Perhaps one of the most frightening things I’ve ever witnessed at a baseball game was at Chase Field in 2009 when then Dodgers’ pitcher Hiroki Kuroda took a Rusty Ryal line drive off his head. I will never forget the sound that made as it struck his skull. The ball hit with such force that the ricochet nearly went into the stands above the Diamondbacks dugout.
In the moments after that Kuroda lay motionless on the mound. The usually vocal Chase Field crowd was completely silent praying that Kuroda was not seriously injured. He was carted off the field but escaped without major injury and would once again take the mound with no ill effect from the incident.
Current Diamondbacks starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy had a similar frightening experience while playing for the Oakland Athletics when Los Angeles Angels hitter Erick Aybar hit a screaming line drive that caught McCarthy in the side of the head. McCarthy would require hospitalization with a fractured skull. McCarthy would return to pitching but suffered a seizure last season, which doctors believe was a result of the trauma blow from that line drive.
The number of accidents involving pitchers taking a ball to the head seem to be on the upswing and with players getting bigger and stronger the likelihood of serious injury escalates. Major League Baseball is taking players safety very seriously and has been working with manufacturers to find a way to protect the pitchers.
Today Major League Baseball announced that it has approved a protective cap that will protect pitchers from dangerous line drives. After testing products from various companies MLB has decided upon a padded cap from 4Licensing Corporation, a subsidiary of isoBlox. The padded cap will be available for all players at the beginning of spring training, which for the Diamondbacks begins in just over a week.
The cap has padding on the front and sides that will absorb the force from a baseball. The cap has received the approval not only from the league but also from the Major League Baseball Players Association.
According to 4Licensing Corporation, the caps are just over a half-inch thicker in the front and an inch thicker near the temples to protect frontal and side impact protection and can withstand a 90 MPH ball in the front or an 85 MPH glancing blow on the side.
Going into testing Major League Baseball set the threshold of 83 MPH, which is the average speed of a ball hit and traveling 60 feet 6 inches towards the mound. The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) testing determined at that rate a ball would fracture the human skull.
The protection comes with its own set of trade offs. The cap is bulkier than what players are currently wearing. It adds seven ounces to a hat that normally weighs 3-4 ounces. There are still questions of whether the hat has the same ventilation qualities as the current model or if it will be hotter than a standard cap.
Whenever new studies or proposed changes are announced, McCarthy is always the first one to be asked and this time was no exception. Shortly after MLB released its proposal McCarthy tweeted out “Headed in the right direction but not game ready.”
He is still concerned that the hats are too bulky, too hot, and not capable of protecting well enough to warrant the additional weight. Not to mention the fact that the caps look like you are wearing something three times too big for your head.
I applaud MLB for continuing to work towards a solution. Hopefully this is just the first iteration and will be followed by something a little more streamline that will better protect not just the pitchers but all players. As for me, I don’t plan on running to the local mall to pick one of these up. I get enough crap for what I wear without adding such an easy target.