Friday, June 22, 2012

Mask vs. Helmet: Jerry Layne Latest Casualty in Umpiring Head Injury Epidemic

Concussion claimed another home plate umpire this year as Jerry Layne took a broken bat barrel to the side of the head while working out of the slot in Cincinnati. Though MLB veteran umpire Marvin Hudson advised Ump-Attire fans during spring training in 2010, the slot is the safest umpire plate position when it comes to batted or otherwise deflected balls.

However, as the UEFL witnessed this week with Chad Fairchild's reception of a 95 mile-per-hour sinker directly to the mask, there is little protection from projectiles when a catcher fails to field a throw. On Friday, we have added broken bats to the list.

After Reds batter Devin Mesoraco swung at a Nick Blackburn pitch in the bottom of the 4th inning of the Twins-Reds contest, his bat broke into pieces, with the large barrel spiraling back and hitting umpire Jerry Layne square in the side of the head.

As Layne lay prostrate on the grass behind home plate, fellow umpires Dan Bellino and Mike Muchlinski hustled in to check on their fallen crew chief while Bob Davidson retreated to the umpire's dressing room to don his plate gear. Though tests returned normal, Jerry Layne will sit the rest of the series as a AAA call-up will fill in for the two weekend contests.

Meanwhile in the Great American Ball Park press box, MLB Director of Umpires Randy Marsh saw the whole thing unfold: "We're not sure if there's a concussion yet ... That's one of the things that can happen. You get hit on the side of the head and there's nothing to protect you there."

Or is there?

In a debate all-too familiar amongst baseball umpires, it all boils down to the helmet vs. mask argument.

Umpires: Mask or Helmet?

While Layne, Fairchild and many other professional and amateur umpires alike wear traditional umpiring helmets, several others—such as Gary Cederstrom, C.B. Bucknor Ed Hickox and brothers Bill and Tim Welke—have opted for a fully-enclosed protective device informally known as a "hockey-style" helmet, named for the significant headwear hockey goalies wear on the ice to protect themselves from errant pucks and shots from all angles.

When Kerwin Danley was knocked unconscious by a 96 mph pitch to the head in Los Angeles during the 2008 season, he had been wearing a traditional umpire's face mask.

When he returned weeks later, Danley wore a "hockey-style" helmet.

Though studies documenting the difference between a mask and helmet in regards to protective capabilities generally discuss the huge advantage of full-head protection the helmet offers whereas the mask only offers frontal protection, many umpires are reluctant to switch, often citing the bulky nature of the helmet, baseball culture and tradition and, as the UEFL's own Jimmy Jack mentioned, "I wear the full bucket, [but] ... The only downside of the bucket is the weight on the left hand." Big Marc agreed, calling the handling "awkward." Nonetheless, both Jimmy Jack, Big Marc and several additional UEFL'ers recognize the tremendous safety advantage provided by the full-head helmet.

In the end—and just like hockey visors for players, referees and linesmen—the decision is a personal one, made when an official weighs comfort, tradition and safety. Throughout the years, some have continued to value the former over the latter, though increasingly, safety concerns have pushed more umpires to adopt the helmet and ditch the mask.

Video: HP Umpire Jerry Layne hit, injured by broken bat to head; Forced to leave game due to concussion
Related Video: First Base Umpire Layne Leaves Cubs-Rockies Game After Taking Foul Ball to Ankle (4/15/11)

24 comments :

Anonymous said...

Watching the video was very scary. Thank goodness Jerry was up and walked off the field.
There were 12 call up umps working tonight and they may need two more for tomorrow if Layne is out and if the rain out in Phil. is made up tomorrow or Sunday as a doubleheader. Fagan is in Omaha, Lollo in Indianapolis and Basner and Hamari are in Pawtucket. Tumpane and Ripperger are on the west coast so it seems unlikely that they would get the call.

Turducken said...

Tests on ump Jerry Layne normal after he was hit in head by broken bat behind plate. Will miss rest of ‪the series as precaution.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, too. This is not a concussion, by any stretch of the means. Stop making egregious leaps to call them such -- both Marsh's statement and what Turducken said prove this. He got hit in the head with a bat -- doesn't mean there's a concussion.

Anonymous said...

Umps are way too bullish these days to listen to common sense and wear proper protection. Oh well, you reap what you sow.

Jay said...

It's a no-brainer, really. Why would you continue to wear the mask when you have had head injuries, freak accidents or otherwise? Kerwin finally switched to the hockey helmet after the Dodger Stadium incident because he had a history of head injuries, which greatly contributed to the severity of his injury in LA. Now that Layne has had this happen to him - and he's lucky it wasn't worse - will he switch? I doubt it, even though it's the logical thing to do.

Anonymous said...

Darth Vader.

That's why umpires don't wear the bucket. It's freakin' idiot old veterans who are scared of change.

James said...

Ed Hickox... you mean the umpire who sued Wilson TWICE for injuries caused BY A HOCKEY HELMET???

I'm not sure if Hickox is sue happy, has a great lawyer, is cursed or if the equipment is to blame, but I'm not sure the technology is there yet to persuade me or any other umpire to switch. That and my instructional chair swears by the mask.

Anonymous said...

I don't know. If the studies say the helmet is so far superior to the mask, I, as a logical person, switch. But baseball and all sports really are not logical. You're not allowed to say 'no hitter' during a no hitter or perfect game, you can't step on the lines, so much superstition and vodoo magical nonsense. It's no suprise to me that umpires are part of that club.

Anonymous said...

It's the easiest call to make, yet umpires insist on continually getting this one wrong. SWITCH to a safer piece of equipment. It's just plain simple common sense. I'm surprised this Layne-type injury isn't even more common with all those masks at the MLB level.

Russ said...

You forgot about Greg Gibson and Mike Dimuro as they also wear the Hockey style mask. Mark Carlson, Mark Wegner and Marty Foster used to but they do not anymore. Funny enough, Jordan Baker who worked his first MLB game Today wears the hockey style mask as well as Manny Gonzalez.

Russ said...

Not sure where this should be posted, but this is a very cool video with Umpiring prospect Malachi Moore talking with Derryl Cousins, Ron Kulpa and Jim Wolf before the game in Cleveland on Wednesday. Not sure where DJ Reyburn was at this point but he is not in this video.

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=22476683&c_id=mlb

mnhopper1s said...

Tests were "normal" for what? I want to know what tests they used to say they are "normal." This is actually a pretty clear case of a concussion.

No imaging is going to say "concussion" or not. All they will do is rule out skull fracture and tell us there is no immediate brain bleed. Nothing about a concussion itself.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see that studies people keep referring to that say the hockey mask is a much safer piece of equipment? The only difference that the hockey mask provides is the side protection, and getting hit on the side is a very rare and freak accident! Something most umpires will risk for the much more comfortable and workable face mask! Even Them MLB medical staff agree that there is no difference when it come to taking any other type of ball to the head!

Anonymous said...

Is there a related video to Jerry Layne also getting hit in the face in 2006 between Atlanta and Florida. I remember this as it was Hanley Ramirez hitting a foul ball which broke his bat and the top half landed on Layne's face. He laid on the ground for about 15 minutes before leaving to have tests down. He came back the next night to umpire 3B, but not without a long deep bruise along the left side of his face.

Anonymous said...

Per story on mlb.com Mark Lollo will take Layne's place for the rest of the series

Anonymous said...

A concussion is a bruise of the brain. A barrel end of a bat whipping around at 50 to 60 mph hitting the side of a person's head could very likely bruise the brain tissue behind the skull. It seems reasonable to assume that a hockey style helmet would dissipate the energy over a broader surface area.

Remember when the guy in Cincinnati hit a HR with both hands essentially off the bat at the point of contact? This scenario was not much different - it was about as bad as getting whooped up the side of the head with a (swung) baseball bat.

Anonymous said...

It's really a flip coin issue. Many umpires get their shot at the big leagues when another umpire gets hurt. Injuries open doors in a way.

kickersrule said...

I wear a hockey mask and it saved me from getting in the the jaw/side of head about 10 times in my 8 years of umpiring. Well worth the $150

Anonymous said...

Is a full helmet safer than a mask? Certainly it adds some additional protection, BUT just how much more protection is inconclusive. Many Major League Umpires have had careers spanning decades wearing a mask without having a head injury. And as others have noted, the slight increase in safety is considered by many to not be worth the trade offs.

The most common cause of traumatic head injury is falling down, followed by car accidents. We'd all be much safer if we wore helmets when we rode in cars. But I doubt any of us will start doing that any time soon even though it is much safer than riding in a car without one. We assume a certain amount of risk in life based on the odds and the trade offs.

Wearing a mask instead of a helmet carries slightly more risk, but given how rare getting hit in the head in a place a mask wouldn't already protect you is, I'm not convinced the full helmet is worth the trade offs.

People will say, "Yeah if you got hit in the side of the head, you'd change your mind." Perhaps, but that's like saying to someone who gets a head injury in a car accident, "You should have worn a helmet."

Anonymous said...

Mac is a great umpire. He worked the northwoods league with me last year.

Anonymous said...

Nothing that contributes to this discussion but Tony randozzo? Just ejected coco crisp

Anonymous said...

CB Bucknor rockin the hockey helmet in Anaheim today

Anonymous said...

Double Headder: Navy vs. Lehigh. At Lehigh. Navy batter second pitch of the game, foul ball hit me in the side of the head. Spun me around, cut my head. Plunk down I went. The Wednesday before that series I said to my wife, I think I'll order a BUCKET HEAD helmet.

It's interesting - that the ONLY ONES allowed on a MLB field w/o a helmet are the umpires. If it were up to me - I would make them all use the hockey set up and I'd change the composit of the bats Way too may are breaking. So far the sharp end of the broken bat hasn't gown in anyones mask. Catcher either. When a zillion dollar catcher gets it - MLB will fix the bat issue.

umpire7 said...

Im making the switch to the bucket soon

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