MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Oakland Athletics

There was a lot of head shaking and finger pointing this week when a news report claimed “85% of NFL players would participate in the Super Bowl with a concussion.” Tongues were clucked and some stated a belief that, perhaps, football wasn’t for them anymore.

Which is fine. Everybody has their breaking point, there are some things some folks simply don’t want to see on their TV. The knowledge that they’re participation in an activity contributes negatively to the well-being of another doesn’t sit well once you lead yourself down that line of thinking.

Baseball – sainted and revered as the Great American Institution as it is, would never do such a thing. Baseball legalized padded caps for pitchers, the first step to protecting the most vulnerable player on the field when he’s most prone. As one might expect, grateful moundsmen from around the globe leapt forth in favor of the product. The game will have a very different look come April.

Sadly, no.

Even the pitcher most commonly associated with head injuries and pushing the helmeted hurlers movement forward, Brandon McCarthy, flatly stated he will not wear the new Isoblox helmet on the mound in 2014. Not because he’s opposed to the idea but because he feels the technology just good enough yet.

“I won’t wear it in its current form,” said McCarthy, who also suffered an epidural hemorrhage and brain contusion as a result of his unfortunate incident.

“The technology is there,” he said. “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.”

It is tough to fault McCarthy, a player so integral in the development of the latest helmet technology, for waiting until he knows the product will work as well as knowing himself to recognize when he won’t stick with something.

Other players visceral reaction to the Isoblox gear doesn’t come off nearly as informed on the subject, often relating back to little more than aesthetics.

The other question is how much do the caps actually help? If they are rated to protect from 85-90 mph contact, will they actually help pitchers in the most at-risk situations – balls hit that much harder, at or near 100 mph.

Physics professor and baseball fan Alan Nathan tweeted out some interesting information yesterday. Using Hit fx data obtained from Sportvision, he learned most of the “catastrophic” comebackers left the bat at or near 115 mph, meaning they got to the mound travelling nearly 100 miles per hour.

These helmets aren’t rated to protect the head at these extreme speeds, though it these extreme speeds that produce the most injuries as the reaction time simply isn’t sufficient for pitchers to get out of the way.

In this situation, there is no sense letting the imperfect be an enemy to the good. This is a positive step in a safer direction. There are improvements to make in both directions. The helmets will become less bulky, hot, and uncomfortable while providing more protection against the most extreme velocities and dangerous situations.

Athletes aren’t quite wired like you and I. Expecting them to embrace this change and ignore the risks denies the very impulses that allows them to scale the top of the pro athlete peak. If you spend too much worrying about the odds against you, it makes getting anything accomplished nearly impossible.