Rawlings is about to introduce its newest batting helmet, the S100, a bulkier but far more protective helmet that can withstand the impact of a 100-m.p.h. fastball, according to Rawlings and an independent testing organization. Most other models, when hit flush by a ball, are compromised at speeds in excess of 70 m.p.h.
The S100 — so named because it can withstand the impact of a ball fired at 100 m.p.h. from 24 inches away — has a layer of expanded polypropylene, the hard, foamlike material used in bicycle helmets.
Major league players are a fearless and traditional bunch, and for many any kind of change, even for the sake of safety, is anathema.
“No, I am absolutely not wearing that,” Mets right fielder Jeff Francoeur said with a laugh after seeing a prototype, as if he were being asked to put a pumpkin on his head. “I could care less what they say, I’m not wearing it. There’s got to be a way to have a more protective helmet without all that padding. It’s brutal. We’re going to look like a bunch of clowns out there.”
Among a small, informal sampling of players, several said they would likely stick with their current model, even though the S100 has been proved more effective in independent laboratory testing. In the eyes of some major league players, it is just too bulky, too heavy and too geeky-looking.
“I want a helmet that’s comfortable,” Athletics infielder Nomar Garciaparra said, “and that doesn’t look bad.”
Yankee first baseman Mark Teixeira said the new helmet would make him feel as if he were wearing a football helmet in the batter’s box.
“The one I’ve used for my entire career is fine,” he said.
David Halstead is the technical director for the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, an independent organization that sets safety standards. Halstead said a vast majority of helmets used by major league players are not certified by his organization because they do not have enough interior padding and do not have two earflaps.
“Major league players do not play with a helmet that meets any standards,” he said. “It’s remarkable to me. Once the earflap is removed, it can’t be certified.”
Halstead said that a ball traveling a mere 32 m.p.h. that hits an unprotected head flush will “result in a skull fracture every time.” So what happens when a ball leaves the hand at 90 m.p.h. and hits a helmet? Usually it hurts a lot, and it may result in a concussion. But it rarely causes a fracture.
The reason is that a player who gets hit with a 90-m.p.h. fastball is usually experienced enough to avoid a direct hit and ensure the impact is only a glancing blow. In 24 years of work with the committee on athletic equipment and as co-founder of the Southern Impact Research Center, Halstead said he had seen only three skull fractures from a pitched ball, and two were in girls softball.