Tuesday, June 20, 2017


The Tools of Ignorance

As a member of the Chicago Cubs, David Ross won the World Series last year. Following the victory, he cleaned his locker and retired from baseball. He played primarily as a catcher, starting in 2002. He toiled behind the plate for the Dodgers, Pirates, Padres, Reds, Red Sox on two separate occasions, Braves and Cubs.

His career batting average was .229, not the highest in history. He stood six feet, two inches, and weighed 230 pounds, a fair target for any pitcher. He had a strong arm, and threw out 35% of base runners trying to steal. One year, he threw out 48% of the runners, leading the league.

Ross now sits behind a microphone, sporting a headset. He follows a long list of former catchers who became announcers. Joe Garagiola was one of the best. Buck Martinez works the games for the Toronto Blue Jays. I really enjoy Ross's commentary during the game. He shoots straight, and does not play favourites.

During a recent telecast, Ross was asked about foul balls that hammered him on the mask. He did not pull any punches. He said that he often had headaches for three or four days after taking one to the head. At that time, there was no “protocol” for concussions. A catcher was expected to “shake it off”, and get ready for the next pitch. Ross then went into detail about a new type of mask.

Blue Jays' catcher Russell Martin has been tagged many times with foul tips. In a recent game, his mask was violently wrenched from his head with a foul tip. Some of these pitches are moving at more than a hundred miles an hour, and the blow is not softened by a tip from the bat. As is the case with all veteran catchers, Martin has had his share of broken fingers, and bruises on every unprotected part of his body. Catching requires special skills. The ability to take serious punishment is one of them.

As is the case of many Blue Jays games recently, the one I attended a week ago was no cake walk. The Tampa Bay Rays put up three runs in the top of the eighth inning to tie the game at six runs apiece. Martin led off the bottom of the inning for the Jays, and smacked the ball into the seats. The run held up as the winning run.
Football helmets are designed to protect players. Air is pumped into the helmet to help cushion the blows during the game. Hockey helmets protect players as well, and are constantly re-designed to better absorb the blows. After many years, the catcher's mask is now undergoing serious transition.

The new mask has several small springs on both sides. It also has foam pads, lined with Kevlar. It was designed by Jason Klein, a former minor league umpire. It has been approved by major league baseball. One MLB catcher, Tyler Flowers of the Atlanta Braves, recently raved about the mask. Flowers has been behind the plate for more than 500 games. “It's astonishing when you see how much it absorbs the ball. It just falls down to the ground”.

David Ross loves the newly-designed mask. I am certain the mask will be adopted, and will change the game, a better tool for those behind the plate.

James Hurst
June 20, 2017

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