Catcher's Equipment - Tools of Ignorance
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Body Armor for those Wayward 95 mph Fastballs

Women got into the act of making catching a safer profession. Legend has it that the wife of Detroit Tigers catcher Charles Bennett devised a chest pad to protect her hubby during games. He wore the creation outside his jersey in 1886. While some accounts say that catchers experimented with chest protectors earlier in the decade, these image-conscious receivers tried hiding the devices beneath their uniforms to avoid razzing.

Today's chest protectors, although ribbed with light but shock-absorbing poly foam, have come full circle from the original fur-stuffed sheepskin "breast protectors" worn under the uniform until 1884.

Along the way, catchers and umpires got inflatable vests. "Gray's Patent Body Protector" with its rubber-bladder ribs sold for $10 in 1891, twice the price of stuffed canvas or leather. Although umps stuck to inflatables until modern times, catchers quickly went for the maneuverability that lightweight stuffings like kapok afforded. It enabled them to crouch and to run to back up bases.

Today the well-protected warrior behind home plate has taken advantage of modern technology, especially that developed for law enforcement. Body armor, for the catcher in the 21st Century, might well be identical to the light weight kevlar vests worn under shirts by police officers today. After all, if a thin almost shirt like vest can stop a bullet, it certainly can stop a wayward 95 mph fastball. So perhaps chest protection will come full circle and the catchers of tomorrow will be wearing their armor beneath their jerseys just like the players in the 1880's.


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