The Stigma of the MLB Pitchers Padded Cap

Posted on July 1, 2014

There was an interesting conversation between commentators Al Leiter and Michael Kay in the top of the 5th of Monday’s Yankees Ray’s game on YES Network.

YES Al Leiter and Michael Kay

If you haven’t experienced NYC Baseball, here’s what you need to know: YES Network is NYC’s Yankees Network and Al Leiter is a former MLB pitcher. And Michael Kay is Michael Kay.

If you haven’t experienced me, here’s what you need to know: I write about the stigma of assistive devices.

So when Michael asked Al “What do you think about the liners that they have come up with for the caps?” and Al responded by saying “I would never wear it.” I knew it was time for a post.

So let’s dig in. 

Michael: How come? And you got hit in the head. Why wouldn’t you wear it? Cause of the way it looks or you think it’s cumbersome?

Al: Yes. Both.

Padded Pitchers Cap

Michael went on to argue that batting helmets used to be stigmatized for these same two reasons. To which Al responded by saying:

“I look at it this way Michael, and you probably say that it’s ignorant. I pitched a couple thousand innings plus over a period of a long time and yes I did get hit during a spring training game. It was the only time. I’d probably thrown 50,000 pitches. So I guess it’s probably the lottery probability thing. And I know that sounds dumb but there was close calls and the best defense is to be square to home plate. If you can be square to home plate and your glove is in front of you, your reaction time is less than a half a second. But if you’re square to home plate, you got a good shot of at least knocking it down. Guys that are off center or don’t really have a good finish or their finish [indecipherable] toward third base or first base.”

Delino Al mused “They gotta come up with something smaller than that. You see this thing? It’s enormous. In a very short period of time, the lining inside the hat will be close to the weight and look of a regular hat.”

Al is right. Assistive devices in sports have the opportunity to evolve and to fit the aesthetic of their use (in this case appearing more athletic). Assistive devices for disabled people do not experience this evolution, they never have the opportunity to become fashionable and coveted.

It is worth nothing that one inning later, Ray’s pitcher Chris Archer was hit by a line shot to his foot.

When you think of the history of the baseball mitt, it used to be seen as a sign of weakness, worn shamefully by injured players. Once players embraced the use of these padded mitts, they completely changed the way the game was played, becoming as integral to the sport as the ball and bat.

It’s interesting to consider that the beautiful tone of those tanned mitts may not exist today had it not been for the shame of the first player to be caught wearing one. Charles Waitt chose a flesh colored glove hoping nobody would notice the device on his hand. He didn’t want anyone to think he was soft.

So perhaps it’s not that these hats are ugly. Perhaps it’s just that we haven’t discovered the beauty in them yet. And Al is right, these padded caps will probably evolve. But they’re here to stay. They’re here to save lives.


Alex Cobb 2013

So I want to ask Al this. Would you have been the second person to wear a baseball mitt?

And to everyone else, I want to ask why are we discussing the aesthetics of a padded cap when catchers wear a cage (a CAGE) over their faces?

Buster Posey Catchers mask

Update: The above post showed the 2014 padded cap. The cap has evolved a bit in 2015, and is now frequently described as a donut.

2015 Isoblox Padded Cap

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