It’s a rare day when there’s breaking news on baseball caps, but today is one of them. The Easton-Bell helmet company has given a prototype protective pitcher’s helmet to a high school baseball player recovering from head trauma after being seriously hurt by a batted ball.
The player is Gunnar Sandberg of Marin Catholic High School near San Francisco, who as this story in the San Jose Mercury News explains was drilled behind the ear during a scrimmage a year ago. Doctors induced a coma for the boy, who is recovering after a long run of surgery and rehabilitation. He’s back on the diamond but not on the mound, wearing the prototype helmet while playing first base.
The helmet, a picture of which you can see here, looks like something out of the “Tron” movies the way its sectioned construction cradles the head. The helmet is an adaptation of bicycle helmets, as one would expect from Easton-Bell. (I still ride with my 20-year-old Bell helmet which, knock wood, has never been put the test in a fall).
The development of the protective pitcher’s helmet will likely trigger debate over whether youth and high school teams should make the head gear mandatory for pitchers. I doubt there will be much of a call for that. If Mom or Dad wants Junior to wear a helmet while pitching, I say let it happen — with this caveat.
Peer pressure is intense at the youth and high school sports level. Any kid wearing unusual protective gear will face some needling, much as Bob Balaban’s character in “A Mighty Wind” surely did as child when his mother absurdly forced him to wear a football helmet when playing chess.
I remember when Major League Baseball made batting helmets mandatory in the 1960s. Enough veteran players balked that the league phased them in over a few years.
I doubt the helmets-for-pitchers issue will spread anytime soon to the major league ranks. The game has seen its share of pitchers struck over the years, notably Cleveland’s Herb Score and Ray Chapman, the former whose career was derailed by a line drive and the latter who was killed by one in 1920. But most clubs and players acknowledge such rare instances and accept them as a risk associated with the professional game.
The focus on baseball safety should not be on protective gear worn on the field but on what’s causing the damage: the club in the batter’s hands.
The aluminum bat is the real villain, and I believe it should be banned from at least the high school level up. Aluminum bats give batters an unfair advantage and put pitchers at greater risk in the line of fire.
And aesthetically, the “ping” off the aluminum just isn’t right. Give me the crack of the bat.