Caps made with material designed to help protect Major League Baseball players from line drives to the head will made available starting in spring training. Their use is optional, ESPN's Outside the Lines reported Tuesday, but following a spate of line drives back to the mound that caused head trauma, MLB and the players union felt they had to do something.
Manufactured by a 4Licensing Corporation subsidiary called isoBlox, the caps are the first significant change to the baseball hat, from a safety standpoint, since bills became wider. From ESPN:
The company says the caps are a little more than a half-inch thicker in the front and an inch thicker on the sides -- near the temples -- than standard caps, and afford protection for frontal impact locations against line drives of up to 90 mph and for side impact locations at up to 85 mph. The soft padding, isoBlox says, is made of "plastic injection molded polymers combined with a foam substrate" and is designed to diffuse energy upon impact through a combination of dispersion and absorption techniques.
"What we've given [pitchers] is a product with protection they've never had before," said 4Licensing chief executive officer Bruce Foster. "It changes the game for them."
Well, maybe. Better caps couldn't hurt, even though it likely will take years and more traumatic incidents for them to catch on among players. Players don't like change, particularly with matters of comfort. Caps that already weigh 3 or 4 ounces will weigh seven more with the extra padding. Some players won't care, some might not even notice. But not everyone will use them.
One reason: Because the possibility of getting hit with line drives goes with the job and has for 150 years. Right-hander Joe Martinez, who was hit in the head with a line drive in his second career appearance in 2009, calls it "an occupational hazard."
Brandon McCarthy, who came close to losing his life after being struck in the head in 2012, has been a skeptic of what new caps could do to protect players. One reason: He was hit below the cap line. In four of the five incidents that happened from late-2012 to mid-2013, the pitchers were hit with liners below their caps. These new caps wouldn't have helped them and won't help pitchers like them in the future. Further, the players don't want any solutions that would be more intrusive, because it would make their jobs harder. Like wearing a batting helmet. They'd rather just take their chances.
Despite a real threat, we're just not at a place yet where technology and comfort intersect enough to help major leaguers.
The advances in caps probably will do more to help kids. They don't hit or throw the ball as hard. The majors, inherently, will be more dangerous. The average line drive goes 83 mph, MLB has found. But some go 100, 110 or even faster. A pitcher's best protector remains his athletic ability — along with his glove and luck.
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