Jay pitcher that suffered a skull fracture last season after being hit in the head): “I’d have to see what the differences in feel would be — does it feel close enough to a regular cap? You don’t want to be out there thinking about it and have it take away from your focus on what you’re doing.”
- Brandon McCarthy, Arizona Diamondbacks: “Hopefully, in a couple of years, they can come up with something that everyone wears and that you don’t notice it being on your head while you’re out there, but right now, it’s just not there.”
- Clayton Kershaw, Cy Young Award winner, Los Angeles Dodgers: I’ve thrown with it… I’ll be honest. You don’t look very cool out there. But technology is unbelievable, and it really doesn’t feel that much different once you get used to it. Obviously it would be a change. We wouldn’t look the same as everybody else, but if you’re that one guy who gets hit what seems like every year, there’s that chance out there. I’m definitely not opposed to it. I think it’d take a lot of getting used to. I think it’s a great thing and a step in the right direction, for sure.”
It’s a step in the right direction for MLB to sanction the padded cap for use, but if they don’t mandate that players wear it, look for this protective cap to collect dust for years. The failure to make its use mandatory is a mistake in my opinion. As awkward as the hat may look, it sure is preferable than seeing pitchers carted away to ambulances after being hit in the head. We’ve seen it happen all too often in the past few years – Kuroda, McCarthy, Happ, Fister, and Chris Young.
Former Padre Chris Young took an Albert Pujols shot to the forehead in 2010. A neurologist confined him to 10 weeks of bed rest because the impact not only fractured his skull, but also opened a sinus passage straight to his brain. There were fears that he would contract a dangerous and possibly fatal infection due to the injury. Yes, it was his forehead and a protective cap probably couldn’t have prevented it, but a protective visor would have worked. “My recommendation would be to create something… to protect the eyes or the brain. A visor, as in hockey, would have been beneficial to me,” said Young in an interview with ESPN last year.
Baseball has precedence enough to show that pitchers are vulnerable as promising careers have been ruined by batted balls to the head. Herb Score, back in 1957, was never the same after taking a liner off his cranium. His vision never was beyond blurry after that. Bryce Florie of the Red Sox had his career ended by a line drive in 2000 in similar fashion.
MLB under the Selig regime has been reactionary when it comes to mandating change, particularly when it has to do with player safety. A performance enhancing drug scandal of epic proportions occurred under this commissioner’s watch, but little was done to stop it. We all saw what was happening. Legendary records were being obliterated by ‘roided up behemoth-like players that had biceps the size of tree trunks. The commissioner didn’t really take action until the sport was thoroughly embarrassed in congressional hearings and faced possible legislation that would police the game. Reactionary action is essentially what today’s drug program is.
Until a pitcher dies by a batted ball, I don’t see this commissioner doing anything to institute a protective cap for pitchers. The technology exists and the protective headgear is there. But it’s not “cool” to wear it. Maybe a mandate that it be worn will change the coolness factor a bit, especially when a pitcher making millions of dollars a year will earn nothing unless he puts the thing on.
We saw that happen with the base coaches after the Mike Coolbaugh death in the minors a few years ago. Larry Bowa changed his old school stance once he was going to get hit in the pocket book for not wearing the protective head gear. Why not do the same thing for pitchers? Or at least adopt the stance that the National Hockey League took in 1979 regarding helmets and create a grandfather clause for veterans. At least the protective gear will be in place within 10 years that way.
In ’79, then NHL Commissioner John Zeigler ruled that protective helmets were mandatory for all new players in the league. Those NHL veterans that wanted to not wear the protective head gear had the option of not doing so. Many of the vets took that grandfather clause and ran with it, but within 5 years, 98% of the NHL players were wearing helmets. It became the norm. The helmets became fashionable. In fact, it was the players without helmets that suddenly looked strange to everyone. The “coolness” factor wore off in a hurry.
Could that possibly happen in baseball? Sure it could. Batting helmets were mandated in the 1960s and now when we look at old footage of players striding to the plate with only a cap for protection, they look awfully strange. When we see old football film of players with the one-bar face mask and they look mighty awkward as well. Protective gear can become fashionable, and it will when it becomes the norm. Such is the case with the “Super Mario” pitchers cap. What is needed is a commissioner that looks at the player’s safety with seriousness right now, not one that will react only after a fatality occurs on a pitcher’s mound.