On Tuesday morning, Major League Baseball informed the 30 clubs that it has approved a protective cap product for pitchers, the Associated Press has confirmed. William Weinbaum of ESPN first reported the news. The players' union was consulted during the process.
"We're excited to have a product that meets our safety criteria," said MLB executive vice president for labor relations Dan Halem to Weinbaum. "MLB is committed to working with manufacturers to develop products that offer maximum protection to our players, and we're not stopping at all."
The caps, which are manufactured by 4Licensing Corporation, a subsidiary of isoBlox, will be made available to pitchers in spring training and are optional, not required. The cap had to meet National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) standards at 83 mph, which an MLB-run study concluded was the average speed of a line drive when it reached the pitcher's mound.
Here are some more details from Weinbaum:
The company says the caps are a little over half-an-inch thicker in the front and an inch thicker on the sides -- near the temples -- than standard caps, and afford protection for frontal impact locations against line drives of up to 90 mph and for side impact locations at up to 85 mph. The soft padding, isoBlox says, is made of "plastic injection molded polymers combined with a foam substrate" and is designed to diffuse energy upon impact through a combination of dispersion and absorption techniques.
In addition to the added thickness, the padding increases adds seven ounces to the weight of a cap, which currently weighs three-to-four ounces, said Foster. The padding is to be sent to New Era to sew into MLB's official custom-fitted caps.
"What we've given [pitchers] is a product with protection they've never had before. It changes the game for them," said Bruce Foster, CEO of 4Licensing. "Short of wearing a helmet, I am doubtful there'll be a product to protect against 100 mph. Hopefully there will be."
Brandon McCarthy suffered life-threatening brain injuries when he was hit in the head by a line drive during in September 2012. Last year, J.A. Happ and Alex Cobb both missed time after being hit in the head. It's worth noting McCarthy, Happ and Cobb were hit below the cap line, so the new product would not have necessarily helped them. MLB is not considering additional protection for pitchers (visor, mask, etc.) at this time.
Players are currently allowed to wear any kind of protective device as long as it doesn't interfere with play, even products not licensed by MLB. Both Halem and Foster point out that while use of the protective cap may be limited in the big leagues, it has great potential for youth leagues.