Thursday, October 30, 2008

Which Mask: Traditional or Hockey Helmet?

On April 26, 2008, MLB umpire Kerwin Danley was hit by a 96 mph fastball. The ball hit him on the jaw and he lost consciousness. Thankfully, Danley recovered and worked the plate during the 2008 World Series.

It appears that Danley was wearing a Wilson West Vest Dyna-Lite Umpire Mask.

Later in the year he switched to a hockey helmet.

It really makes you stop and think, doesn't it? I could debate the pros and cons of traditional vs hockey masks, but Mr. Danley's choice speaks volumes. The hockey helmet offer better protection, period.

So what is the difference? Danley's traditional mask weighs around one pound and the typical hockey helmet weighs about twice that, but the weight is more evenly distributed.

Considering that you should only wear your mask when you are calling balls and strikes (during the pitch), the added weight does not seem all that big of a deal. The price is not all that different between the two styles. There is even a lively debate here:

One last consideration. I expect my mask to last a few seasons. I take care of my equipment, so five is generally the number that I have in mind. The thing is, I go through about three plate hats each season. Even with washing and storing in a hat cage, my hats fade and look poor after a time and require replacement. At about $15 each, that adds up to $45 a year times 5 years, or an EXTRA $225. Also, I like the idea of whatever extra breeze I can get through my hair (what little I have) during the game. When I consider all of the above, I think I have talked myself into a hockey helmet.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I know this is an old post, but I came to this amalgam of posts by searching for all your posts on masks, as I am in the market for a new one (your site and reviews are great, BTW!).

I know this is anecdotal, so take this with a grain of salt. I would really like to see a through scientific study on the protection of HSM's vs. traditional masks.

I was a full-time catcher for 20 years, from LL up through low professional and semi-pro. I played during the years of HSM's being adopted, and wore two different ones for a while as they were given to me by equipment reps. Maybe they've improved in the last five years (but I don't think so from looking at them, at least not in protection), and I *hate* them. They do offer improved vision, and a way to protect your ears without looking like scrub with the old-style full-coverage helmets that kids used to wear.

I hate them because they are heavy, hot, and awkward. As a catcher, I also didn't like having no head protection after removing the mask for a play at the plate, but that's not an issue for umpires.

But, the real issue is protection. As mentioned, there needs to be a study and not just anecdotal collection of opinions, but I am convinced the protection is inferior for blows to anything but the face cage. Every time I took a blow off the forehead part, it "rang my bell." Shots that would have been no problem with the old mask/helmet combo were awful with the HSM. I know the adage about a larger surface area distributing force, but look at the forehead padding in any HSM and compare it to a good mask. It's apples and oranges. I don't care how much plastic is there to distribute some of the force, a 95 MPH foul deflected straight into your forehead needs padding!

I know there is a lot of talk among MiLB catchers and umpires that the HSM increase concussions. I can believe that this is true. I would really like to see someone study this.