Voila_Capture1058I was 12-years-old in 1995 when Norm Charlton got hit in the head with a line drive at Veterans Stadium. He wasn’t very good that year and all throughout his appearance that night – from the time he left the bullpen to the time he stumbled off the field with blood dripping down his face – pre-pubescent me was all over him: You stink! Go back to Cincinnati! When will I touch a boob?!

When he got hit, as a hush fell over the whole stadium: I TOLD YOU YOU SHOULD’VE GONE BACK TO CINCINNATI!

The guy in front of me turned around and looked at me, and then my Dad, with what can only be described as extreme condemnation. I was an asshole even at 12.

Truth is, I was too young to realize how dangerous such a thing could be. I was used to seeing big hits in football, bloody fights in hockey, and bone-jarring collisions at home plate. But now, 19 years later, the world is more aware and conscious of the dangers of head injuries in sports. The conversation started with football, then moved to hockey, and now has turned towards baseball. Pitchers, in particular.

Today, Major League Baseball approved the use of experimental padded caps for pitchers, according to an Outside The Lines report:

“We’re excited to have a product that meets our safety criteria,” Halem told Outside the Lines, adding that baseball will continue its efforts to come up with more options. “MLB is committed to working with manufacturers to develop products that offer maximum protection to our players, and we’re not stopping at all.”

Halem and MLB senior counsel for labor relations Patrick Houlihan said the threshold for approval was that the cap had to provide protection, at 83 miles per hour, below the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) standard severity index of 1,200. Severity indexes higher than 1,200 are considered high-risk for skull fractures and traumatic brain injuries. An MLB-commissioned study determined that 83 mph is the average speed of a line drive when it reaches the area of the pitching mound.

The newly approved caps, manufactured by 4Licensing Corporation subsidiary isoBlox, will be made available to pitchers for spring training next month. Their use is optional.

The hat shown here is a prototype from Unequal Technology. We’ve talked about them quite a bit on this site— they partner with the NFL, and specifically Michael Vick, to protect players against concussions and rib injuries. From the looks of this prototype and others shown in the Outside The Lines report, the caps will be significantly less awkward than those giant David Wright helmets, which is a good thing.