Met rookie Jason Phillips stands out on the field because of his goggles, but he’s not alone in that regard—Eric Gagne of the Dodgers sports similar eyewear. Another aspect of Phillips’s game, however, is unique: He’s the only current big-league backstop—and, Uni Watch suspects, the only one ever—to wear a forward-facing helmet while catching.
To explain: Rule 1.16(d) requires all catchers to wear “a catcher’s protective helmet” in the field. Those who wear the newfangled hockey-style mask, which includes a built-in helmet, are already good to go—they just turn their cloth caps around and wear them backwards beneath the mask. But most catchers still use the traditional mask and comply with the rulebook by wearing a backwards batting helmet (without earflaps, natch). Phillips, however, wears his helmet facing forward, with the brim wedged into a gap in his mask. It’s a highly unorthodox look, and probably a singular one—a Uni Watch survey of baseball historians failed to turn up any comparable examples.
Phillips hasn’t yet partaken of another fad among catchers: personalized chest protectors. The prime avatar of this style is Ivan Rodriguez, who began wearing a special protector emblazoned with his nom de plate, “Pudge,” while playing for Texas last season, a practice he’s maintained this year with the Marlins.
Uni Watch doesn’t think much of this development, which elevates the cult of personality to unseemly heights. Still, it’s hard not to smile over the circumstances surrounding the other two representatives of this mini-trend, Vance Wilson of the Mets and Dan Wilson of the Mariners, both of whose tools of ignorance are manufactured by, of course, Wilson Sporting Goods. The company’s logotype, clearly visible on both players’ chest protectors, provides de facto personalization for the two Wilsonian backstops. No word yet on whether any team’s minor league system is harboring a catching prospect named Rawlings.