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)