Baseball may not be considered as a heavily physical sport where a rough-and-tumble interaction is normally seen, such as you would in basketball or football. But it doesn’t mean that, as a baseball player, you are exempt from accidents and injuries especially with a very hard ball flying around. You still run the risk of getting hit by the ball, or accidentally struck by a bat in full swing.
Aside from the standard baseball uniform and glove, there is also baseball protective gear to minimize the risk of injuries. The following is a general guide about baseball protective gear that you should know about.
The Different Types of Baseball Protective Gear
1. Catcher’s gear
The job of a catcher is far from an easy one. First of all, the catcher has to squat behind the home plate when a batter takes his turn to hit and receives the ball from the pitcher. If the batter fails to hit the ball, the catcher gets it and throws it back to the pitcher.
Not to mention that the catcher’s position is dangerous – literally, he puts his body on the line. Errant pitches, flying bats – those are sources of pain and agony for all catchers. That’s why every catcher is required to wear a full catcher gear at all times during a game. It is likened to wearing a full armor for some big battle (and in a way, it is). The primary purpose of the catcher’s gear is to protect the catcher from injury caused by a baseball (or softball). The catcher’s gear consists of many components:
Chest protector – It is designed to protect the catcher’s chest, shoulders, collarbone, stomach and ribs from injury due to the ball’s impact. The chest protector is always padded.
Mask – Arguably, the mask is the most important piece of catcher gear equipment. It protects the catcher’s head, face, jaw as well as the back of his head. The wires on the front allows the catcher to see through, at the same time providing protection to his face.
Catcher’s mitt – Since the role of the catcher is to catch fast pitches, a catcher’s mitt is also an essential component of the gear. The catcher’s mitt is specifically designed to withstand the impact of the fast pitches as it consists of a very thick padding and a “pocket” on the glove.
Leg guards – Leg guards are designed to protect the catcher’s legs, knees, shins, ankles and feet from injury. They also provide additional relief from the discomfort caused by moving from the crouching to blocking position during the game. Leg guards typically have straps and should be worn along with pants, not shorts.
Cup – it is worn under the uniform to lessen the risk of serious injury in case the errant pitch hits the groin area.
2. Batter’s helmet
A batter’s helmet is also required by baseball rules. It is meant to protect the batter’s head from injuries caused by unintentional “wild” pitches from the pitcher. The helmet must be worn by the team on the offensive whenever they’re outside the dugout. In amateur baseball, if a player needs to coach first base he is always required to wear the batter’s helmet, unlike the coaches. Some helmets come with built in face protectors as well.
3. Leg guard
This leg guard is worn by the batter. Unlike the leg guard worn by catchers, this particular leg guard for batters or hitters is not required. It goes just above the foot on the bottom of the shin. The purpose of the leg guard is to protect the shin from getting hit from errant pitches or “foul” balls from the pitcher. (the shin is a very painful place to get hit and swells up very easily, can interfere with running and walking – general mobility – if injured)
4. Wrist guard
The wrist guard is worn by the batter. Although it is not required, it is otherwise highly recommended. The wrist guard goes just behind the hand on the lower forearm. The main purpose is to protect the wrist from errant pitches from the pitcher. Due to the ball often having weird movement from the pitcher’s throw, sometimes a hitter can go to swing and the ball will move in at their hands. That’s why the wrist guard can be worn to help prevent a broken bone, thus keeping you in the game.
Sometimes, the pitcher will throw at the hitter, be it accidentally or not, and the hitter cannot get their hands out of the way fast enough. The wrist guard is an immense help in this situation, especially at higher levels of play.
5. Batting gloves
Batting gloves are worn by the batter. It is not also compulsory for the batter to wear these gloves, but they provide great benefits. They protect the hands against friction and blisters as a result from gripping the bat while swinging. Batting gloves also wick out sweat from the hands, therefore giving the batter a better grip on the bat. They also provide a layer of comfort to the hands.
The gloves are also useful if the batter uses a pine tar for a better grip on the bat as it is illegal, especially for the pitcher, to dab pine tar on their bare hands.
History of Protective Gear
Most of the above-mentioned gear equipment came into popular use during the much of the 20th century and the 21st century, with notable exceptions being the batting gloves and the helmet.
Batting helmets came into widespread during the later years of baseball. The first baseball helmet was created in 1905 by inventor Frank Mogridge. Although it was the crude version of the modern baseball helmet, it received a patent No. 780899 for a “head protector.”
Pat Moran, a manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, was the first to issue head protectors on a large scale. He gave his wards hats that were equipped with a cork-based cushion.
But the use of protective headgear for baseball players was still not yet widely adopted. Despite the unfortunate death of Cleveland Indians player Ray Chapman in 1920 after being struck in the head by a pitch, the practice of wearing helmets was still not adopted by Major League Baseball until over three decades later.
The first recorded instance of a helmet used in the game was in 1941 by the Brooklyn Dodgers. This came about because two of their players were hit in the head recently and their manager forced the entire team to wear helmets.
In 1983, another change was made: the hitter’s helmets were required to have a flap that extended down to cover the ear of the hitter that was facing the pitcher. In the same year, it was mandatory for new players ot use a helmet with such a flap. Players can choose to have double earflaps, although it is not compulsory.
The catcher’s gear has been a part of the game since the very beginning. Catcher’s gear is often (and endearingly) called a “tool of ignorance” due to a person willingly putting themselves in such a dangerous position as to require so much protective equipment. The phrase was coined by Herold “Muddy” Ruel, a former MLB star-turned lawyer.
The catcher’s mask was developed in the mid-19th century, during baseball’s infancy. A Harvard student named Fred Thayer is widely credited for creating the first catcher’s mask. In 1876, adapted a fencing mask for James Alexander “Jim” Tyng, who became the first player to wear a catcher’s mask. Thayer patented his invention in 1878. The catcher’s mask caught on quickly among amateur and pro baseball players alike. While wearing the mask, Tyng committed only two errors on a particular match in April 1877.
As for the chest protector, there are a few unverified accounts as to when and how it was first created, as well as who created it. Legend insists that the wife of Detroit Wolverines catcher Charles Bennett sewed a chest pad to protect her husband during matches, sometime in 1883. While other accounts state that catcher James “Deacon” White was the first to wear the chest protector.
Aside from catchers, umpires also had their own vests. “Gray’s Patent Body Protector” became available for $10 in 1891; but it didn’t protect the shoulders which were often the target of nasty foul pitches. In 1903, an inventor named John Gamble updated the vest’s design by adding pads to the shoulder part.
In 1963, another inventor named F. W. Glahe incoroprated flexible material into the chest protector which afforded players more mobility on the field. One of the latest modifications to the vest occurred in 1991 when inventor M. Neuhalfen patented his own design that protected catchers from foul tips going to the upper arms. Today’s chest protectors are typically ribbed, light but equipped with polyfoam which absorbs shocks from the impact of pitching.