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.

Comments (4)

  1. as someone that is completely uninformed on this topic, i can say that ‘rated for XX’ stats can be a little misleading sometimes.

    I once worked for a ladder company, and the regulated ratings that companies have to give their ladders are normally 1/3 of what the ladder can actually handle. Example, a ladder that is rated the second highest rating will state something like 300lbs as its max capacity, but in reality that ladder can hold something like 900 lbs. It’s just a way for regulatory bodies to be extra, extra, extra sure that the ladder will hold what is says it does and buyers won’t sue.

    Not saying these helmets follow the same strictly regulated ratings approach, but something that’s rated in the 85-90 mph range may Actually stop something well in excess of 100mph…the manufacturer just doesn’t want to get their pants sued off when someone takes a come backer off the noggin at the helmet’s peak rating threshold, then due to some one-off manufacturing defect the guy gets a brain hemorrhage and sues. By setting the rating well below the helmet’s actual threshold, the risk of a defect compromising the helmet’s integrity below that threshold is much less.

    Essentially…the reason these helmet’s can’t stop a 115 mph come backer may have less to do with the technology and more to do with the manufacturers and regulatory bodies not wanting to be sued…

    then again, i’m using a ladder analogy to opine on pitcher’s helmets…so what do i know…

    • This is entirely plausible, thanks for the insight.

      • I`m also someone in the safety field…that`s pretty much how it works. When something states can take X amount of power/damage…that`s the maximum INSURABLE amount…not the actual amount of power/damage it can take. As one of my trainers stated, those numbers are written by the lawyers, not by the designers.

        • This is very much true, but I’m not certain that speed ratings are the same as load ratings. As someone in engineering, I can say for a fact that all load bearing ratings are below the actual strutral limit. This is because the change of people actually reading and following a load rating is next to zero. We need to save our asses so people don’t get hurt.

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