A Repeat of History

Muder_90By Craig Muder

In a game that has known more than 140 professional seasons, there’s not much new under the sun.

Take the latest issue involving player safety in baseball: The suggestion that pitchers be mandated to wear padded caps on the mound to avoid injuries like the A’s Brandon McCarthy suffered last September when he was struck in the head by a line drive.

MLB said Friday that no such cap would be approved by Opening Day, though testing on many prototypes continues.

Meanwhile, McCarthy – who bounced back following emergency brain surgery to sign a two-year deal with the Diamondbacks this offseason – says the safety caps available now are not workable.

MLB first mandated the use of protective helmets in the late 1950's. Here is a helmet worn by Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner.

MLB first mandated the use of protective helmets in the late 1950′s. Here is a helmet worn by Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner.

Sounds a lot like the controversy that swirled around baseball in 1940, when the debate over batting helmets came to a boil. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Library contains a file on that topic, with letters to and from American League President and future Hall of Famer Will Harridge on the subject. Harridge communicated with journalists and sporting goods manufacturers about the controversy, which began to rise when Philadelphia A’s shortstop Skeeter Newsome was beaned during an in-season exhibition game in 1937.

Newsome wore a cap with reinforced padding upon his return, and Harridge supported the idea of having “each club or the players to determine their own course.” But National League President Ford Frick came out that summer in favor of mandatory helmet wear.

Most players and managers, however, did not support the idea.

“(The helmets) might be all right if they get a good one,” said Cardinals outfielder Terry Moore at that summer’s All-Star Game in St. Louis. Moore was reportedly the only National League All-Star who was even willing to try on a helmet prototype for photo purposes.

The idea, however, caught on – with teams adopting helmets voluntarily throughout the 1940s and 1950s until both leagues adopted mandatory use in the late 1950s.

What will become of the padded-cap-for-pitchers idea? Time will tell… and when it does, that history will be recorded in Cooperstown.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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