When David Wright donned the "new batting helmet" late last season - and was mocked mercilessly by just about everyone - I thought it would be a good idea to go back through some old magazines and newspapers and find how people reacted to the introduction to the original helmet. I was certain that I could find ballplayers and writers saying the same thing then that ballplayers were saying now about the Wright helmet. I never wrote that piece, though, because I ran into a problem: there was never really a big, league-wide rollout of batting helmets to mark the new era. In fact, the answer to the question "who was the first baseball player to wear a batting helmet?" is pretty nebulous.
I put the notes to the side and told myself that I would come back to it, but I never did. But then I found myself drawn back to Paul Lukas' wonderful blog, Uniwatch, which I, for some reason, had strayed away from recently. Well, for those who don't know, Paul has had a keen interest in the development of the batting helmet (and the batting helmet w/earflaps) for a while. Every now and then he posts an interesting photo or whatnot that he or a reader has stumbled across, and it gets us all just a tad bit closer to solving the whole puzzle. Last week, he unveiled another piece to the puzzle: a reader had recently stumbled across the Popular Science archives and found this image from the November 1940 issue. Paul loved it, and was able to determine that the helmet shown there was probably the same one that Jackie Hayes had worn in the summer of 1940.
Well, the image looked incredibly familiar to me, so I pulled up my notes from last fall. I had found the same image in Popular Science too, but in the October 1940 issue. I emailed that photo, and many more that I found in that initial research phase to Paul, and, with his encouragement, I decided to investigate the issue some more. I spent some more time in the Google News and Proquest archives this weekend, and I even went to the library to pull up some books. I can't say that I've solved the puzzle, but I do feel like I connected and filled in a lot of areas that were incomplete or hanging loose. Keep reading for a timeline on the invention and evolution of the batting helmet in baseball.