Larry Walker stepped into the batters box. Staring down at him from sixty feet away was the Seattle Mariners six million dollar man: Randy Johnson. Johnson was half way through a twenty game winning season, but on that warm July evening at Jacobs Field, that was far from anyone’s mind. Though only in the second inning, the sold out All-Star Game was promising to be a classic. The game was still scoreless with Johnson retiring the first five batters he had faced.
With his first pitch to Walker, he sent a blistering message to his opponent with a fastball high and in. It screamed over Walkers head. It was the same warning Johnson had sent to John Kruk three years early when the Phillies’ outfielder had dug in to much for the Big Unit’s liking. Instead of backing off of the plate to the outer reaches of the batters box as Kruk had done, Walker stepped out of the box, and to the astonishment of the crowd flipped his helmet around and proceeded to bat right handed.
The helmet is much more than just a piece of equipment. It is apart of the memories forever etched into the mind of the devout baseball fan whether it is the comical image of a starting All Star wearing his helmet backwards or that of Pete Rose diving into third base and his helmet being knocked off by his sheer momentum. Even the art of the homerun would not be the same without the tip of the helmet when a player answers his curtain call.
When I was first asked to chronicle the style of helmets worn by different teams this year by my Dad, I was far from enthusiastic. However, as I was going to be spending my time watching baseball games anyways, it made sense. Hundreds of innings and dozens of hours later, I was surprised to find that what had seemed like a mundane task was far from it. Often there seemed to be an outward correlation between players and their helmets. Trot Nixon, the right fielder for the Red Sox, helmet is completely covered with pin tar. But that came as no surprise to anyone who has ever watched Nixon play. He plays with near reckless abandon, laying out for line drives and sliding into walls to save runs. His helmet seems to be symbolic of his down and dirty playing style.
This year marked the introduction of the Rawlings Cool Flo helmet into Major League Baseball. But why would an organization opt for the new Cool Flo’s over the standard helmet? Perhaps in an attempt to finally change their luck and reverse the curse, all the Cubs starters wear the cool flow helmets. In a game where records are often held in greater esteem than current events, no team is more aware of their history than the New York Yankees. It seemed fitting then, that each member of current Bronx Boomers is wearing the standard helmet, clearly marked with number on brim as has been Yankee’s corporate image for decades. The West Coast, known throughout our countries history as the land of style and fads, fittingly has the greatest concentration of the new Cool Flo helmets.
Still often the most intriguing thing about a helmet is not what it has, but what its missing. Despite a myriad of switch hitters in Major League Baseball, I only came across the Red’s Bronson Arroyo and Quinton McCracken, Red Sox’s Willie Harris, Padres’ Mark Belhorn, Twins’ Tony Batista, Phillie’s Shane Victorino, and Diamondback’s Orlando Hudson as having a helmet with two ear covers. However, just as what a strike is one day will be a ball the next with a different umpire, even the equipment of individual player’s fluxgates. After watching Trot Nixon start the year with a helmet with both ear coverings(despite not being a switch hitter), half way through May I noticed that the left ear cover was conspicuously missing from Nixon’s equipment. Just as players have multiple uniforms, it appears that they have multiple helmets as well.
It is important when dealing with sport memorabilia never to generalize about a style or trend. Often on the same team, players will have different styles of helmets. Third baseman Mark Bellhorn and shortstop Kahlil Greene were the only two Padres that wear standard helmets. The same holds true for Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora and catcher Ramon Hernandez. Even player identification on helmets is not always standard. In an inter-league game with the Phillies I was surprised to note that Red Sox’ pitcher Matt Clement had no number label on the back of the helmet, only the major league baseball logo. Customary Red Sox helmet labeling would have the MLB logo in the center with the player number to the side. Then again, how often does a guy like this hit?
The helmet is not the most glamorous piece of equipment. It is used and even abused (a players tantrum after striking out is never quite complete without the throwing of the helmet into the dug out). It offers protection to the player, but it offers something far greater to the fan. It is a connection to both the memories and the men who made America past time the great sport it is today.
Below is a listing of my observations for the end of April and most of the month of May.
The listing does not cover every player as I can only watch so much T.V. I am a high school student, who unlike my Dad, have a life outside of the hobby. By the time this runs, I will be long-gone on a six week summer exchange in Bavaria…Oh yea, somebody please remind my Dad to tape the All Star Game for me…
cf = Cool Flo
For Ear Covering:
re= right ear covered (left handed batter)
le= left ear covered (right handed batter)
be= both ears or full helmet