The recent incidents in which fans tossed cell phones at Texas outfielder Carl Everett and San Diego third baseman Sean Burroughs got Uni Watch wondering if Everett or Burroughs might choose to join a very exclusive fraternity: players who’ve worn batting helmets while playing the field. Several players over the years have made this their signature style, most notably onetime National League Rookie of the Year and American League MVP Dick Allen, who got in the helmeted habit during the 1969 season, when Philadelphia fans threw trash at him.
An extra layer of headwear doesn’t show up in the box score or record book, of course, so historical documentation is spotty, and anecdotal accounts can be hard to verify. But with the help of the Society for American Baseball Research, Uni Watch has confirmed that other helmeted fielders have included Red Sox and Brewer first baseman George “the Boomer” Scott, Yankee infielder Horace Clarke, and Angel third baseman Felix Torres. (On the Angels’ Web site, former Halos hurler Bo Belinsky recalled that when Torres chased after a pop-up that became the final out in Belinsky’s 1962 no-hitter, “All I could think about was, ‘Torres, don’t lose your batting helmet now.’ “) Coaches have gotten into the act, too: As Don Zimmer recalled in an article last year, “I was coaching at third base [for the Red Sox] in 1974 at Yankee Stadium, and the fans were throwing so much crap on the field that I had to put on a helmet for protection.”
Although a helmeted fielder may look anomalous today, the original idea behind baseball helmets was that all fielders would wear them. In 1953, when Pittsburgh GM Branch Rickey helped develop the first helmets (which were fiberglass but covered with wool flocking, to resemble cloth caps), he briefly had all the Pirates wear them in the field. But the experiment was short-lived, and helmets were soon relegated to the batter’s box.
Catchers notwithstanding, the only current helmeted fielder is Seattle’s John Olerud, who’s maintained the practice since suffering a brain aneurysm in 1989. But he might have company if there are more incidents involving unruly fans. At the very least, Uni Watch looks forward to seeing if the tempestuous Everett, who’s already famously hard-headed, also becomes hard-hatted.