ST. PETERSBURG — Alex Cobb was on vacation in Puerto Rico when news reached him Tuesday that Major League Baseball approved for this season a lightweight cap for pitchers designed to absorb the impact of a baseball traveling 90 miles per hour at a pitcher’s head.
The Rays right-hander, who suffered a concussion last June and missed 50 games after he was struck on the side of his head by a line drive, said he is willing to test the isoBLOX Protective Cap during spring training.
“I absolutely think it’s worth consideration, at least when I get to spring training to try it out no matter how inconvenient it might look,” Cobb said. “But you kind of have to be realistic with something like this.
“The first prototype or first model is not always practical or as state of the art as you’d like it to be when you do use it.”
The isoBLOX Protective Cap was developed by the 4Licensing Corporation.
A skull cap is also available to youth players.
Rays manager Joe Maddon campaigned for the development of protective head gear for pitchers after Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ was struck by a line drive last May during a game at Tropicana Field and again when Cobb suffered his injury six weeks later.
“I think it’s a positive step in injury prevention,” Maddon said. “Like many new implementations, give it time to see how well it works and know changes to improve will be welcomed.”
Mark Panko, 4Licensing president, said “five to seven” current and former big-league pitchers were involved in the testing of the cap. One of those pitchers, Arizona’s Brandon McCarthy, told ESPN.com he wouldn’t wear the isoBLOX Protective Cap “in its current form.”
McCarthy, who has been outspoken about the need for protective headgear for pitchers after he was struck in the head by a line drive 16 months ago (Cobb called him the “poster boy”), said the cap is too big, too hot and doesn’t fit snug enough on his head.
“Nobody wants this to work more than me,” McCarthy told ESPN.com. “But we tried to take this as far as we could and see if it’s something that could work, but it just wasn’t there.”
Panko was caught off guard Tuesday by McCarthy’s comments. He said McCarthy made some suggestions and the tweaks were made, but McCarthy has yet to test a cap that is fitted for his head.
The isoBLOX Protective Cap has protective plates designed to absorb and dispense the energy created by a baseball that strikes a pitcher at up to 90 mph in the forehead and up to 85 mph on the sides.
The baseballs that struck Happ and Cobb were traveling more than 100 mph.
Bruce Foster, CEO of 4Licensing, said the average line drive is traveling 83 mph when it passes a pitcher. He said the isoBLOX Protective Cap will provide protection from line drives traveling in excess of 90 mph but not as much as ones traveling 90 or less.
The protective plates add six to seven ounces to a baseball cap that weighs three to four ounces. The plates also make the hats bigger. Because of that, McCarthy said they do not pass the “eye test.”
Rockies pitcher Brett Anderson tweeted, “I’ll pass on the Super Mario Brothers inspired padded hat.”
“The way I look at it nobody wanted to wear a helmet in hockey, nobody wanted a facemask in football and now you see the visors and whole migration,” Foster said. “I think it will evolve.”
The National League made helmets or protective inserts for batters mandatory in 1956, but MLB didn’t make batting helmets mandatory until 1971 and waited until 1983 to make ear flaps on the side of helmet that faces the pitcher mandatory for new players.
“Whenever there’s something new, it’s always scary for a couple of people to try out and be the pioneers,” Cobb said. “Everybody is always kind of scared of something that is different, so it will probably take a little while for it to catch on at least.”
Around the majors
Major League Baseball is seeking a speedy dismissal of Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez’s lawsuit challenging a season-long suspension for using three prohibited performance enhancing substances. Howard Ganz, an MLB lawyer, said in a letter to U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos that Rodriguez’s claims do not come “remotely close” to what is needed to overturn an arbitration decision in federal court. ... Prosecutors in southwest Florida dropped a reckless driving charge against Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, who was arrested Dec. 28 at the western end of Alligator Alley near Naples after a Florida Highway Patrol trooper reported clocking him at 110 mph in a 70-mph zone. ... Former Rays first baseman Carlos Pena signed a minor-league deal with the Angels and was invited to spring training. ... Reds closer Aroldis Chapman agreed to a $5 million, one-year contract to avoid arbitration.
Information from Tribune wires was used in this report.