The campaign to protect pitchers from potentially dangerous line drives hit right back at them has taken another step forward.
Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association have collaborated on a new design for protective headgear that will be unveiled this spring. The development was first reported by ESPN.
MLB vice president Patrick Houlihan told "Outside the Lines" that the new design is "a hybrid of a cap and a helmet." They will be customized for each player, weigh 10 to 12 ounces and have a carbon-fiber shell. They will look something like a sun visor with extended coverage of the temple and forehead and a single ear flap.
The protection will be thickest in the areas that are most susceptible to catastrophic injuries, according to Boombang, the company hired to design and produce the devices, which will be worn under the standard New Era nylon caps.
About 20 pitchers are scheduled to receive prototypes this spring.
This will be the third spring that some sort of protection was available for pitchers. In 2014, isoBLOX received MLB/MLBPA approval for a padded cap. Last spring, the company introduced a soft shell to be worn over the regular cap.
Neither caught on, largely for cosmetic reasons. The headware was safe but it looked funny. Only Alex Torres, who pitched for the Mets and Padres and ended last season in the Minors, wore it in games.
"Our new product is not in any way, shape or form to elbow out isoBLOX," Houlihan told ESPN. "We hope this creates a market and we'll have multiple companies making great products."
On Thursday, isoBLOX told ESPN that improvements to their product will be unveiled this year.
Tampa Bay's Alex Cobb, who suffered a mild concussion and experienced vertigo for two months after he was hit in the head in 2013, helps illustrate the difficulty in getting pitchers to make the switch. He endorses isoBLOX caps for youth baseball. He tested the Boombang product last year and gave it a thumbs-up. But he's still not willing to commit to wearing it in games.
As Indians pitcher Jeff Manship told ESPN: "I'm definitely one of the guilty ones. I want to have it look right, which sounds terrible when you're talking about safety, but that's how it is."
Five MLB pitchers were struck in the head by line drives last year, four of them in the face. None of the new caps protect the facial area, but line drives to the side of the head are considered more life-threatening.
Houlihan and MLBPA assistant general counsel Bob Lenaghan told ESPN they are optimistic the pitchers will take a liking to the new protective system and hope it will lead to usage in games, which will then lead to more pitchers requesting their own.
Boombang CEO Tyler Garland said his company's inserts passed laboratory impact testing at 85 miles per hour and are "almost certainly" safe at higher velocities. Even batting helmets, which are thicker and heavier, are not certified to protect above 100 mph.
Unlike batting helmets, head safety gear is not mandatory for MLB pitchers. They may wear any device they want as long as it isn't deemed to interfere with play or conflict with licensing agreements.