Best Catchers Helmets: A Brief History
The first baseball helmets were made from leather and wood, which was very uncomfortable for players. Later, they were made out of metal, but it wasn’t until the late 1800′s when the first steel ballparks came into existence.
The earliest steel ballparks had wooden benches with no padding or protection whatsoever; these early steel stadiums caused many injuries to players due to their lack of safety features. Baseball was still played at wooden ballparks until the 1920′s, when the first concrete ballparks were built. These new steel ballparks provided better protection for players and increased attendance.
In 1922, Major League Baseball (MLB) began requiring that all teams wear protective equipment while playing games. The first rule change required that each team must have one player who could throw a hard curveball.
The next rule change mandated that all pitchers must wear visors. Finally, in 1925, the league required that all players wear batting helmets.
By 1930, every major American professional sports league had adopted some form of protective equipment for its athletes. However, baseball remained the only sport where players did not need any sort of protection during play.
In fact, baseball was the only sport where players wore nothing except white cotton shirts and black pants!
In the early 1930’s, several major league baseball players began experimenting with plastic helmets to protect themselves from crashing into outfield fences and concrete dugouts. Although the helmets were hard plastic and offered protection from abrasions and lacerations, they would not prevent skull fractures or head concussions.
During the 1935 MLB All Star game, Washington Senators third-baseman Skeeter Webb was hit by a pitch above the left eye and knocked unconscious for ten minutes. He was taken to the hospital, but he died two days later from head injuries.
Webb was the first baseball player to ever die from an on-field injury.
The year after Webb’s death, a professional golfer named Cesare Santora was accidentally shot in the forehead during the Philadelphia Open Championship. He was taken to the hospital and died from his injury.
During that same year, a college football player named Harold “Half-Back” McNeal died from an injury suffered on the field. Within three years, three professional athletes had died as a result of head injuries. All three deaths were widely publicized and shocked the American public. Head injuries and the protection of the brain became a major talking point in sport that year.
In 1939, the hard-plastic helmet was finally perfected for use in sports. Although several professional athletes began using the new helmets, many baseball purists believed they would affect the game’s aesthetic value.
“If baseball is only a bunch of robots going out to play, then the game is lost much of its appeal,” said President and General Manager of the Cleveland Indians Kenneth William Jennings.
“I think everyone realizes that these helmets are necessary for safety, but I think it can be said that the less protection you have on, the faster you can run,” Washington Senators’ player Buddy Myer said.
Several prominent baseball players, such as Detroit Tigers pitcher Bobo Newsom and Chicago White Sox catcher Moe Berg, refused to wear helmets. Several others accepted the new technology grudgingly.
“They told us it was compulsory to wear these protective helmets, but they didn’t tell us why,” one-time New York Giants shortstop Red Causey said after his retirement. “I found out later it was because two football players had gotten their heads split open and died.”
Despite the protests of players and fans, protective helmets spread to other sports — and to baseball players themselves. In 1945, the New York Yankees’ Ed Barrow became the first manager to make helmet use mandatory.
“I don’t know why people are making such a big deal out of this,” he said. “All of our guys were wearing them in the dugout anyway.”
The first documented instance of a major-league baseball helmet saving a life occurred in 1954, when Bill Tuttle’s helmet took a line drive off the side of the head. The force of the ball knocked him unconscious and he was taken to the hospital.
Although the impact broke Tuttle’s cheekbone and tore a muscle in his face, he recovered from his injury. He credited the helmet with saving his life.
In 1968, Washington Senators outfielder Dean Stone crashed into an unpadded railing while making a catch. The metal beam hit him in the temple, causing an injury so severe that he was taken to the hospital in a coma.
Sources & references used in this article:
Protective sports helmet having a two-piece face cage by RJ Brown – US Patent 6,938,272, 2005 – Google Patents
Catcher’s helmet by C Warmouth, LA VanHoutin, VR Long… – US Patent …, 2017 – Google Patents
Face guard for football helmet by DC Humphrey – US Patent 3,139,624, 1964 – Google Patents
Protective head gear by C Hale – US Patent 3,732,574, 1973 – Google Patents
Protective helmet by M Bryant, J Vozzo – US Patent 8,176,574, 2012 – Google Patents
Helmet having a crown shielding device by MT Marietta – US Patent 3,111,674, 1963 – Google Patents
Soft chest protector by B Best, B Jourde – US Patent App. 29/396,572, 2012 – Google Patents
Integrated pump mechanism and inflatable liner for protective by N Kraemer, R Infusino – US Patent 5,263,203, 1993 – Google Patents