Dec 11

An entrepreneur’s report on protective helmets in baseball

“Get the medics! Get the medics!” Coaches frantically yell as they hurry to the pitcher’s mound in the middle of a baseball game. A pitcher has just been struck in the head with a baseball from a line drive of a powerful swing. With nothing but the cotton fabric hat to protect his head, he suffered a cracked skull and life threatening brain injuries. (Not uncommon among professional athletes, even those that endorse health and nutrition companies)

This traumatic incident could have been prevented if the player had been wearing special padding inside his baseball cap. In order to protect Major League Baseball pitchers from serious and potentially fatal accidents, they all should be required to wear a protective padding inside their cap.

Over the past few decades, the sport of baseball has evolved with players hitting harder and pitchers throwing faster. Most baseball fans and players would believe that there is no problem with this. However, with an improved game and a faster, more athletic presence, there must be improvements with the safety. All catchers are required to wear protective head gear to shield their head and face from a baseball fouling off a bat.

The reason for these protective devices is because when a ball is fouled off a hitter, it is only a matter of milliseconds that the ball travels from the bat to their face. This leaves essentially no time for the catcher to react.

Without a protective helmet, catchers would sustain serious injuries all the time. The same scenario goes for the umpires positioned just feet behind the catcher behind home base. They also wear a protective mask to shield from the ball. So, how does the catcher and umpire relate to a pitcher standing yards away in the opposite direction?

Although the pitcher is yards away, after the bat initiates contact with the ball, the force of the ball is almost doubled in the opposite direction. This means that if the average pitch is hurled at around 91 miles per hour (mph), that the ball will be propelled in the direction of the swing of the bat in speeds exceeding 150 mph. A ball traveling at this speed can cover 60 feet, six inches (the distance between home plate and the pitchers mound)  in less than 4 tenths of a second (Ellwood, 2012). That is faster than it took you to read the first four words in this sentence.

As a pitcher in this situation, there is no reaction time to move out of the way of a line drive aimed right at your forehead. That being said, there is no safety equipment required to be worn to protect a pitchers head and face.

According to James Weinbaum (2012) on his article published on ESPN’s website, Unequal Technologies’ Company has designed a prototype of a foam padded liner that fits inside a standard baseball cap. The protective liner is 1/8th of an inch thick, weighs less than 5 ounces, and is made of a three layer synthetic composite which includes military grade Kevlar material. The company ensures the padding will greatly reduce the impact of a line driven baseball.

Reports say that there are a few other companies such as EvoShield that are working on similar prototypes. Regardless of which company the League chooses, the added protection to the pitchers could be the difference between a severe brain injury and a mild concussion. With this knowledge, a baseball pitcher will be more comfortable when pitching. Rather than being hesitant and worried about taking a hit off the dome, they can focus on delivering the desired pitch.

In one incident, a high school baseball player was struck in the head with a line drive hit. His injuries were so severe that he went into a coma. Doctors had to remove part of his skull to relieve the swelling of his brain (“Facemasks for Pitchers?” 2010). After weeks of recovery, a debate occurred on the importance of protecting the head of pitchers. (Read the full here)

Another college player, Todd Troup, reported a similar story. He spoke with ABC Channel 7 News in San Francisco telling them about his experience getting hit in the head. “And it knocked me out. I was only out for about a minute or so and the team helped me up and off the field and called an ambulance right away. Long story short, I had bleeding on the brain.

I went into surgery for six hours that night and made it through obviously,” said Troup (“Facemasks for Pitchers?” 2010). As said by Steve Henson (2010) “Frederick Mueller, a University of North Carolina professor and chairman of USA Baseball medical/safety advisory committee, said an average of one serious injury or death from high school and college pitchers being struck in the head by line drives has occurred since 1982.”

When asked by FinishUp what his post-college plans were, he responded “no comment”.

The list did not include youth leagues. One might notice that these stories involve amateur baseball players who are not as experienced as Major League Baseball (MLB) players. So, do these accidents happen in the MLB as well? According to James Wagner (2012), “McCarthy, an Oakland Athletics starter, required two hours of surgery after suffering an epidural hemorrhage, brain contusion and skull fracture when he was hit on the right side of the head by a line drive while pitching Sept. 5. He is expected to return to the mound next season.

During Game 2 of the World Series, Detroit Tigers starter Doug Fister was also hit on the head with a liner, and he remained in the game to pitch.” Evidence shows that not only is this a threat for amateur pitchers, but even the best, highly trained, most experienced pitchers of the Major Leagues.

It is an accident that has happened, and will undoubtedly continue to occur. Without a logical way to prevent it from happening, the next step to take is to protect the pitcher with safety equipment so that when he does get struck with the ball, the damage is less severe.

In order to protect these vulnerable pitchers, administrators of the Major League Baseball are proposing and discussing to require all pitchers to wear a protective lining inside their caps. Some pitchers have tested these prototypes and claim that the extra padding would be too uncomfortable. But it would only take one accident to happen for a pitcher to quickly change his  mind.

In Weinbaum’s ESPN article (2012), He discussed the matter with former Boston Red Sox pitcher Bryce Florie, who was struck in the face and eye by a liner in 2000. Florie suffered broken bones and retinal damage. “Florie says he’d be in favor of a padded cap as a start and that his episode got him thinking about more drastic protection.

‘The day before I was hit, I’d say no way I’d want to wear a mask. The day after? Yes, I would’ve,’ Florie said.” According to Mike Oliver, executive director of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, “The old saw in the industry is a little more (protection) is better than a little less.” (Weinbaum, 2012).

If there can be a design made that is very comfortable for pitchers to wear, to the extent that they might not even realize its presence, requiring all pitchers to wear it would be revolutionary. As said in Steve Henson’s article (2010), “The point isn’t that head injuries to pitchers are widespread, it’s that they are so often catastrophic.”

This supports a great point that although the accidents may not happen a lot compared to other sporting injuries, when they do happen, they are often more severe. A little protection would do a lot of good to protect a pitcher. One might wonder why it has taken this long to even consider protective headwear for MLB pitchers. Just like having the best cockroach killer isn’t a requirement for people living in Alaska, it’s still a good idea and many people do it anyways.

According to James Wagner (2012), Gary Green, the MLB’s medical director said, “Since we started looking at the concussions a few years ago, we’ve actually been talking about this and looking for products. But unfortunately there has not been any product that can withstand the impact at the major league level.

And I think the fact that we’ve had several in the last two years has really given us more impetus to see if we can get this developed quicker.” The MLB needs to make this issue a priority and choose the most comfortable and efficient design as soon as possible.

Baseball officials are hoping to at least have a design available for pitchers before the next season (2013) that would be optional for them to wear (Wagner, 2012).

Overall, with the increased intensity of the game, and the catastrophic injuries that have occurred in the past, Major League Baseball players should be required to wear protective foam to protect their heads. Instead of waiting for another MLB pitcher to be severely injured or killed before changing the safety equipment regulations, the League should implement and require these protective hat liners for pitchers immediately to prevent any more serious injuries.
References

Ellwood, Peter. “Pitching Mechanics and MLB Hitter Reaction Times.” Shutdown Inning. N.p., 3 May 2012. Web. 20 Mar. 2013.

“Facemasks for Pitchers? Accident Ignites Debate.” ABC Channel 7 News. N.p., 18 Mar. 2010. Web. 20 Mar. 2013.

Henson, Steve. “Pitcher head injuries to trigger cry for protection.” YAHOO! Sports. YAHOO!, 28 May 2010. Web. 20 Mar. 2013.

Wagner, James. “MLB seeks head gear that pitchers will be willing to wear.” The Washington Post. N.p., 17 Dec. 2012. Web. 20 Mar. 2013.

Weinbaum, William. “Pitchers to try out padded caps.” ESPN.com. ESPN, 17 Dec. 2012. Web. 20 Mar. 2013.


This was a guest post by Moses Baldwin, a part-time manager at Fool Locker and contributing editor at Host Authority Reviews and Home Security System Reviews.