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Head Games

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By Phil Hecken

I was originally going to simply post this submission from Paul, who says, “Really good read, from our friends at the HoF,” — Innovations that debuted in Spring Training — in the ticker, but after reading (and re-reading) it, it got me thinking.

First off, it’s a great read — and it particularly focuses on protective head gear developed for (or by) the Brooklyn Dodgers. At first I was expecting the article to focus on several different Spring Training “innovations,” but I believe this is a series focusing on one separate aspect of ST inventions/innovations. If you haven’t already, please take a couple minutes to give the article a read.

My pop (who many of you know grew up a YUGE Brooklyn Dodgers fan) would often regale me with stories of the Dodgers when I was but a pup. He always told me Pete Reiser (mentioned in the article) had his career shortened by running headfirst into outfield brick walls (which was true but he had several injuries, many of which were self-inflicted), but he also suffered from beanings (as did many players back in the day). It’s hard to understate how many players had their careers destroyed or shortened by beanings (including the only on-field death — that of Indians shortstop Ray Chapman) and how crucial the development of protective headgear has been.

The history of headgear in baseball is lengthy, and has ably been documented by Paul, so I won’t repeat any of that history here.

We laugh today at players like Alex Torres and it seems the Boombang protective headgear for pitchers has faded away, but protective headgear back in the 1940s was met with similar disapprobation. Imagine a hitter today coming up without a helmet (and protective ear flap)? Granted, pitchers don’t (and have never) faced the same consistent danger of head injuries that batters do, but several pitchers have been injured, some seriously by taking line drives to the head. Is protective headgear for pitchers really that far off? It’s already available, but very few seem to want to use it. Is it comfort? Machismo? Something else?

Softball pitchers routinely wear masks and other protective gear (and have for some time) and many position players now sport the gear as well. Clearly there is no stigma attached to wearing the protection (or at least there doesn’t appear to be), but yet we haven’t seen this practice adapted (or adopted, I should say) in baseball. Granted, position players (and pitchers) aren’t as “close” to the batter on a regulation size baseball field as they are in softball, but those balls can pack just as deadly a wallop.

No one laughs if a fielder wears a protective cup (though relatively few always do), but other than John Olerud and Dick Allen, I can’t think of very many non-catchers to wear helmets in the field. Facial protection is almost completely unheard of. But the ‘nads…no one laughs if you want to protect them.

When a batter has an injury (even if that injury has healed), we will often see them wearing a plastic guard or a protective cage — and who can forget Dave Parker’s various protective devices? (Once again, Paul has ably documented facial protection, so I won’t repeat any more here).

Injuries (particularly head injuries) will always be a part of baseball, but I’m always quite frankly amazed at how slowly baseball, our National Pastime, has been in embracing the seemingly simple as the protection of the head and brain. And it’s always been this way. We grandfathered in guys who came up to the show not wearing earflaps — I always remember as a kid growing up in the 1970s, when earflaps were just coming into vogue, none of my heroes wore helmets with the added protection. In little league, those big, awful double-flap jobs with shitty styrofoam padding were mandatory, and no one wanted to wear them. I even had my pop go to Herman’s Sporting Goods and buy me a “professional” helmet (with approved padding) but no flaps, which I tried to wear in a Little League game. No dice. And thankfully so. I was never beaned in the ear, but I did once foul a ball into my helmet and it struck the earflap. I was thankful then to have the added protection. But the point is I didn’t want to wear the helmet because none of my idols did. Today, every player must wear a helmet with an earflap (and I won’t be too surprised when the double flap becomes first de rigueur and then mandatory, within a very short period of time).

Back to the featured article. It’s well worth the read. And it points out how important this bit of Spring Training “innovation” evolved into arguably the most important safety feature in the game today. And it all started because management was as concerned about the overall health of their players as they “wanted (their) player investment protected with skull insurance.” Sometimes money is at the root of it all, but in the end, (eventually) getting all players to wear protective headgear has been well worth the investment. For everyone.

Has there been a more important safety feature in baseball besides the evolution of (and mandatory use of) protective head gear for the batter? I would argue there is not. We can thank the Brooklyn Dodgers and their spring in Havana in 1941 for at least helping to bring this about.


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In Case You Missed It…

…NEW USA Jersey (and Cap) Redesign Contest

jersey contest usa

It’s time for the USA Baseball team to get new jerseys (and caps, too!), so we’re hosting a design contest — all the details are in this post. You’ll be sending your designs to me ( and the deadline for submissions is FRIDAY (March 17th, Midnight Eastern).

You know what to do.

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Your Friendly Reminder…

Spring Forward

Most of you (likely) have devices (phones, clocks, dvr’s, etc.) that will automatically “Spring Forward” for Daylight Saving Time — remember there is no “S” at the end of “saving” — as a local television ad for a mattress company once said, “Leave off the last ‘S’ for saving!”, a good reminder that we’re now in the good time of the year.

Despite the fact that it takes my old bones a good two weeks to make up that hour of “lost” sleep, there is nothing better than DST. Living in the eastern end of my time zone, I greatly appreciate the “extra” hour of daylight we’re afforded for the next six-ish months. Yes, I get that those of you who live in the western end of your time zones probably have no use for it (and yes, if you’re an early riser, you probably will wake up in darkness), but there’s nothing better than being able to do something outdoors after work (or after supper as we hit summer). We can’t really do that in the eastern end of the time zone.

So, in case you own some devices (analog/battery operated clock, watch, car radio, etc.) that don’t automatically “spring” ahead for you — and you haven’t already done it — now’s the time to adjust your time-keeping devices to Daylight Saving Time.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

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Uni Watch News Ticker
By Phil

Baseball News: Here’s a look we don’t see everyday (or really at all in baseball): Cubs pitcher David Berg is wearing number 00 in spring training action against the Mariners (from Patrick O’Neill). … I don’t normally ticker color vs. color ST games (since they’re basically all color vs. color), but there was a nice Hallowe’en theme going on yesterday between Balto and Pitt (from Andrew Cosentino). … Our pal Tyler Kepner found a copy of this 1993 Marlins media guide, and noticed the striking similarity of the player depicted on the cover to a certain Detroit Tigers shortstop (and famous double play partner of Lou Whitaker). “They can make him left-handed and turn him upside down, but they’re not fooling me,” he says. … MURICA! #1: Last night’s starting pitcher for the US, Marcus Stroman, had his cleats decked out in a USA flag design (from John Mac). Here are additional looks from Funhouse. … Here’s a great photo of Waller Irvin & Emmett Parker, African American trainers for the NY Giants, who are posing at Spring Training in San Antonio in 1923 (from Bruce Menard). … Wesleyan (CT) & Yale played a 150th Anniversary baseball game last season with AMAZING throwback unis! (from Louise Brooks Fan Club). More here. … Here’s a good shot of Wichita State wearing another great example of UA’s faux-wool template (via Chase Tettleton). … Very strong stirrup game for the Washington State Cougars yesterday, who were also breaking out their alternate crimson jerseys for the first time (from Alex Allen). … Eric Thames of the Brewers was sporting some pretty good body armor yesterday (from Peter Smith). … Dominican Republic players have been sporting a black memorial band on their sleeves. JJ believes it’s a tribute to “Ace” Ventura (the memorial band has also been worn by Royals players of different nationalities). … Venezuela has worn the same (blue) jersey for both “home” and “road” games — the road paired with dark gray pants looks so much worse than it does when paired with the white “home” pants (pics from Funhouse). This disparity was also noted by Carmello Kibblehouse. … Bowling Green and Okie State went charcoal vs black yesterday, and it was not a good look (from Alex Hider). … It looks like Mexico is refusing to wear the Majestic jerseys prepared for them for the WBC. They wore their green tops Friday (notice the pit stains) and their white tops last night (no contrasting sleeves and pit stains). … Our own Jimmer Vilk is not the only one to rank the WBC uniforms (but we do it better).

NFL News: Not much news on the gridiron these days, but there was this: Receiver DeSean Jackson is getting more than $11 million per year from the Buccaneers. He’s also getting No. 11. Bucs wideout Adam Humphries said via Twitter that he and Jackson have “come to terms,” and that Humphries will surrender No. 11 to Jackson. Humphries will instead wear No. 10 (from Brinke, via Paul). … “Shades of Walter Payton!” exclaims Alex Allen. “Roos are back at a Payless Shoe Store in Springfield, Oregon.

Hockey News: Reader Dustin Semore writes, “This was the first NCAA hockey game I’ve gotten to see on ESPN. The scoreboard/social media personnel with a nice homage to John Buccigross’s famous pronunciation of Cawlidge Hawkey.” … “I found the captains “C” interesting on these (high school hockey) uniforms,” says Chad Kaddatz. “This is the Monticello-Annandale-Maple Lake (MAML) Moose in the Minnesota state Class A championship game. The antler theme is unique.” … “Cool pirate-themed Canes shirt,” says Louise Brooks Fan Club. “Is it just me or does Justin Faulk look a lot like rock star Dave Grohl?” … Erik Kissel says “it bugs me that the US U18 teams banners are not in chronological order.” … Whoops — looks like the Flyers are using the old Bruins logo (from Fitzy Mo Peña). … Speaking of the Broons, they warmed up last night rocking some St. Paddy’s Day sweaters (from James Beattie).

NBA/College/Basketball News: Yesterday’s ticker included this item: Whoa! “A great high school basketball uniform,” says Paul Hill “Check the socks. The school is in Hobart Indiana, from 1969. The team nickname is the ”˜Brickies’, hence the brick pattern on the socks.” Paul followed up today with this, “Thanks for posting that high school basketball photo of the Hobart Brickies on Saturday. Failed to mention the team name “Brickies” came from the 1920’s when most school athletes worked after school at the town brickyard.” … Michigan (who now have their regular unis) and Minnesota had a nice color vs. color game yesterday (from Andrew Cosentino). … Also from Andrew, the MEAC Championship also featured a color vs color match-up: Norfolk State vs NC Central. … We don’t just do jersey tracking on Uni Watch (or just for baseball) — someone has broken down the Thunder’s win/loss record by jersey. … Oops, the Mavericks’ Dorian Finney-Smith almost wore Yogi Ferrell’s No. 11 instead of a Finney-Smith No. 10 jersey last evening. … A Cloverdale (HS) hoops player has committed to Butler, so he wore Butler-themed socks in his HS tourney game (from Indiana Hoops). … I’m sure there’s an explanation but Centerville’s shooting shirts have their school name upside down (from Ole DMH). … “Couldn’t finish the Big East Tournament without tweeting these awesome jackets,” says Shlomo Sprung. Yes, I’d wear those. … Chris Lather says “I love the use of the state on @NevadaHoops jerseys. Simple, well placed representation.” Agreed. … Duke (in BFBS) and Notre Dame went color vs. color yesterday (from Brandon Long). Here’s another look (from Patrick Wright). … “I was at the Bucks-Pacers game in Milwaukee Friday night and during one of the time-outs the Bucks’ dunk team took the floor in Bucks jerseys, shorts etc.” says Andrew Beckman. “Nearly all of the dunk team had random non-roster numbers except for one who was wearing #32 with NOB ‘Stylz’. This struck me as inappropriate as that jersey number is retired for Bucks guard Brian Winters and hangs proudly from the Bradley Center’s rafters. I’d have less of an issue with it if he was wearing it with Winters’ NOB as a tribute, but would not be 100% comfortable with that. Thoughts?” … “I don’t recall ever seeing a logo at midcourt that stated the number of years a tournament has been played at that venue,” says David Westfall of the Southland Championship between Texas A&M Corpus Christi and New Orleans.

Soccer News: The Tampa Bay Rowdies turned their pitch into a giant “#MLS2StPete” billboard for aerial coverage of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which is taking place this weekend (great find from Mike Nessen).

Grab Bag: “I have recently come across the website and I am a huge fan!” says Baylor Watts. “I was a baseball player for the majority of my childhood and I loved it (Although I never admitted to myself that I was really just joining teams for the jerseys/logos), but now I am 18 and I am mostly just designing baseball and ultimate jerseys for my school. I do play ultimate though, and, being who I am/who we are, I have done my share of inspecting all the various kits of the Ultimate frisbee world. I urge you to check them out. Most of them are kind of very ugly, but there are some diamonds in the rough. My faves are probably Seattle Cascades, Madison Radicals and Montreal Royal. You’ll have to look around for the worst. They’re out there.” … Got a nice one from our old pal Leo Strawn, Jr.: Boots worn down under in AFL have been becoming increasingly garish for some time with lots of neon that usually doesn’t match the rest of the kit and lots of two-toned boots. During Friday night’s preseason match v Brisbane, I saw that Josh Jenkins of the Crows has taken that “notice my boots” trend to a whole new level. I didn’t realize at the time but apparently he’s been sporting this look at least since last season.

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And that’s it for today. Hope everyone doesn’t take two weeks (like me) to adjust to Daylight Saving Time — and that you all have a great week. Pray for the Northeast as we begin to hunker down for Snowmageddon 2017, heading our way on Tuesday. And don’t forget to send in those Redesign The USA jersey (and cap) contest entries!

I’ll catch you next weekend, but until then…

Follow me on Twitter @PhilHecken.


.. … ..

“I love the China unis, but, dude, ketchup does NOT go well on a hot dog, with mustard or anything else. ;)”

— Jon Rose

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15 comments to Head Games

  • Wade Heidt | March 12, 2017 at 9:18 am |

    I would agree that Bucks officials dropped the ball on that. A lack of attention to detail on someone’s part. “Stylz” needs to wear a different number and not one that is retired. It does come across disrespectful even if it was not intended to be.

  • Julie | March 12, 2017 at 9:55 am |

    I moved into the western edge of the Eastern Time zone 3 years ago and I love the long days of daylight ’til 9pm in the summer! Even winter doesn’t seem as ‘cold, dark and scary’ by 5pm like my days of growing up in the Chicago area. Of course, winter isn’t every really ‘cold’ down here in Atlanta.

    • Jon Rose | March 12, 2017 at 1:04 pm |

      My goal is to someday move to the Pacific time zone, just so that I can be awake for the end of sporting events that are played in the Eastern time zone.

  • James | March 12, 2017 at 10:16 am |

    I think mandatory head protection for pitchers will be a bottom-up evolution. First it will be mandatory in little league, then high school, American Legion, and NCAA. Then minor leagues will adopt the rule before it gets into majors.

    Somebody, anybody, remind me here how protective gear is handled in collective bargaining agreements (CBAs)?

    • scott | March 12, 2017 at 10:59 am |

      Possibly it will be a bottom-up evolution. But the biggest problem in developing protective headgear for pitchers is the weight pitchers can bear while still effectively throwing the ball. Minimizing this weight and discomfort issue, it seems, will take high-tech solutions – and those solutions will be costly.

  • Joe | March 12, 2017 at 11:04 am |

    Forgot to bring this up yesterday, but do you know that MLB/Fanactics has a t-shirt club? It is all determined by how much you want to spend. They are supposed to be exclusive designs and you pick the team for the subscription. All the shirts are made out of recycled materials and come shipped in a box resembling home plate. The largest package, which is $240, includes a hoody in its final mailing.

  • MJ | March 12, 2017 at 11:12 am |

    It shouldn’t take you more than a day or two to adjust to Daylight Savings Time. You’ll account for the lost hour soon enough.

    • mild bill | March 12, 2017 at 11:47 am |

      Phil is going to hammer you for not dropping the “S” at the end of “saving.”

  • Rick | March 12, 2017 at 1:53 pm |

    I saw that the Dominican Republic team also had Ventura and Marte DR jerseys in dugout at one game. The black band was on other a few players from other teams.

  • Joel Reagan | March 12, 2017 at 2:21 pm |

    Yeah, no one in Oklahoma refers to Oklahoma State as “Okie State.”

  • Kyle | March 12, 2017 at 3:04 pm |

    I <3 Lou and Tram

  • Jim Vilk | March 12, 2017 at 10:50 pm |

    Maybe it’s because my depth perception isn’t that great…I just never understood the whole tough-guy reluctance to wear protective headgear. Even in my slow pitch softball days, this lefty batter would’ve worn a double flap helmet if we had one.

    Always nice to see some Ultimate in the ticker. I don’t necessarily want it to go big time, but I’d like to see it on TV.

  • Mark in Shiga | March 13, 2017 at 5:49 am |

    I wonder if David Berg chose number 00 for the Cubs, or if it was given to him as an emergency jersey. The ST jerseys for the Cubs are in that one-layer style with NOBs, and there are a bunch of jerseys with numbers all the way at the end, after all the roster and non-roster players, in the 80s and 90s without NOBs that you see used for sudden additions to the roster. If 00 is one of those, maybe it’s being viewed as coming at the very end, like 100 with the 1 lopped off. But I hope he’s choosing it for himself because there aren’t enough players wearing 0 and 00 in the majors.

  • Morgan Doninger | March 13, 2017 at 7:56 am |

    Great article for the lede.

  • Derek | March 13, 2017 at 10:29 pm |

    Just a minor technicality: the Bowling Green vs. Okie State, Charcoal vs. Black was Softball, not Baseball as the category states.