Single page view By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

Forget about bragging rights, league pride, or home-field advantage for the World Series. If Major League Baseball really wants to increase interest in the All-Star Game, it should just do what it did a few nights ago in Detroit: Use the game to showcase a new uniform innovation.

In case you missed it, Uni Watch is referring to the new batting helmets that were worn during the game. The new lids featured a molded crown, side vents, back vents, and slightly elongated earholes. And for good measure, they slapped the All-Star Game logo on the back (a bit of logo creep that Uni Watch is willing to forgive, since the new helmets, rather surprisingly, didn't feature the MLB logo). Think of it as the baseball version of the Riddell Revolution.

Although a few players stuck with their regular helmets -- sometimes for rather obvious reasons -- Uni Watch estimates that about 85 percent of the players gave the new design a test drive.

Interestingly, there was no advance promotion for the new helmets (not that Uni Watch was aware of, at least), and all the MLB and Rawlings bigwigs were still in transit from Detroit as Uni Watch's deadline arrived, so the full story behind the new design -- including whether it will be used for regular-season games -- will have to wait. But it's worth noting that this type of helmet isn't exactly new: There's an inexpensive Rawlings version that's been floating around the site for a while now, and Wilson makes something fairly similar.

But if these features become permanent additions at the big-league level, they'd definitely stake out new ground in the design gap between MLB helmets and caps. Most fans don't realize this, but when Pirates GM Branch Rickey introduced helmets in 1953, he envisioned them replacing caps altogether: He coated the fiberglass lids with wool flocking to simulate the look of a cloth cap and had his players wear them in the field -- even pitchers. That experiment was short-lived, as players went back to wearing caps in the field and helmets were relegated to the batter's box (occasional exceptions like Dick Allen and John Olerud notwithstanding). But the flocked helmet, with its fuzzy, matte finish, became something of a Pirates trademark for a while, and occasionally showed up outside of Pittsburgh too.

The notion of helmets simulating caps was shattered for good with the development of earflaps, which debuted in 1964 and probably looked as weird back then as the All-Star helmets do now. But at least earflaps are functional -- the features on display at the All-Star Game seem more like a transparent attempt to look edgy. Uni Watch can live with the extra vents (although, seriously, how much extra ventilation do you need for something that's only worn for a few minutes at a time?), but the molded shape looks totally bogus. And before some GM gets any bright ideas, let's get a preemptive restraining order to make sure nobody uses the new shape as an excuse to do something like this.

Head(wear) Games
Lots of other baseball headwear issues to address this time around. Let's start with July 4, when players wore an American flag cap patch on Independence Day. Nothing new about that -- it's been going on since 2002 -- but there were some interesting exceptions. Roy Oswalt, for example, went flag-less -- what's up with that? "Just an oversight, not a political statement," an Astros spokesman assured Uni Watch.



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