On This Date in Sports March 10, 1941: The Batting Helmet

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The Brooklyn Dodgers announce that they will wear batting helmets for the 1941 season, becoming the first team to wear protective headgear. The helmets are plastic which are placed inserts inside the regular on-field cap. The headgear is designed by George Bennett, a brain surgeon at John Hopkins University. General Manager Larry MacPhail wanted to protect his players better after Pee Wee Reese and Joe Medwick were beaned in the 1940 season.  

The first headgear for baseball was designed in 1905, which was an inflatable boxing glove wrapped around a batter’s head. Early helmets were more or less were just earmuffs, like a leather design worn by New York Giants catcher Roger Bresnahan in 1908. In 1921 the Philadelphia Phillies wore cork cushioned hats. Still, there were no other developments despite the fatal beaning of Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman by Carl Mays of the New York Yankees on August 16, 1920.

In 1937 Detroit Tigers catcher Mickey Cochrane saw his Hall of Fame career ended when he was struck in the head by Bump Hadley of the Yankees. Cochrane, who suffered a nearly fatal skull fracture, said afterward that all matters should be required to wear head protection.  A week later, the Philadelphia Athletics and Cleveland Indians experimented with Leather Polo helmets in batting practice. Two years later, the International League became the first league to have wide use of protective headgear.

After the Dodgers announced they would use helmets, the Washington Senators followed suit a few months. More teams would announce the use of helmets over the next decade, but no player was mandated to wear helmets as players chose tradition over safety. In 1953 Branch Rickey, who, after leaving the Dodgers, became General Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, became the first to mandate the use of helmets, as the Pirates headgear were hard hats similar to those worn by coal miners.

In 1954 the benefits of wearing a helmet were on full display when Joe Adcock of the Milwaukee Braves was hit in the head. Adcock was taken off the field but quickly recovered as his helmet was dented, likely preventing a serious injury. Two years later, the National League ordered that all players wear helmets, with the American League mandating the use of helmets in 1958.