(What follows is an excerpt of a column written exclusively for Concussion Litigation Reporter by Jordan Kobritz, a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner as well as a Professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland. To view the entire article, subscribe to CLR.)
San Diego Padres pitcher Alex Torres wasn’t trying to make a fashion statement, he was merely trying to protect his head. Torres, a 26-year old lefthander from Venezuela, became the first MLB pitcher to wear a protective cap in a game when he was summoned from the bullpen in the eighth inning of the June 21 game against the Dodgers.
The cap is arguably the ugliest item of clothing ever worn on a baseball diamond. A close second might be the softball-style uniforms worn by the Oakland A’s during the 1970’s at the insistence of their maverick owner, Charles Finley. The new headwear is fitted with energy-diffusing protective plates that create bulges around the sides and front of the cap. Not surprisingly, it’s also heavier than the normal baseball cap, adding seven ounces to the normal 3-4 ounce cap. It looks awkward, but its looks are no more awkward than its name: isoBLOX, manufactured by the company of the same name. The company says the cap can absorb impacts up to 90 miles per hour in the front, and up to 85 miles an hour on the sides.
No sooner had Torres taken the mound then social media erupted with comments, most of them negative and some downright derogatory. Players, commentators, fans and even Torres’ wife mocked him for donning the cap. Padres’ announcer Dick Enberg said the cap “didn’t look sexy,” to which Torres responded, “”Timeout, who the hell cares if it doesn’t look sexy?” For Torres, the cap was all about safety, and with good reason. Every time a pitcher takes the mound, he puts his career – indeed his life – in jeopardy.
While the so-called contact sports – football and hockey – have monopolized the headlines when it comes to concussions, baseball is not immune to such injuries. Concussions are a growing concern in MLB, as evidenced by the fact that a specific rule was instituted in 2011 which allows teams to place players on a seven-day concussion DL (Disabled List). Catchers are particularly at risk, despite their extra padding and protective headgear. In the 2013 season, 18 DL moves were related to concussions, up from a total of 13 in 2012 and 11 in 2011. Ten of the 18 moves involved catchers, including Boston Red Sox catcher David Ross twice. Those numbers pale in comparison to the numbers in the NFL – 190 in 2011 – but every concussion injury should be cause for concern.