The Los Angeles Dodgers are making two changes to their batting helmets -- one of which is unprecedented in MLB history.
The Dodgers today unveiled new matte-finish batting helmets for their home opener. Several other MLB teams have recently changed their helmet finish from glossy to matte, including the Dodgers' opponents today, the Arizona Diamondbacks. But the Dodgers' new helmets have a unique feature: The team's familiar interlocking "LA" logo is raised from the helmet shell instead of being flat against it, creating a three-dimensional effect.
The "LA" lettering projects outward only about three millimeters from the helmet's surface, but that's enough to create a noticeable sense of depth unlike anything seen on a typical batting helmet. Of the other 29 MLB teams, 28 of them use flat decals for their helmet logos. The Chicago Cubs use an adhesive embroidered cloth patch that provides a greater sense of texture, but it doesn't create the same 3D effect as the Dodgers' new headwear mark.
"We wanted to go with the matte helmet, but we wanted to make it our own," said Mitch Poole, the team's equipment manager. "So we thought we'd go with the three-dimensional look."
Poole kept the new helmets a secret until today's home opener. The Dodgers wore conventional glossy helmets with standard logo decals during spring training and for their season-opening six-game road trip. Even the team's players didn't know about the new headgear until just prior to today's game. The new helmets will be worn for the balance of the 2016 season.
Ross Yoshida, the Dodgers' director of graphic design, said the process for creating the new helmets began last year, when the team's chief marketing officer, Lon Rosen, suggested that the matte finish would be a good look.
"Lon loves for us to be the first to do things, but he didn't realize that other teams had already gone with the matte," said Yoshida. "I said, 'Lon, the Diamondbacks and Pirates have already done that. But we could do something new with the logo.'"
Yoshida initially proposed an embroidered cloth logo patch, similar to what the Cubs use. "We even cut out the logo from a cap and pasted it onto a sample matte helmet, just to see how it looked," he said. "It was OK, but we wouldn't have been the first to do it, because of the Cubs." He said there was also some concern about the white cloth logo getting dirty over the course of the year.
"Then I thought about football helmet nose bumpers," said Yoshida, referring to the raised logos used by an increasing number of football teams in recent years. "Nobody had ever done that in baseball. So that was the inspiration."
The football nose bumper logos are made from rubber and cast from molds. But the logos on the Dodgers' helmets are plastic and were produced on a 3D printer. They were supplied by Pro Helmet Decals, a Florida vendor with broad experience in sports graphics.
The project has provided some challenges. Because the plastic logos are rigid and the helmet shells are rounded, for example, the logo's underside had to be concave to match the curvature of the helmet, which in turn meant the logos had to be positioned very carefully on the helmets. "You do have to get it on just the right spot, or else it won't be flush against the surface," said Pro Helmet Decals owner David Sulecki. "But it's not difficult to find that spot. You can feel it."
In addition, nobody knows how sturdy the plastic logos will turn out to be as players toss their helmets around during the course of the season.
"The original plan was to test them in spring training, but then we decided to make it a surprise at the home opener," said Yoshida. "Will they break? Will they chip? Will they fall off? We're in uncharted territory here. But hey, you have to take a risk sometimes."
For his part, Poole said, "They may fall off once in a while, but I'll have some super-glue in my pocket, just in case."
It might sound like a lot of fuss over such a small element, but that's what happens when a team is doing something that's never been done. And if it looks as good on the field as the Dodgers think it will, don't be surprised if other teams follow with 3D helmet logos of their own.
Paul Lukas writes about uniforms for ESPN.com. 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.