Only about two weeks until pitchers and catchers report for spring training. So over at the Uni Watch Blog, we've been getting ready for the baseball season by investigating a pecific question: Who was the first hitter to wear an earflap on his batting helmet?
The question turns out to be trickier that it seems. Here's what we've found:
• 1940: White Sox second baseman Jackie Hayes suffers repeated beanings and fashions a primitive helmet that includes an earflap. This appears to be the first protective headgear worn in the big leagues. (Over three decades later, Hayes is quoted in this article saying, "I was the first to wear a batting helmet.")
• 1961: After Twins catcher Earl Battey is hit by a pitch that breaks his jaw, equipment manager Ray Crump helps to devise an improvised earflap for his helmet. Battey's teammate Tony Oliva later wears a similar contraption, at least in batting practice.
So there you go. Now we just need to figure out who was the first catcher to wear a helmet instead of cap under his mask.