|Plate Umpire Safety Zones and the Slot (Click to Enlarge).|
A number of the 2016 injures occurred when umpires vacated the safe (green) zone and entered caution (yellow) or danger (red) zones. For instance, yawetag diagrammed Chris Guccione's May 26 injury, noting that Guccione was positioned in the caution/yellow zone at the pivotal moment.
Positioning itself is pretty helpful in staving off many potential injuries (see the accompanying diagram for potential ball flight on deflection, and you'll notice the slot is clear from those most common trajectories), and always a great safety concept to review, but the remainder of this narrative shall be dedicated to the Mask vs Helmet debate.
|Traditional masks only protect the anterior head.|
Here's a selective reblog from an article I wrote in 2012 about the mask vs. helmet debate:
The traditional umpires' mask is a lightweight piece of equipment that fits over the top of a shortened bill of the cap and may be tightened so as to snugly fit around the umpire's face. The traditional mask came into use in the early 1900s and the general design has remained fairly constant ever since—the mask still encloses the umpire's face, but not the sides of the head.The hockey-style helmet or mask (HSM) is a more recent technological advancement, though...an umpire wearing an HSM stands out on a ballfield and not necessarily in a positive way.There is a certain stigma attached to defying tradition for new-age technology—look no further than the instant replay debate—and there are arguments to be made for both keeping and ditching the traditional face mask for the HSM.
For many, the science is still out, USA Today finding that, "Not enough data is available to show if the hockey-style masks some umps wear are better than traditional masks."
Ergo, the one distinct advantage of the HSM is its 360-degree enclosure around the head, and, thus, full-skull protection. An traditional mask-wearing umpire hit in the back, top, or side of the head by a deflected ball (off a fence or netting, for instance) may be significantly harmed due to the mask's exposure, whereas the HSM-wearing umpire hit by this same ball may escape uninjured. Similarly, umpires such as Jerry Layne and Brian O'Nora have been hit by bat barrels in the side of the head while wearing traditional masks, and exited games because of it.
|A bat is taken to the side of the head in Australia.|
Thus with the technological advances, the principal consideration for mask vs helmet appears to be style and comfort: There remains a noticeable weight difference in carrying a traditional mask in the left hand as opposed to carrying a bucket, yet the issue of vision appears to have been engineered moot. The question, thus, becomes whether the risk of a hit to anything but the front of the head is worth keeping tradition around.
I personally became bucket-bound after one too many concussions, including an errant throw to the side of the head (the whiz of the ball as it's about to hit is such an ominous sound...), and have gotten so used to the full-head cocoon that the front-facing traditional mask feels deficient and exposed. Especially with smaller ballfields and closer backstops—not to mention those with fence cages so close to the plate area—it just made sense to protect the entirety of the head from the oft-freak deflection, turning a potentially catastrophic injury into a humorous baseball oddity.