Since the 20th century, baseball players have been trying to find a way to recuse the danger of being struck in the head by a baseball. They’ve experimented with helmets made of death, metal, and other materials.
By 1956, the National League required batters to wear some kind of protective headgear. The American League instituted the same rule two years later in 1958.
“Most of those early helmets covered only the top of the head,” writes The Washington Post. “The modern, hard-shell batting helmet, instantly familiar to anyone who has played or watched baseball, was a surprisingly late development.”
That helmet was patented in 1959 by Creighton J. Hale. Hale, a physiologist, took the role as the first director of research for Little League Baseball. Later, he became the president and chief executive of Little League. This makes him one of the most influential people in baseball.
On October 8th, that influential man passed away in a hospital in Williamsport, Philadelphia. Williamsport always happens to be the headquarters of what is now called Little League International.
Dr. Hale was 93 when he passed away. The Little League organization announced his death. However, they did not disclose a cause.
The drive to develop a better helmet came after the league’s annual World Series was televised in 1953. Doctors and psychologists grew concerned about the physical and emotional toll that intense competition might take on young athletes, who are 12 or younger.
“Dr. Hale, then on the faculty of Springfield College in Massachusetts, wrote to Little League president Peter J. McGovern, suggesting that a commission investigating the sport’s safety would need a qualified scientist,” wrote The Washington Post.
In 1955, Dr. Hale became the temporary research director. However, it wasn’t going to be temporary.
“I took a year-and-a-half leave of absence, and I’m still on it,” Dr. Hale said in 1985.
Creighton J. Hale was born Feb. 18, 1924, in Hardy, Nebraska. Both of his parents were teachers. During World War II, he served in the Navy.
Hale received his undergraduate degree from Colgate University in 1948. The following year, he earned a master’s degree in physiology from Springfield College in 1949 and a doctorate from New York University in 1951.
When Dr. Hale started his study of the Little League by examining why little league batters are more likely to be hit by pitches than adults. He dealt with that issue by moving the pitcher 46 feet from home plate instead of 44.
However, the most notable safety concern that Hale addressed was the batting helmet. He began his study by building a homemade air cannon that fired baseballs at 100 mph. Every helmet broke apart on impact.
To deal with that issue, he created a hard plastic helmet with interior padding. He also added flaps over both ears to protect temples and cheekbones. In 1961, they required the helmets to be used in games.
“Everybody’s made their own little designs, but the major idea, the major design, was his,” said Jim Easton, president of the Easton sporting goods manufacturer, in 2001. “There was a lot of resistance, just like you saw in hockey, where some players didn’t want to wear helmets. But with Little League making it mandatory, then people grew up with it, and eventually, everyone wore them.”
Soon afterward, the helmets became standard at all levels of baseball—from high school through the minor leagues. In 1983, earflap helmets were all required in major league games.
Dr. Hale also used his air cannon to develop a one-piece helmet and catchers mask.
He also looked to make bats out of shatterproof materials and designed a catcher’s chest protector with a protective throat guard.
In addition to his role as a researcher, Dr. Hale joined the organization permanently. He became president in 1973 and the chief executive a decade later.
He led Little League to increased participation—from 31 countries to more than 80. Player participation also increased from 370,000 to more than 3 million. Hale remained on the Little League board of directors until 2014.
Survivors include his wife of 13 years; two children from his first marriage; a brother; 10 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.
Please pray for his family as they mourn their loss.
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