MLB pitchers might try safety hat liners next year

Big league pitchers could experiment with protective hat liners

next season, hoping they can absorb the shock of batted balls such

as the ones that struck Brandon McCarthy and Doug Fister in the

head.

Major League Baseball medical director Dr. Gary Green presented

ideas to executives, physicians and trainers at the winter meetings

this week. Among the prototypes being studied is headgear made of

Kevlar, the high-impact material used by the military and law

enforcement and NFL players for body armor.

The liners, weighing perhaps five ounces or less, would go under

a pitcher’s cap and help protect against line drives that often

travel over 100 mph.

MLB could implement the safety change in the minor leagues, as

it did a few seasons ago with batting helmets, but would require

the approval of the players’ union to make big leaguers wear

them.

”We’re not going to force them on anyone,” MLB senior vice

president Dan Halem said Monday. ”We’d like to come up with a

product or two, test it thoroughly with an independent laboratory

and see if players are comfortable wearing them on an optional

basis.”

Halem had said baseball already was looking at options when

McCarthy was hit in the head by a line drive in September. The

Oakland pitcher was hospitalized with a skull fracture and brain

contusion.

Fister was hit in the head by a liner in Game 2 of the World

Series. The ball flew 150 feet into center field and, after Fister

was examined by a Detroit trainer, he stayed in for several more

innings against San Francisco.

Major league general managers discussed the issue during their

meetings last month in California. Players’ union chief Michael

Weiner said there have been preliminary talks with MLB, and said

the sides usually come together on safety concerns.

Many youth leagues mandate that pitchers wear helmets. Getting

major league pitchers to try something may take time – finding the

right comfort, fit and feel isn’t easy.

”We might roll out something and have to tweak it a few

times,” Halem said.

Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro pitched against sluggers Willie

Mays, Johnny Bench and Willie Stargell for years, and wishes there

had been a similar product in his days.

”You wonder how guys don’t get hit in the head more often,” he

said Monday. ”That ball coming back at you, a lot of times you

have no chance.”

”I don’t see how pitchers would like wearing something like

that,” he said. ”If they make it a rule, maybe they’ll have to.

But I would guess that after some experimenting, they’ll figure it

out.”