Big helmet or tiny head? Francisco Cervelli fans (hey, he has some!) have been wondering that for a few weeks now, but in the coming years an entire corps of MLB players may look like futuristic, yet dorky space travelers.
Cervelli is the only Major League regular to wear the Rawlings S100 batting helmet, so named because it can survive the direct impact of a 100-m.p.h. fastball from 24 feet away. (Most current helmets crumble at anything over 70.) It was first made famous by David Wright, who wore one briefly while recovering from a concussion last season, and renders the wearer virtually invulnerable to beanballs. Naturally, no self-respecting ball player would be caught dead in one.
However, the new helmet is now mandatory in the minor leagues. So like hockey visors and cool goalie masks, someday soon we'll have a new generation of baseball players raised on these helmets and what was once considered abnormal (or wussy) will become the standard. Just as soon as those players get over their revulsion to their own nerdy appearance.
You know what helps with that fear of not looking cool? Getting clocked in the skull with a fastball.
Outfielder Justin Maxwell, who's been back and forth this year between the Washington Nationals and the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs, was hit in the helmet by a 95 mph fastball in the second game of the International League season.
"I didn't feel anything," he said. "I've been hit in the head before with the old helmets. I remember I got hit in 2007 in spring training. I was kind of dazed for a couple of days and had to sit out. This year when I got hit, I just ran to first base, no problem. It actually broke the helmet. I had to get another one, but I didn't feel anything."
Just this weekend, another Nationals prospect was taken away in an ambulance after being plunked. He lay motionless on the ground for 10 minutes—and he was wearing the Rawlings helmet. Imagine if he hadn't been. It's true that beanings to the head are still quite rare and one researcher says he's only seen one actual skull fracture from a thrown baseball in 24 years, but with all the panic about concussions lately, people are just going to have to learn to sacrifice sleekness for safety. Although, if they make Albert Pujols put on one of those little league flack jackets all bets are off.
Huge minor league helmets big on safety, not style [AP]
P-Nats' Norris hit in head by pitch [Minor League Baseball.com]
New, Safer Batting Helmet Draws Resistance From Some Players [NY Times, Fall 2009]