NEW YORK – Big league pitchers might feel safer on the mound this season.
Major League Baseball has approved a protective cap for pitchers, hoping to reduce the damage from line drives to the head that have brought some terrifying and bloody scenes in the last few years.
The heavier and bigger new hat was introduced Tuesday and will be available for testing during spring training on a voluntary basis. Major leaguers and minor leaguers won’t be required to wear it — comfort is likely to be a primary concern.
“Obviously, it would be a change,” two-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers told the MLB Network. “I’m not opposed to it.”
“I think it would take a lot of getting used to,” he said. “You don’t look very cool, I’ll be honest.”
The safety plates made by isoBLOX are sewn into the hat and custom fitted. They weigh an extra 170 to 200 grams — a baseball weighs about 140 grams, by comparison — and offer protection to the forehead, temples and sides of the head. They’ll make the hats about a half-inch thicker in the front and around an inch wider on the sides.
Several pitchers have been hit in the head by line drives in the recent seasons. Brandon McCarthy sustained a brain contusion and skull fracture after being struck in 2012 and Doug Fister was hit during the World Series that October.
Toronto’s J.A. Happ and Tampa Bay’s Alex Cobb were sidelined after being hit last year.
McCarthy tweeted that he had already tried out the fortified cap and that it was “headed in (the) right direction but not game ready.”
Said Arizona reliever Brad Ziegler: “I think they’re on the right track, but the hat they approved isn’t remotely close to comfortable enough to wear in games.”
In an email to AP, he said, “If you’re not 100 percent focused on executing your pitches, you have almost no chance of success. And that hat is uncomfortable enough that it would be a big distraction to wear it.”
“We talked to a lot of guys who had been through this, and they provided a wealth of information to help us,” said Bruce Foster, CEO of the 4Licensing Corporation, parent company of isoBLOX. “We went through a myriad of different designs to develop this.”
Foster said the cap went through extensive testing and provided protection from line drives up to 145 kph in the front of the head and 137 kph on the side.
Line drives in the majors have been clocked at even faster rates.
While the hat is “slightly bigger” than a regular baseball cap, Foster said: “It’s not going to be a Gazoo hat.”
Several years ago, MLB introduced larger batting helmets that offered increased safety. But big leaguers mostly rejected them, saying they looked funny and made them resemble the Great Gazoo, a character on the “The Flintstones” cartoon series.
In recent seasons, pitchers have said they would try padded caps, provided they weren’t too cumbersome.