Brandon McCarthy, then of the Oakland Athletics, was hit in the head by a line drive on Sept. 5, 2012, and needed emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his brain caused by internal bleeding.
A seizure he suffered in June 13 was related to his head injury, according to doctors.
But with the announcement on Tuesday that Major League Baseball has approved a new protective cap for pitchers, McCarthy—now with the Arizona Diamondbacks—isn’t planning on wearing the new headgear.
“The technology is there,” he told ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark. “It helps. It’s proven to help. But I don’t think it’s ready yet as a major league-ready product. And I told them that. I told them where it’s at.”
The newly approved caps were manufactured by isoBlox and will be made available to pitchers for optional use in spring training.
McCarthy says the problem is the size and weight of the cap.
“It’s just too big,” McCarthy said, adding that it is also “too hot. You can’t pitch a day game in St. Louis wearing it or a day game in Baltimore. I’ve thrown in it in optimal conditions, inside where it’s cool, and your head gets itchy.”
McCarthy said the fact that a pitcher knows he has the cap on is a problem. To feel comfortable in a game, he said, “It has to disappear.”
He said he’s a proponent of new technology to protect pitchers—he just thinks there’s still more work to do before the gear will be accepted by the guys it is intended to protect.
“Nobody wants this to work more than me,” McCarthy said. “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.”
The caps are about a half-inch thicker in the front and an inch thicker on the side—near the temples—than a standard cap and the padding adds seven ounces to the weight of the cap, basically tripling it from the current weight of three or four ounces.
4Licensing chief executive officer Bruce Foster said the new cap won’t interfere with a pitcher’s comfort or motion, according to ESPN.com. That contradicts what McCarthy said about the cap. McCarthy specifically pointed out the increased size of the cap, which he said was in his field of vision as he was throwing.
Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers perhaps voiced what will be the most common opposition to a thicker, larger cap.
“You don’t look very cool, I’ll be honest,” Kershaw said.
Grant Balfour of the Tampa Bay Rays, also a former A’s pitcher, said: “I am always appreciative of anything that will make the game safer. That being said, I may try it. Just not sure yet until I see it. Has to fit with a cap and be comfortable.”
Of course, isoBlox says the greatest potential for its protective gear is youth markets. Executives for the company said they see great potential for youth players and their parents to seek increased protection.
“The major league market is never going to be a big market, as not that many pitchers reach the majors and a limited number will use the caps,” MLB executive vice president for labor relations Dan Halem said. “But the youth market is huge.”
The new caps will face the same resistance that more protective football helmets encountered with players in the NFL—they looked big and goofy looking and weren’t as “cool” as the old-style helmets. It’s also the same objections that have been raised about newer-generation batting helmets that offer better protection but look a bit, shall we say, clunky.
It’s the conundrum of the athlete, though. They recognize the need for more protection, but they never think it’s going to happen to them. So if it doesn’t look good, they’re reluctant to make a change without something—such as an injury—as an impetus.