It was a stunned sort of quiet that fell over Yankee Stadium on May 29, 2010. Alex Rodriguez had just doubled to right field, Nick Swisher was rounding third base, and Indians starter David Huff was lying face down on top of the mound.
Rodriguez’s line drive had hit off Huff’s head, ricocheted over the right side of the infield, and carried on the fly into the outfield toward the right-field line. As soon as Rodriguez got to second base, he put his hands on his head, took off his helmet, and took a knee.
“Your heart stops,” Rodriguez said that day. “You want so badly to take it back. You’re scared. You think of him. You think of his family. You think of a million other places that the ball could have gone other than where it did. Why there?”
On Tuesday, Major League Baseball took a step toward protecting other pitchers from that exact same situation.
The league has approved the use of a padded, protective cap for pitchers. No one will be required to wear it – not in the Majors or the minors – but players will be allowed to test out the new technology during spring training. They can wear it during the season if they’d like to do so.
“We talked to a lot of guys who had been through this, and they provided a wealth of information to help us,” Bruce Foster, CEO of the 4Licensing Corporation, told The Associated Press. “We went through a myriad of different designs to develop this.”
The approved cap is called IsoBLOX. It’s made with safety plates sewn into the hats. The finished product weighs six to seven ounces more than normal caps. They’re also roughly a half-inch thicker in the front about an inch thicker on the sides.
That sort of slightly awkward design might make pitchers hesitant to use the new caps. When larger protective batting helmets became available, few hitters embraced the new helmets because they felt and looked awkward. That said, pitchers being hit by comebackers has become a much-more talked about problem than hitters being drilled in the head.
Toronto starter J.A. Happ and Tampa Bay starter Alex Cobb were hit in the head last year, and Tigers starter Doug Fister took a line drive to the head during the 2012 World Series. It was also in 2012 that A’s starter Brandon McCarthy was hit in the head by a line drive. He eventually required surgery for a fractured skull, a brain contusion and bleeding within the head.
“I mean, we’re playing a game,” Rodriguez said on the day his line drive flattened future-teammate Huff. “I know it’s a business too, but for all of us, playing it should always be a game first. When something like that happens right in front of your eyes it makes you think long and hard about things much bigger than throwing or hitting a baseball or running around the bases for a few hours a day.”
Associated Press photos