Thursday, May 1, 2008

Thoughts on MLB Umpire Kerwin Danley's Fastball to His Mask

If you didn't hear about Kerwin Danley, MLB umpire who lost consciousness from a 95 MPH fastball he took to the lower jaw area in a game 4/27, read the article.

He was treated and released from the hospital so he's ok. But after hearing about this the first time, I looked for the video online to figure what kind of mask he was wearing. I know that's not the typical thought someone has, but I'm also the only one at a game who watches the umpires as much as I do the players.

He was wearing a Wilson West Vest Dyna-Lite Umpire Mask with two-tone wrap around pads. So, did this mask fail him? Should umpires not wear it at this level? I hear that kind of talk from time to time, where someone says "I took a really hard shot and it really hurt (or I got a bruise or occasionally even a minor concussion), and I'm beginning to think this mask (or other protective gear) is not appropriate for this level."

Although such thinking could be accurate in some cases and perhaps even in this one (hockey style helmet with more angles?), Mr. Danley's mask had the thicker-than-most-other-masks Wilson padding that wraps partially around the frame that is typical of other West Vest Dyna-Lite masks worn by other MLB umpires. In other words, he could not have been more protected in a traditional style mask.

So how did this mask not fail him if it gave him a concussion and sent him to the hospital? My answer, is simple: The mask protected him from being severely wounded or killed from the 2,400 pounds of force a 95 MPH delivers. Saying otherwise would be like saying a bulletproof vest failed when a police officer suffered a broken rib and bruised lung when he (or she) was shot at point blank range.

One last note: I had commented about some competitors wrongly claiming that Wilson's mask padding were "anti-concussion" in a past blog post titled "Are Competitor Claims Putting Umpires at Risk?". It's worthy of a re-read in light of this story.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jim,
Your article about the umpire and his mask is right on. Nothing that is sold is going to protect everyone all of the time. The mask did the job that it was intended to do. The umpire was very fortunate in the fact that his equipment worked and all that he got out of the incident was a slight concussion. You make the coorelation to a police officer and his or her bulletproof vest. In my 25 plus years of police work. I would have gladly taken a bruise or a broken rib over a sucking chest wound or my family and friends attending a funeral. I personally will take that over someone contacting my family and telling them about the incident or worse yet my family watching it as it happens in the real time world that we live in these days.

R. Price said...

I have been an American Legion, High School and Babe Ruth umpire for over 24 years. I use the exact same mask as Danley uses and have taken direct hits to the face, collar bone(broken), and to the side. A couple of those hits put me down and out-then out of umpiring for a couple of days and these are High School kids throwing maybe 90-93+ mph. You can not have good enough equipment. Protection has no price, if the alternative may be your life.
R. Price, Oregon

J Carollo said...

Ever since the Hockey style mask came into the picture, I have used nothing other than that. I do HIgh school varsity baseball and with the way these pitchers throw today with the volicity and strength of the pitches that these kids have developed, the hockey mask was the best thing that could have been put on the market.

SThompson said...

That is a nasty shot to be sure.

However I think the problem is not necessarily the face mask. If you watch the close up in slo mo you see that the ball comes in and strikes him in the right lower quadrant of the mask. The mask did it's job and probably saved him from a broken jaw.

But after the ball deflects off the mask it hits him in the right side of the neck. The video makes me wonder if the ball didn't smash into his carotid artery and that impact caused the unconsciousness rather than the impact to the mask.

In umpire protection there is almost nothing that protects the sides of the neck, which are extremely susceptible to impact damage. Even the hockey style doesn't cover the neck on the sides.

I would like to see a throat guard that comes off the mask in an enlongated "V" that could provide movement and protection that looks similar to the front part of a neck stabilization brace. I think it would be a natural step in protection for umpires just as the chest protector was a natural step from the old school "arm shield" type protectors umps used to use.

If you think about it, that mask probably saved his life. If the ball had gotten a direct shot, even glancing off the side of the neck it quite likely could have killed him.

Jim Kirk said...

Some really great comments. Always nice to get insights from a police officer as there are definitely a few similarities in occupation and gear there.

Nice to also hear your comments rprice as another wearer of the Danley mask.

Jcarollo is right that you can't argue against the hockey style as the safest helmet.

And sthompson's comments are very interesting. I didn't know he was also caught in the neck but the thoughts on an improved throat/neck guard are well-noted. Makes great sense.

bob mckinney said...

ive have been umpire for over 20 years and thats one of the worst hits ive ever seen. the wilson mask that he wore is the same one i were and it works.my friend who is a doctor said"that he passed out probally because the ball hit his neck." i had a hockey stlye mask and hated it.what really matters is not what brand he used or stlye.but he's alive