Minor League pitchers could wear helmets in 2013

Minor League pitchers could wear helmets in 2013

Minor League pitchers could wear helmets in 2013
TORONTO -- Major League Baseball is considering protective headgear for Minor League pitchers beginning in the 2013 season.

After a pair of scary incidents this year involving pitchers being struck in the head with comebackers -- most recently Doug Fister of the Tigers in Game 2 of the World Series -- MLB is contemplating ways to fast track the safety issue.

One of the possibilities is to equip each pitcher's cap with hat liners made of kevlar, which is a reinforcing material used by military, law enforcement and NFL players. The protective agent could be implemented in the Minor Leagues as early as next season.

"Hopefully, we can come up with something," said MLB senior vice president Dan Halem. "We're making progress."

Halem said that MLB medical director Gary Green has spoken with different companies about protective gear for pitchers and that the issue will be discussed at this year's Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn. in December.

Fister was struck in the right side of the head with a line drive off the bat of Gregor Blanco in the second inning, but remained in the game. The Tigers' right-hander has since been further reevaluated and passed concussions tests. He was a lot luckier than A's pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who took a line drive to the head at the beginning of September, which caused a skull fracture and brain bruise, and, subsequently, surgery.

MLB was already exploring ways to implement more safety for its pitchers before McCarthy's injury.

"After that, it kind of pushed up our timetable," Halem said. "We decided to fast track it.

"We think it's possible for 2013 in the Minor Leagues."

After the incident, McCarthy said he would be open to ideas about protective headgear providing it wouldn't affect his ability to pitch. Any decision would have to receive approval from the Players Association.

Giants pitcher Barry Zito said he's on board with MLB exploring options to protect its players but he expressed his concerns as well.

"We've had high-profile examples of those injuries lately, what happened with Brandon and then here in the World Series," Zito said. "[But] you don't want it to be too drastic. Little things can affect a pitcher's delivery."

There are a number of youth leagues in the United States that require pitchers to wear helmets, and for Giants general manager Brian Sabean, the key will be finding a product that will allow pitchers to feel comfortable on the mound.

"It would depend on how intrusive it is," Sabean said. "Pitchers would want it to be no irritant or agitant. The weight would be important."

Sabean's own pitcher shared his thoughts about it, too.

"I don't really know, and I haven't put a ton of thought into it," Giants right-hander Matt Cain said. "I've seen some. We actually had a guy that was in our organization that wore a helmet. I mean, obviously it's not the best-looking thing, but safety-wise, I mean, obviously it's beneficial. I haven't really dug too deep into it."

In addition to the approval it would need from the Players Association, Halem said before any headgear device was implemented, testing and examination from an independent laboratory would be needed. The testing would have to prove that the instrument installed in the caps could at least withstand the force of a ball traveling 100 mph.

"We'd have to discuss how we'd roll it out," Halem said.

This wouldn't be the first time that MLB has implemented protective helmets for its players.

Starting in 1971, batting helmets became mandatory, although players already in the league had the option not to wear them. Red Sox catcher Bob Montgomery was one of them -- he played without a helmet until 1979, choosing to place protective lining inside his cap instead.

Chris Toman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.