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Major League Baseball has signed off on protective hats for pitchers. Now the question is how many pitchers will actually use them.
That’s a very pertinent issue in the wake of Monday’s announcement that MLB has approved padded caps for pitchers, in the hope of decreasing serious head injuries caused by line drives.
The company, isoBlox, is manufacturing caps that are a little more than a half-inch thicker in the front and an inch thicker on the sides than the current hats worn. The hats reportedly would help reduce the impact of line drives after several pitchers have suffered serious head injuries in the past couple of seasons, including former A’s pitcher Brandon McCarthy.
The hats are optional in the majors and minor leagues, and they will be available for testing during spring training. But it’s apparent, judging by the immediate reaction of some pitchers, that the new gear won’t be an easy sell around the bigs.
McCarthy, who required emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his brain caused by internal bleeding, told ESPN.com that he won’t wear the current hat that will be offered in 2014.
“The technology is there,” said McCarthy, who has thrown with the new cap and given isoBlox his feedback. “It’s proven to help. But I don’t think it’s ready yet as a major league-ready product. And I told them that.”
McCarthy said the hat is simply too big and “doesn’t pass the eye test.” He also said the hat is so wide that pitchers will be aware of it while playing, and that the extra padding made his head too hot, even when throwing in mild temperatures.
Tests showed that the protective caps absorbed impact of up to 90 miles per hour in the front and 85 miles per hour on the sides. The average speed of line drives heading back through the mound is thought to be 83 miles per hour.
But McCarthy’s reluctance toward wearing the hat is telling, given the seriousness of his 2012 injury. The hat is sure to meet resistance with other pitchers who haven’t endured a serious injury.
“I need to see it, see what the comfort is and go from there,” A’s pitcher Jarrod Parker told CSN California. “It’s a tough thing to change and go about. You think about line drives that come off the bat. How many are under 90 mph? A lot of those line drives happen so quick and happen over that speed, … (Hitters) are going to try to stay up the middle with the ball. It’s just a matter of staying out of the way.”
If Parker experiments with the hat during spring training, he said he’s likely to try it out first while throwing on the side before he would consider wearing it in a Cactus League game.
“Is it heavier? Does it put extra tension on your neck? Who knows?” Parker said. “I don’t know if it’s something I’m gonna switch to just yet.”
And do not downplay the importance of how the cap looks. It’s a very real issue with players, according to former A’s reliever Jerry Blevins, who served as the team’s union representative and was privy to discussions regarding the initial idea of protective hats.
“The first thing is just looking at it,” Blevins said. “If it looks like a baseball cap, that’s the first step. People don’t want to look foolish. Next is the comfort thing. It’s not something where I’ll be (accepting of the cap) having an effect on my job based on feel. I’ve got a job to do first and foremost.”
Former A’s pitcher Brett Anderson tweeted a picture of the oversized hat on a model with the message: “I'll pass on the Super Mario Brothers inspired padded hat.”
But A’s reliever Sean Doolittle said that after witnessing McCarthy’s gruesome injury, he’s willing to give the new hat a try in spring training.
“I have an appreciation for those things that can make pitchers safer on the mound,” Doolittle said in a phone interview. “I’ll try to be as open with it as I can. And if it’s something that’s not ready for guys to wear now, hopefully they get enough feedback (to improve it) for guys to wear it” in the future.