One flap or two?
For most major leaguers, the choice is the same. When they step to the plate, they wear a helmet with a protective flap over one ear, on the side of their head facing the pitcher. A’s infielder Jed Lowrie is not like most players. He wears a helmet with flaps on both sides, regardless of whether he – a switch hitter – is batting right- or left-handed.
“I jokingly call it my fortress of solitude,” Lowrie said.
While double-ear flap helmets are ubiquitous in youth baseball and required in the minor leagues, the list of major leaguers who wear them has typically been short – and may be even shorter this season. Former Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino, a longtime wearer of the two-flap style, is in the minors with the Chicago Cubs. Texas Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo wore a double-flap helmet through last season but also has been seen with a one-flap model.
St. Louis Cardinals backup catcher Brayan Pena used a double-flap helmet this spring but is on the disabled list following knee surgery. It may be that, at the moment, Lowrie is the only active big leaguer who exclusively wears the double-flap style.
The one I wear now is bulky. It’s big. I’d like to see them come up with a solution to use that new material (for a double flap) so it could be a little more – maybe discreet is the right word. But until that time comes, I’m going to opt for the one that’s safer.
A’s infielder Jed Lowrie
“It’s rare,” longtime A’s clubhouse and equipment manager Steve Vucinich said. “I’ve had two guys (use it) in the last 10 years.”
The other was backup infielder Andy Parrino, another switch hitter. Parrino’s reason, Vucinich said: “He just got tired of carrying two (helmets). That’s what he told me.”
Lowrie said he also carried two different single-flap helmets for his first two years in the majors in Boston. But he ditched the model for a different reason.
“I just never got used to it,” Lowrie said. “It’s just a weird feeling. You wear the double flap your whole life. It’s just like there’s a whole side of the helmet that’s not there.”
Lowrie’s switch back to the double flap led his then-Boston teammates to dub him “the hard-hat specialist,” he said. The two-flap style stands out in the majors – which is why Lowrie said he switched over in the first place.
“It was a follow-the-pack thing: ‘This is what big leaguers wear,’ ” Lowrie said. “But I guess if you’re not comfortable wearing something, there’s no reason to do it just because everybody else is doing it.”
The choice isn’t entirely sartorial. While the one-flap helmet covers the side of the head most prone to errant pitches, A’s outfielder Billy Burns said he has considered using the double flap because of the added protection it gives to baserunners.
“When I’m running, stealing or getting picked off, one ear is always exposed,” Burns said. “Last year (A’s outfielder) Sam Fuld got hit in the side of the face in a spring training game running to first, because that side of his ear was exposed because he hits lefty.”
That wasn’t the only reason Burns, another switch hitter, thought about switching.
“Last year I went up there with the wrong helmet a couple of times, and the umpire just looked at me like I was an idiot,” Burns said. “I had to go back and change it and then go back and hit.”
Burns tried a double-flap helmet this spring but said he found it “too bulky … I decided not to use it because I still want to be kind of light.”
I see it in the minor leagues all the time. You see it in college and high school, so it’s not a far-fetched look. It’s not that odd. It’s just odd at this level.
A’s equipment manager Steve Vucinich, on the double-flap helmet
Balancing safety and functionality is part of the helmet narrative. Beginning in 2013, all major leaguers had to wear a new kind of helmet designed by Rawlings, the S100 Pro Comp. It is slightly larger and heavier than previous models. But it is made with a carbon fiber shell designed to protect against balls thrown up to 100 mph, and it is notably less cumbersome than previous versions of the helmet.
The only exception was for players who wear helmets with earflaps on both sides, as the S100 Pro Comp is not made in a two-flap design. Lowrie has since started wearing a different double-flap model after learning it was safer than the one he previously wore, but he said it also isn’t as light.
“The one I wear now is bulky. It’s big,” Lowrie said. “I’d like to see them come up with a solution to use that new material (for a double flap) so it could be a little more – maybe discreet is the right word. But until that time comes, I’m going to opt for the one that’s safer.”
And Vucinich will continue to travel with an extra two-flap helmet, just in case.
“I see it in the minor leagues all the time,” Vucinich said. “You see it in college and high school, so it’s not a far-fetched look. It’s not that odd. It’s just odd at this level.”