Baseball: Will this cap save pitchers’ skulls?

Chapman’s injury has fuelled the debate about protective headgear for hurlers

Aroldis Chapman should have been making final preparations this weekend for hurling his fastball past the bats of the St Louis Cardinals in the Cincinnati Reds’ opening game of the 2014 Major League baseball season tomorrow.

Instead, the pitcher known as the Cuban Missile will be taking the first two months of the season off to recover from concussion after being struck in the face by a ball in a spring training game 11 days ago. He was lucky.

Chapman, 26, threw the fastest recorded pitch in Major League history, just over 105mph, in 2010, and reached 106 last season according to one unofficial reading.

So when Salvador Perez of the Kansas City Royals, 60 feet away at home plate, hit one of Chapman’s pitches straight back at him with interest, there was no time for evasive action.

The ball struck Chapman so hard that it rebounded around 100 feet. Although he did not lose consciousness, he lay on the field for eight minutes before being carried off on a stretcher. Perez, horrified, sank to his knees. Chapman managed to recover well enough from a two-and-a-half hour operation – in which a titanium plate was used to help facial fractures knit – to post a picture of his heavily stapled scalp on his Instagram account. But already there were calls for action in the wake of a series of similar accidents.

Life's a pitch: Aroldis Chapman needed a plate inserted in his head after being struck by a ball Life's a pitch: Aroldis Chapman needed a plate inserted in his head after being struck by a ball Last year, pitchers Alex Cobb of the Tampa Bay Rays and J A Happ of the Toronto Blue Jays were both hit in the head by batted balls. Happ’s skull was fractured, Cobb suffered concussion and missed two months of the season. In September 2012, Brandon McCarthy, then of the Oakland Athletics, needed emergency surgery to relieve bleeding that was causing life-threatening pressure on his brain after a similar mishap, and suffered a seizure related to the injury nine months later.

Such incidents are rare compared with, say, the repeated impacts experienced by NFL players. But the risk posed by the speed and hardness of a batted ball is severe – Mike Coolbaugh, a Minor League coach, died after being hit in 2007 – and there are calls for protection every time a “comebacker” injures a pitcher.

Catchers and home-plate umpires were wearing protective masks by 1900. Helmets for batters were first used in the Major Leagues by the 1941 Brooklyn Dodgers, 21 years after a hitter was fatally injured by a pitch, and made mandatory in 1971.

So you might expect that pitchers would be clamouring for similar protection, but they are reluctant to consider helmets, with their restriction to range of vision and motion.

Instead, Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Players’ Association have authorised a padded version of the ubiquitous cap, designed to withstand impacts of 90mph at the front and 85mph at the side, but it remains a work in progress. “The process of refinement with input from MLB pitchers with whom we’ve met in spring training is ongoing,” a spokesman for manufacturers IsoBLOX said. “Direct feedback from pitchers has been positive.”

McCarthy, who helped IsoBLOX develop the cap, admitted it was not “Major League ready” – still too bulky – while in any case it would not have helped Chapman, who was struck below the peak of his cap. And even this limited protection has met with resistance – including, improbably, on aesthetic grounds. “I’ll pass on the Super Mario Brothers-inspired padded hat,” Brett Anderson of the Colorado Rockies tweeted.

Cobb, as one might expect, welcomed the development, but felt it was too late for this season. “I’m not going to try anything now, unless it’s something that’s just completely unnoticeable. With something that you’re not used to, it’s going to throw you a little bit.”

Mexican baseball has approved a catcher-style pitchers’ facemask, but some believe the best long-term plan is to mandate the use of helmets for junior pitchers and wait for them to rise to senior level.

Unless more take a lead from Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers. “The padded cap really doesn’t feel much different once you get used to it,” he said. “If you’re that guy who gets hit, there’s some help.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Designer / Design Director

£38000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This B2B content marketing agen...

Austen Lloyd: Law Costs HOD - Southampton

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: An outstanding new...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn