Baseball history: Yankees don’t want no sissy batting helmets

On August 17, 1920, the Indians’ Ray Champan died from injuries suffered when he was stuck in the head with a Carl Mays pitch. It was a tragic, senseless death and baseball players demanded that they be allowed to wear batting helmets to prevent more tragic, senseless deaths from happening.

Just kidding. They fought against any attempts to institute the use of batting helmets. Helmets didn’t become mandatory until the 1970s, though some teams and players started using them earlier than that.

Either an artist’s depiction of Lou Gehrig in a batting helmet, or a look at Lou Gehrig going to his construction job without changing out of his Yankees uniform.

The use of batting helmets was revived in 1937 after Mickey Cochrane was beaned, ending the Hall of Famer’s career. In 1938, Daily News sportswriter Jack Smith asked a few of the New York Yankees what they thought about being required to wear helmets. Players voted overwhelmingly against them. A few of the comments:

Manager Joe McCarthy: “No man on my team will ever wear one. I don’t think any wants to. Wearing protection like that is an indication the batter is plate-shy. And plate-shy batters don’t make any winning teams!”

Outfielder Tommy Heinrich took the “blame the victim approach”: “Injuries to batters on pitched balls are purely accidents and accidents will happen. Cochrane and Champan were struck because they were careless.”

A couple of the Yankees argued that helmets would actually lead to more beanings. Coach Johnny Schulte said, “It would be an invitation for pitchers to throw at batters. Then, instead of getting your skull fractured, you’d get your jaw broken.”

Pitcher Ivy Andrews backed Schulte up. “I don’t like to admit it, but I know pitchers throw too many dust-off balls. They have to because of the lively ball. With helmets pitchers would throw at every batter. I would.”

Pitcher Spud Chandler argued that the most dangerous spot on the field is the pitcher’s mound. “I’ve almost been killed twice. How about protection for the pitchers?” he asked. Eighty years later, Major League Baseball still hasn’t come up with a good answer for this one.

Unsurprisingly, Lou Gehrig had the best answer. “Helmets are a sensible, intelligent idea,” he said. “That’s probably why ball players won’t adopt ’em.”


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