Monday, April 2, 2012

Tools of Ignorance Not Always Operator's Error

I recently did a presentation called: Concussion- Not Just a Headache.  With the topic of study being former Milwaukee Brewer,St. Louis Cardinal, and San Francisco Giants' catcher, Mike Matheny.

I searched the Internet and library for information about the evolution of catcher's equipment, also known as, Tools of Ignorance.  I was looking to discover if during the change in styles of catcher's gear comfort replaced safety.

I fully understood that very few if any apparatuses of baseball equipment will come off the market due to it being defective.  Because if the user of this equipment is unfamiliar with the proper way to use the gear it is operator error (i.e. if you turn your head and the ball bounces and short-hops the side of the fielder's head it landed where it did because the fielder's action caused that area to be exposed. Or, if when dropping down to block a pitch that does not cross the plate and you don't tuck your neck into the chest protector you are exposing your neck to a possible bad bounce striking it. Again, that is the fault of the catcher not the gear.)

If you choose to play catcher and do not learn the proper way to catch a thrown ball you are not only wearing the Tools of Ignorance but as a player you are an ignorant fool.  The bumps and bruises should accelerate the rate in which you learn how to play the position.

What I was able to learn in Mike Matheny's case is that he changed to the hockey-style mask because his head was covered by a helmet and the mask had better visibility. But, according to former backstop and current Oakland A's broadcaster, Ray Fosse, the hockey-style mask doesn't have nearly the padding to absorb the brunt of foul balls or any deflection of the ball off of the mask.  Back when Fosse played the mask he used was made of carbon-steel and was flexible but strong. The goal of the mask was to get some deformation in the mesh to reduce some of the shock but still retain its structural integrity. And even though it is said that the design of the hockey-style mask is to deflect the ball rather than having the ball hit the catcher flush as the carbon-steel wire mesh model supposedly does, the trouble with that is the hockey-style mask has approximately one inch of padding versus the 4-5 inches of the carbon steel wire mesh model.

Since the inception of the hockey-style mask, a noticeable number of catcher's have experienced time away from the game due to concussions.  More than ever before, that's for sure. 

How many more players (who may have played catcher at one time during their careers) will be forced into an early retirement for the maker's of this hockey-style mask to add padding to the current model? It is this reason why I say it's not always the operator's error.  If the mask's only flaw is lack of padding it's still detrimental to the user's health. 

(thanks to Ray Fosse for enlightening me on the evolution of the catcher's mask.)

Kevin J. Marquez