As you might have heard by now, Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, whose 2014 season was ended prematurely by a fastball to the face, has been wearing a face-mask attachment on his batting helmet this spring. It looks a lot like a football face mask but with one crucial difference: It's been personalized with a "G" -- Stanton's first initial.
Stanton is, to Uni Watch's knowledge, the first MLB player to have a personalized element on his mask. But he's far from the first to wear a face-guard attachment on his helmet, and he's not even the first to wear a football-style mask. With that in mind, let's take a trip down memory lane and revisit a few of the ballplayers who've commingled the gridiron and the diamond by putting football-style face masks on their batting helmets:
Dave Parker, Pirates, 1978: Any discussion of specialized baseball headgear has to begin with the Cobra. After fracturing his jaw and cheekbone in a home plate collision with Mets catcher John Stearns on May 30, 1978, he returned to the lineup a few weeks later and quickly cycled through a series of bizarre-looking attempts to protect his injured face:
• Parker began by wearing a hockey goalie mask, which had been cut off at the top so he could still wear his batting helmet. He wore this for only one plate appearance, the result of which was an intentional walk. (Who could blame the opposing team for not wanting to pitch to a guy who looked like a masked menace?) He then kept the mask on while running the bases.
• Parker found that his vision was a bit compromised by the hockey mask, so the Pirates' equipment manager consulted with the Steelers and came up with a two-bar football face mask, complete with a chin strap.
• The two-bar mask still interfered slightly with Parker's vision, so that mask was swapped out for a different model, which Parker wore only while running the bases, not while batting.
Ellis Valentine, Expos, 1980: Valentine, the Montreal right fielder with a cannon for an arm, had his cheekbone shattered in six places when he was hit by a pitch on May 30, 1980. He returned to action wearing a two-bar football face mask similar to the one Parker had tried but cut off to cover just one side of his face. The look was so distinctive that it's now the basis for a T-shirt.
Gary Roenicke, Orioles, 1980: After being hit in the face by a pitch, Roenicke wore a partial two-bar football mask similar to Valentine's, only Roenicke's wrapped around a bit more of his face and was painted black, to match the Orioles' color scheme.
Charlie Hayes, Rockies, 1994: Hayes, the Colorado third baseman, broke new ground by wearing two different clear face masks. Kinda reminds you of Otto Graham's old Lucite mask, right? A similar mask was worn in 2011 by minor leaguer Chris Wallace. (Interestingly, Hayes wore another mask after moving from the Rockies to the Yankees, but it was the simple plastic attachment that's been common for most masked players over the past 20 years.)
Otis Nixon, Twins, 1998: Nixon played for 10 teams over 17 years, including a one-season stopover in Minnesota, where he wore an unusual mask that was sort of football-based, but there was more to it than that. He is, to Uni Watch's knowledge, the last MLB player to wear anything approaching a football-style mask on the field.
There's one other case worth mentioning, however: According to this New York Times clipping from September 1959, Indians infielder Billy Martin returned to Cleveland's active roster with "a special helmet fitted with football-type face-guarding bars" after having been hit in the face by a pitch a month earlier. But Martin's game log shows that he didn't play after Aug. 5 -- the day he was beaned -- so he apparently never got to wear his football-style mask in a game. Despite years of diligent effort, Uni Watch has been unable to turn up a photo of this mask. (Have you ever seen a photo of it? If so, please get in touch.)
Most other players who've added extra facial protection to their helmets have worn the basic (and rather boring-looking) plastic attachments we're now used to seeing. A partial list of such players includes Marlon Byrd, Mike Devereaux, Chase Headley, Jason Heyward, David Justice, Terrence Long, Kevin Seitzer and Terry Steinbach, among many others.
Do you know of any other interesting MLB mask attachments that weren't covered here? If so, you know what to do. Thanks.
Finally, it's worth noting that baseball players aren't the only non-football athletes who've dabbled with football-style facial protection. NHL great Bobby Hull once wore a football mask -- the same model worn by NFL Hall of Famer Larry Csonka, in fact.
Because there's more to life than masks
With spring training games now getting started, here are a few uni-related items to watch for as the Grapefruit and Cactus league games unfold:
• The Pirates are experimenting with matte-finish batting helmets this spring. Whether by coincidence or design, the visual effect evokes the old flocked helmets the Buccos wore in the 1950s and '60s. Remains to be seen whether they'll maintain this look in the regular season.
• The city of Clearwater, Florida, is celebrating its centennial this year. So the Phillies, who train in Clearwater, are wearing a centennial logo patch.
• This year marks the 50th season of the Tigers' spring training ballpark, Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida, so the team is wearing an anniversary patch. Interesting that the patch design doesn't include the team's name or logo, right? That's probably because two minor league teams also play at Joker Marchant -- the Lakeland Flying Tigers and the Gulf Coast Tigers -- and they'll presumably be wearing this same patch when their seasons start. (As an aside: Ever wonder who Joker Marchant was? Answer: Marcus "Joker" Marchant was Lakeland's parks and recreation director back in the 1960s.)
• Rangers clubhouse manager Joe Macko, who was connected to the team for over 40 years, passed away in December, so the team is wearing a memorial patch. It's only for spring training and will not be worn during the regular season.
• Interesting move at Cubs camp, where some players have been spotted with little star patches on their caps. A team spokesman explains it like so: "This spring, our coaches name a player of the day and coach of the day. Every award winner has a star affixed to his hat." So it's sort of like the Pirates' old Stargell stars, only without the World Series appearance.
• MLB's current BP jersey template features a button-front design. But a handful of Mets and Royals players have been spotted wearing pullovers with zippered collars that mimic their teams' respective BP designs. Could this be testing the waters for a new BP jersey template next season? Stay tuned.
Paul Lukas considers that 1959 Billy Martin face mask to be one of his personal uni-related "white whales." If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch membership program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted or just ask him a question? Contact him here.