Baseball’s bigger, stronger helmets mandatory starting this spring

Mike Oz
Big League Stew

Major League Baseball doesn't have the head-injury controversy that the NFL does. And it's trying to keep it that way.

On Tuesday, MLB announced that the Rawlings S100 Pro Comp — the stronger, sturdier, larger helmet introduced last season — is mandatory for batters starting with this week's spring training games. The New York Times has a fascinating story about the change.

Here's the nitty-gritty on the helmets:

Introduced last year, it is fractions of an inch larger and an ounce or so heavier than a traditional helmet. But its carbon fiber shell is also 300 percent stiffer and 130 times stronger than the helmets made with plastic shells that have been the standard for the past several years.

About 200 players, including stars like Carlos Beltran, Matt Kemp and Buster Posey, wore the S100 Pro Comp at some point last season. But starting this spring training, all major league players must wear the helmet, a decision included in the collective bargaining agreement signed in 2011. The only exceptions are for the handful of players who wear helmets with earflaps on both sides.

The most interesting part of the Times' story is what goes into testing the helmets. It's like something out of "Mythbusters". The helmets are put on crash-test dummies and balls get shot out of small cannons 18 inches away, impacting the helmets in six spots. Sensors on the dummies measure the acceleration on impact.

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As the new helmets are being implemented, new protective caps for pitchers are still being developed after a few high-profile incidents last season where pitchers were hit in the head by line drives. Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy started throwing to live batters earlier this week for the first time after suffering a skull fracture, brain contusion and epidural hemorrhage last season. The new protective caps, however, didn't meet Major League Baseball's standards to be used this season.

For an example of the danger a baseball player faces when a ball zooms at his head, here's a video shot Wednesday morning at Miami Marlins training camp of slugger Giancarlo Stanton getting hit.

Scary stuff.

Spring training is here. Stretch out with us.
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