NEW YORK — Big-league pitchers might feel safer on the mound this season.
Major League Baseball has approved a protective cap for pitchers, hoping to reduce the effects of being hit in the head by line drives.
The new hat was introduced Tuesday will be available for testing during spring training on a voluntary basis. Major leaguers and minor leaguers won’t be required to wear it.
The safety plates made by isoBLOX are sewn into the hat and custom fitted. They weigh an extra six to seven ounces — a baseball weighs about five ounces, by comparison — and offer protection to the forehead, temples and sides of the head. They make the hats about a half-inch thicker in the front and around an inch thicker on the sides.
Several pitchers have been hit in the head by line drives in the recent years. Brandon McCarthy sustained a brain contusion and skull fracture after being struck in 2012 and Doug Fister was hit during the World Series that October.
Toronto’s J.A. Happ and Toronto’s Alex Cobb were sidelined after being hit last season.
“We talked to a lot of guys who had been through this, and they provided a wealth of information to help us,” said Bruce Foster, CEO of the 4Licensing Corporation, parent company of isoBLOX. “We went through a myriad of different designs to develop this.”
Foster said the cap went through extensive testing and provided protection from line drives up to 90 mph in the front of the head and 85 mph on the side.
Line drives in the majors have been clocked at even faster rates.
While the hat is “slightly bigger” than a regular baseball cap, Foster said: “It’s not going to be a Gazoo hat.”
Several years ago, MLB introduced larger batting helmets that offered increased safety. But big leaguers mostly rejected them, saying they looked funny and made them resemble the Great Gazoo, a character on the “The Flintstones” cartoon series.
In December 2012, MLB medical director Dr. Gary Green presented ideas on protective headgear to executives, doctors and trainers. The prototypes under study included some made of Kevlar, the high-impact material often worn by military and law enforcement and NFL players for body armor.
Several companies tried without success to make a product that would be approved by MLB. While isoBLOX was first to get the OK, other firms still might submit proposals.
Foster said the cap’s design diffuses the impact of being hit, rather than only absorbing the shock. The technology will be available on the retail market for ballplayers of all ages.
A memo from MLB will advise teams that the caps are available in spring training. Pitchers who express interest in testing will be fitted.