SBD/May 9, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

MLB Actively Seeking Suitable Protective Headgear For Pitchers; Nothing Imminent

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Happ's injury Tuesday heightened the issue of pitcher safety in baseball
MLB Senior VP & General Counsel/Labor Dan Halem yesterday indicated that nothing is "imminent as far as baseball giving its approval to protective headgear" for pitchers, but the league is "very active in seeking a product that it can approve," according to Willie Weinbaum of ESPN.com. MLB is "considering doing testing of different products to determine whether at high speeds such as 90 or 100 miles per hour, a product would protect a pitcher’s head." The league has "tested three such products so far," but none of these products "met the standard." Protective gear company EvoShield, which "provided those prototypes, is working on refining the product to perhaps pass the test," while Unequal Technologies has "provided its own test data to baseball but that data did not meet baseball’s approval." The issue was heightened after Blue Jays P J.A. Happ took a line drive to the head on Tuesday. Halem said that he does "not want to give pitchers or anybody a false sense of security ... if it’s not really providing protection." Weinbaum noted there also is a "hold up" in getting protective headgear approved "in terms of the practical" aspects. Pitchers "don’t want something that’s bulky or that has a lot of weight, or that looks bad." Halem said that to the "best of Major League Baseball’s knowledge," there are "no pitchers who are wearing specially padded caps; they’re just wearing the standard-issue cap." Weinbaum noted nobody has "taken it upon himself to wear it," including D'Backs P Brandon McCarthy, who "suffered life-threatening injuries and needed brain surgery after he was hit by a line drive in September." Yankees P CC Sabathia indicated that he had "never been hit in the head, but if he saw a product that he found to be satisfactory, he would wear it because it would be a measure that wouldn’t interfere with what he’s doing and might provide protection" ("Baseball Tonight," ESPN.com, 5/8).

COMFORT A KEY NECESSITY
: MLBPA Exec Dir Michael Weiner said of pitchers wearing protective headgear, "If someone could come up with a product that would work, guys would be in favor of it." Tigers P Darin Downs said, "Nobody's going to wear one unless it feels comfortable. I'd totally wear one if something felt comfortable and didn't hamper me from doing my job." USA TODAY's Paul White notes Downs "received two such hats from a company this offseason," but neither "sat right on his head." Meanwhile, protection beyond the current cap shape "surely would meet with more resistance." Giants P George Kontos: "If anything's over my head or face or anything like that, it would be a little bit too much of a distraction" (USA TODAY, 5/9). Mariners P Aaron Harang said, "I don't think it's a problem that's easily solved. I know a lot of people want pitchers to start wearing helmets. It's a good idea in theory, but I don't know how practical it is" (AP, 5/8). Mets P Shaun Marcum: "If it's going to add weight or possibly alter my mechanics, I don't want anything to do with it. I'll take my chances." Mets P LaTroy Hawkins: "It's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. ... Can you imagine going out there and trying to pitch with a football helmet on?" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/9). ESPN's Dan Le Batard said of pitchers wearing helmets, “I guess that would be the solution ... but man, that would look awkward. Everybody out there looks like John Olerud” (“Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable,” ESPN2, 5/8). ESPN.com's Buster Olney said, "There’s always that sort of old-school resistance that you see in situations like this." He noted in the aftermath of minor league coach Mike Coolbaugh dying in '07 after being hit with a line drive, MLB "mandated that base coaches wear those helmets." Some coaches initially thought it would "make them look silly," but fans now "don’t even notice, and no one talks about it." Olney: "You wonder if that’s the type of thing that could happen with padded caps once Major League Baseball gets a product it will approve" ("Baseball Tonight," ESPN.com, 5/8).

SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE DONE
: CBSSports.com's Scott Miller said there is "not a lot that can be done" outside of a possible protective lining inside caps to protect pitchers. He noted Happ was hit "just below where the protective lining would’ve been if it would even have been worn." It also is "too unwieldy to pitch" with a helmet on (“Lead Off,” CBS Sports Network, 5/8). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said, “You’ve got to do whatever you can to the cap, whether it’s a liner all the way around. I am not saying you can protect them 100% ... but you’ve got to do something to the pitcher's cap and put whatever you can in it to protect the pitcher as much as you can.” ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said, “This is a safety issue. You make sure that the pitchers -- even if you put them in kevlar, whatever you do -- all pitchers have to do it all the way up and then the pitchers will adapt to the circumstances" ("PTI," ESPN, 5/8). CBS' Jim Rome said, "MLB has been investigating alternatives like a padded hat lining, and they better pick up the pace because the next guy may not be leaving on a stretcher but in a pine box” (“Rome,” CBS Sports Network, 5/8).
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