When a product is available that MLB thinks will provide protection without getting in the way, it will ask the players’ association for its input.
“I guess you’d have to see some prototypes,” Happ said. “It would be tough.”
In the macho culture of baseball, the adoption of protective gear has been slow. While Cleveland’s Ray Chapman died when he was hit by a pitch in 1920, MLB didn’t make the use of helmets or protective cap inserts mandatory until the National League required them for the 1956 season. Helmets weren’t required until the 1971 season and, even then, they weren’t mandatory for players already in the big leagues.
An earflap on the side of the head facing the pitcher was required for new players starting in 1983. Stronger and slightly heavier carbon-fiber helmets, the Rawlings S100 Pro Comp, were required starting this year.
“You can’t ask a pitcher to use material that he’s not comfortable with. But I’m hopeful that, much like with batting helmets, we’ll figure something out that both allows the players to play without any obstruction but adds to player safety,” union head Michael Weiner said. “When they get close to something that they think might work, then at that point we’re both going to look at it together.”
Bryce Florie doesn’t see well in his right eye to this day, the result of being struck by a line drive hit by the Yankees’ Ryan Thompson while pitching for Boston in September 2000. Florie returned the following year but ended his career after just seven more big league appearances.
“With the way everything is being condensed, I think it’s inevitable that it’s going to happen, that they’re going to have something in the hat,” Florie said. “You’ll have a hard time to get major leaguers and minor leaguers to say, `OK, Let me try this out.’ Most of them are not going to want to be the first guy. But if you talk to guys like myself and other guys that have been hit, up in the face, in the head, we’ll be, `Like yeah, I’ll do it.’ But then, it’s kind of late.”
Goodall reported from St. Petersburg, Fla., and Blum from New York