At the end of January, while the sports world was focused on Super Bowl XLVIII, Major League Baseball announced that it had approved a piece of new equipment. It's not a bat or a different kind of ball — it's protective headgear for pitchers.
Believe it or not, baseball is having a problem with concussions, just like football. Over the past few seasons, numerous pitchers have been hit in the head by line drives traveling at speeds greater than 90 miles per hour — with life-threatening results.
In September 2012, Brandon McCarthy, then a pitcher for the Oakland A's (now with the Arizona Diamondbacks), was struck by an Erick Aybar hit. The impact was so violent that he suffered a skull fracture and a brain contusion. Nearly a year later, he began having seizures, which doctors said were caused by the head hit.
McCarthy's injury wasn't the first time — or the last — that a pitcher was inured by a comebacker. But the severity of his injury caused people in baseball to think about how to protect pitchers from such dangerous plays.
And on January 28, some 17 months after McCarthy's injury, MLB announced it was partnering with 4Licensing to make the company's isoBlox headgear available to pitchers. The padded cap will be available to all pitchers beginning with Spring Training, but they're not required to wear it.
That's a good thing, if early testing by big-league pitchers is any indication. "I won't wear it in its current form," McCarthy told ESPN. "The technology is there. It helps. 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. I told them that's where it's at."
According to McCarthy, the problems with the cap are that it's too big, too heavy, and it doesn't fit correctly. The cap is larger than a normal baseball hat, and isoBlox says the padding makes traditional caps seven ounces heavier. "I've thrown in it in optimal conditions, inside where it's cool, and your head gets itchy," McCarthy told ESPN.
Dodgers' ace Clayton Kershaw added one more complaint: "You don't look very cool out there," he told MLB.com. But he added that the benefits of wearing the cap are greater than looking stylish.
"Technology is unbelievable, and it really doesn't feel that much different once you get used to it," he said. "Obviously it would be a change. We wouldn't look the same as everybody else, but if you're that one guy who gets hit what seems like every year, there's that chance out there. I'm definitely not opposed to it. I think it'd take a lot of getting used to. I think it's a great thing and a step in the right direction, for sure."
So while MLB has approved the new headgear, it's unlikely you'll see it in a game this season. But if the tech can be developed to make it smaller, lighter, and, yes, cooler, they'll become as common as batting helmets are today.
What do you think of the new protective headgear for pitchers? Let us know by taking our poll — your response could make it into the April issue of Sports Illustrated Kids!
Photo: Michael Zagaris/Getty Images