HEAD START: MLB pitcher Alex Torres goes to work on the mound wearing his isoBLOX cap.
Baseball can be the slowest game in the world—until something happens. In a sport heavy on statistics, data supports the need to better protect pitchers.
Repeated traumatic brain injury and chronic traumatic encephalopathy have gained international attention thanks to the 2015 film Concussion, starring Will Smith, which—like the book of the same name—deals with the high-profile lawsuits against the National Football League.
In Major League Baseball, a dozen pitchers have been hit in the head by line drives since September 2012. “It’s a stark representation of what can happen,” says Steve Griffith, who is working with a company that’s trying to solve what’s become one of sports’ biggest problems.
Griffith’s Vizion Group is the Berwyn firm behind the promotion of 4Licensing Corporation’s isoBLOX Protective Skull Cap, which could help save pitchers, and even third basemen, from dangerous line drives.
The New York-based 4Licensing says its caps protect against line drives up to 85 mph on the side and 90 mph in front, meeting MLB requirements. “The youth version doesn’t provide the same level of protection, but it doesn’t need to,” Griffith says.
Even after a redesign, the pros have objected to the way the cap looks. Several years ago, the league introduced larger batting helmets that offered increased safety. Players rejected them, saying they made them resemble the Flintstones’ Great Gazoo.
The latest isoBLOX product is formulated from flexible plastic plating that uses a combination of energy dispersion and energy absorption to diffuse impact. The hinged, hexagon-shaped, interconnected plating deflects impact and then flexes to absorb residual force.
The Tampa Bay Rays’ Alex Cobb—another pitcher who’s been struck in the head by a concussing line drive—has agreed to promote the youth cap. But he isn’t wearing the MLB versions.
The isoBLOX cap was set for release this spring, but that was before the onset of competition. The MLB and its players association—which gave the product an initial nod—recently backed a hybrid cap-helmet designed and produced by Los Angeles-based Boombang. “It’s not that unusual in my business for projects to go to sleep and revive at a later date because of the ebb and flow of the marketplace,” says Griffith.
Now, Griffith and his client are faced with fully rolling out the product, which includes putting a youth version in stores like Dick’s Sporting Goods. Pro players are an important component in modeling and promoting any of the company’s protective products, but the youth market is where the money is.
In 2014, Alex Torres became the first and only player to wear the original design. Pitching for the Padres at the time, he said he didn’t care how the protective shield looked or felt. He used the redesign on the following year, while pitching with the Mets and earning his first big-league save.
“Three or four other players have toyed with [the new version],” says Griffith. “Whoever finally does it will be the focus of attention.”