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FILE - In this Sept. 5, 2012, file hoto, Oakland Athletics catcher Derek Norris, left, comes to the aid of pitcher Brandon McCarthy (32) who was hit in the head by a ball hit by Los Angeles Angels' Erick Aybar in the fourth inning of a baseball game in Oakland, Calif. Major League Baseball has approved a protective cap for pitchers, hoping to reduce the effects of being hit in the head by line drives. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)
MLB OKs protective cap for pitchers, fit for camp
First Published Jan 28 2014 09:23 am • Last Updated Jan 28 2014 11:54 pm

New York • Big league pitchers might feel safer on the mound this season.

Major League Baseball has approved a protective cap for pitchers, hoping to reduce the damage from line drives to head that have brought some terrifying and bloody scenes in the last few years.

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The heavier and bigger new hat was introduced Tuesday and will be available for testing during spring training on a voluntary basis. Major leaguers and minor leaguers won’t be required to wear it — comfort is likely to be a primary concern.

"Obviously, it’d be a change," two-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers told the MLB Network. "I’m definitely not opposed to it."

"I think it’d take a lot of getting used to," he said. "You don’t look very cool, I’ll be honest."

The safety plates made by isoBLOX are sewn into the hat and custom fitted. They weigh an extra six to seven ounces — a baseball weighs about five ounces, by comparison — and offer protection to the forehead, temples and sides of the head. They’ll make the hats about a half-inch thicker in the front and around an inch wider on the sides.

Several pitchers have been hit in the head by line drives in the recent seasons. Brandon McCarthy sustained a brain contusion and skull fracture after being struck in 2012 and Doug Fister was hit during the World Series that October.

Toronto’s J.A. Happ and Toronto’s Alex Cobb were sidelined after being hit last year.

McCarthy tweeted that he had already tried out the fortified cap and that it was "headed in right direction but not game ready."

Said star closer Grant Balfour: "I am always appreciative of anything that will make the game safer. That being said, I may try it. Just not sure yet until I see it. Has to fit with a cap and be comfortable."


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"We talked to a lot of guys who had been through this, and they provided a wealth of information to help us," said Bruce Foster, CEO of the 4Licensing Corporation, parent company of isoBLOX. "We went through a myriad of different designs to develop this."

Foster said the cap went through extensive testing and provided protection from line drives up to 90 mph in the front of the head and 85 mph on the side.

Line drives in the majors have been clocked at even faster rates.

While the hat is "slightly bigger" than a regular baseball cap, Foster said: "It’s not going to be a Gazoo hat."

Several years ago, MLB introduced larger batting helmets that offered increased safety. But big leaguers mostly rejected them, saying they looked funny and made them resemble the Great Gazoo, a character on the "The Flintstones" cartoon series.

In recent seasons, pitchers have said they would try padded caps, provided they weren’t too cumbersome.

"You see guys get hit with line drives. I know in the last couple of years there have been several of them. So it happens. You want to be wary of it," All-Star closer Glen Perkins of the Minnesota Twins said. "Player safety is important. I think finding a solution is good."

"But by the sounds of what they have, I don’t know if that’s entirely feasible to go out there with basically a helmet on your head and pitch. Without seeing it or trying it on, I hate to make a blanket judgment. But just thinking out loud, that seems a little bit much. Just the bulkiness," he said.

In December 2012, MLB medical director Dr. Gary Green presented ideas on protective headgear to executives, doctors and trainers. The prototypes under study included some made of Kevlar, the high-impact material often worn by military and law enforcement and NFL players for body armor.

Several companies tried without success to make a product that would be approved by MLB and the players’ union. While isoBLOX was first to get the OK, other firms still might submit proposals.

Foster said the cap’s design diffuses the impact of being hit, rather than only absorbing the shock. The technology will be available on the retail market for ballplayers of all ages in a form of a skull cap.

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