Lukas: Alex Torres and the history of headgear in baseball

From SABR member Paul Lukas at on April 23, 2015:

Relief pitcher Alex Torres made history last season, when he was with the San Diego Padres, by becoming the first MLB pitcher to wear a padded helmet. Torres, who’s now with the Mets, made history again last weekend by becoming the first pitcher to wear the latest version of MLB’s protective headgear, which is actually a strip of padding that wraps around his regular cap.

Torres — who has received a lot of ridicule and abuse for his headwear choices but, to his credit, doesn’t seem too worried about what other folks think — is hardly the first ballplayer to wear something unusual-looking on his head. Baseball history has a long tradition of headwear innovation and experimentation. With that in mind, here’s a selective timeline of notable moments in MLB caps, helmets and other headgear:

1912: Pirates manager Fred Clarke comes up with a design for a baseball cap with flip-down sunglasses screwed into the brim. The concept fails to catch on.

1920: After Indians shortstop Ray Chapman is killed by a pitch to his head, an ad for a leather batting helmet appears in a trade journal called The American Hatter. The ad’s text includes the following: “Magistrate F.X. McQuade, treasurer of the [New York] Giants, states the club officials are considering adopting such a helmet as is shown.” Despite this claim, there’s no evidence of this helmet ever being worn in a big league game (or anywhere else).

1937: Tigers star Mickey Cochrane’s career is ended by a pitch that hits him in the head, fracturing his skull in three places. Athletics manager Connie Mack responds by having his players wear polo helmets during batting practice, although the helmets are not worn during a game.


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Originally published: April 23, 2015. Last Updated: April 23, 2015.