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?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning:The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam