There has been a lot of attention being paid to concussions lately, with particular attention being paid to the potential for long term neurological damage. With those issues in mind, Major League Baseball has been searching for ways to protect those who may be the most vulnerable to concussions, specifically catchers. These efforts have led to the eventual banning of home plate collisions, with the idea of safety in mind.
For the Kansas City Royals, these efforts have a larger impact upon their team. Salvador Perez is not just one of the better catchers in baseball, but he is also a player that the Royals are expecting to lead them through the latter part of the decade. Signed to a long term extension with team options that run through the 2019 season, Perez is the poster child for the young talent that the Royals hope will lead them to contention.
After seeing Perez miss seven games in August last year due to a concussion, and had problems with dizziness in September, the Royals are looking for more ways to protect their investment. As such, the Royals and All Star Sporting Goods, the company that produces Perez’s catching equipment, are looking for ways to help Perez avoid such issues from foul balls. One idea that is being researched involves using a heavier catchers mask, akin to the solid metal, older catchers masks that players used back in the 1980′s.
Could using a heavier mask help keep Salvador Perez healthy? Stan Junga Jr, an employee for All Star Sporting Goods, feels that they might. He has searched for the older style masks, and plans on shooting a baseball out of a cannon at 130 MPH at both the older and the new, hollow steel masks to see which will perform better. Although they no longer make the solid steel masks, if those perform better, that may change.
“If the heavier masks test better, we’re going to make that for Salvy,” Jurga said Thursday. “Even if that’s something we don’t currently stock. We’ll start making it again.”
While any discussions about equipment changes have almost exclusively been focused on having padded hats for pitchers, catchers have to deal with being hit behind the plate far more often than a pitcher gets hit with a comebacker. While a pitcher is likely to have time to react, a catcher does not. Getting a foul tip off the mask from two feet away, especially after a catcher has already suffered a concussion, may cause damage in the future. Even if the foul tip does not result in a concussion, anything that jars the brain with such force is not a positive.
Although the Kansas City Royals and Junga are concerned about Salvador Perez specifically, these efforts could end up leading to wholesale changes to catchers masks. Should the heavier, solid steel masks perform better during the tests, Major League Baseball may want to look at making those mandatory for catchers going forward.
The Royals concern with protecting their investment may end up having a positive effect not only on Salvador Perez, but on the sport as a whole. With concerns about concussions at an all time high, the Royals may have found a way to help protect catchers throughout the game.