Unequal's padded kevlar pitcher's hat liner
Pitchers have it the worst. Not only does the fate of the game rest heavily on their shoulders, but they're the closest and largest targets in the batters' cross-hairs (aside from well-protected catchers, of course). When a batter tees off, he's liable to clock the baseball 90-plus miles per hour straight back at the pitcher. So Major League Baseball is finally giving them some protection.
"We take the matter of head injuries seriously and are working with a number of different manufacturers to develop equipment that will provide adequate safety for our players," MLB spokesman Pat Courtney told MLB.com.
It's bizarre that it's taken pro baseball this long to come around to the idea that pitchers need some kind of protective buffer between their cotton-clad skulls and the human cannons at home plate. Partly it's because pitchers being injured by line drives are fairly rare, but they can be devastating, such as the life-threatening injury to Oakland A's pitcher Brandon McCarthy this year.
Unequal Technologies, a Pennsylvania helmet producer, has been contemplating the hazard to pitchers for a while. They've even got a name for their innovation: Concussion Reduction Technology.
Unequal Technologies already produces inner helmet pads used in football, hockey and lacrosse, as well as the foam liner inside batters' helmets. Now the company is weaving that same idea into the lining inside pitcher's caps. The pad prototype is an eighth of an inch thick and composed of military-grade DuPont Kevlar and a rubber synthetic. But before you go thinking the new cap is anything like 50 Cent's fabled bulletproof New Era lid, the company doesn't guarantee that the pad will provide a concussion-proof defense against a direct headshot.
Other companies are jumping on the big league wagon with designs of their own. Competitor EvoShield's iteration is one-quarter of an inch thick and bolstered with gel packs. At least a dozen pitchers are said to be adopting padded caps as part of a kind of test group before the end of the year.
Baseball hasn't been a high-profile part of the concussion discussion happening in football and hockey, but of all the players on the diamond, pitchers are likely at the highest risk of life-threatening head injuryies. In September, McCarthy took a 91-miles-per-hour line drive to the side of his head off a swing that knocked him off the mound and left him writhing on the field. He didn't lose consciousness but the shot could've ended his career.
He wound up with a fractured skull, a brain contusion and an epidural hemorrhage, and had to undergo skull surgery. The hit took him out of the rest of the season and the post-season. He was recently cleared to begin working out and throwing again. Then about a month later, during the World Series, San Francisco Giants' Gregor Blanco drilled Tigers pitcher Doug Fister. Fister didn't sustain any major injuries.
In 2000, then Red Sox pitcher Bryce Florie took a line drive straight to his face. It broke bones and damaged his eyesight. A padded cap wouldn't have protected him but a full face mask might have, if such a thing existed for pitchers.
"The day before I was hit, I'd say no way I'd want to wear a mask," Florie told ESPN. "The day after? Yes, I would've."
So, perhaps it's time the MLB started considering some new ways to protect players, and skullcaps that offer some protection without being overtly helmets is a good place to start for a sport as dedicated to tradition as baseball.