Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Most Important Innovations in Sports Equipment History

By: C.G. Morelli

 I’m sure I can only speak for myself when I say that studying sports equipment is really interesting. See, I know most sports fans out there aren’t thinking about what kind of resin Roy Halladay powders on his hands before hurling a 90 mph heater. And there aren’t many fans, like me, who see a boxer laid out on the canvas and wonder what kind of mouthpiece it is laying beside him in a puddle of his own drool.

It’s this hazy attention to details that causes many of us to take these seemingly innocent innovations for granted. We fail to see the important roles they play in the lives of our athletes and rarely think about how things would be different without them

Therefore, I feel it is my duty to present to you the most important innovations in sports equipment history.

Honorable Mention – Nerf Footballs
Ok, so these flashy globes of foam rubber aren’t really pieces of equipment used by the professionals, but they sure make your Uncle Harry look like Johnny Unitas.  Maybe he was telling the truth when he told you he would have went pro if not for that damn alien abduction. Either that Nerf ball is scientifically designed to soar 90 yards with a flick of the wrist, or your Uncle Harry’s stashed some performance enhancers in that six pack of brew he’s got dangling from his belt loop.

5. Football Helmets with Facemasks
Just think, it wasn’t until the 1950’s that the modern football helmet and face mask were mandated in the pros. Before that, guys pretended to be tough while wearing the same leather helmet worn by Snoopy in his exploits as the Red Baron. Could you imagine how many teeth must have littered the turf by game’s end? It must have looked like closing time at the Chic-let factory. I guess on the bright side, however, not having facemasks would have eliminated pretty-boy smile guys like Tony Romo and Tom Brady from the game. Of course, I’m sure it also eliminated any chance of having the ability to produce rational thought after an average playing career.

4. Batting Helmets
The original batting helmet, used from the mid 1800’s all the way up into the 1950’s, was portable, fit like a glove, and was incredibly inexpensive. That’s because it was the human skull. Apparently no one thought it was a priority to protect the most vital organ in the body from whizzing, rock-hard projectiles. That is until the Major League death toll from wild pitches tallied six players by 1951. Teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates took notice of this scary statistic and began wearing protective helmets. Of course, the rest of the league immediately branded them as pansies… until 1954, when Joe Adcock was knocked unconscious by a wild pitch for a full 15 minutes. After that, the league decided to mandate the helmet rule for all players. Now you couldn’t catch a ballplayer standing in the on-deck circle without a helmet.

3. Hockey Goaltender Masks
You have to be either extremely brave or extremely stupid to stand in front of a blazing slap shot and stop a puck with your face. Until Jaques Plante of the 1960 Canadiens finally donned a protective mask, hockey goalies were a little bit of both. Since then, the goalie mask has progressed from the full plastic variety, made famous by Jason Voorhees in the slasher flicks Friday the 13th, to the modern version of a helmet and a protective metal cage that we commonly see today. Both varieties have allowed goaltenders to escape their playing days without losing an entire row of teeth or winding up with a face only a mother could love. 

2. Protective Cups
There’s really not much to say here. To even provide a reminder of sports without the trusty walnut shell would be an exercise in barbarity to anyone who’s ever taken a knee to the groin during a game of rough-touch football. But, yes, the forefathers of sports didn’t think twice about leaving the little guy open to injury. Makes you wonder how we all came to be, doesn’t it? The first cup was actually just a rolled-up piece of leather. Yeah, that gives you peace of mind. Thankfully, a wide variety of lightweight and sturdy materials now exist to protect you from the ultimate manly mishap.

1. Baseball Caps
There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t sing the praises of the baseball cap. I mean, I where a cap so often it’s become my hairstyle, and that’s the way it is for millions of hat-dependent Americans each day. Don’t feel like combing your hair? Baseball cap. Don’t want your hair to get wet in the rain? Baseball cap. Don’t have hair at all? Baseball cap. It’s the answer to most head-related issues…at least in my book.

But one thing that can’t be disputed is the modern ball cap has become an American staple, like the cowboy hat or apple pie. Thankfully, the original straw hat worn by the 1860 Brooklyn Excelsiors has come a long way. It’s been updated to the modern 59-50 style worn by current major leaguers. Otherwise I’d be sitting on a porch with a goofy straw hat and a corn cob pipe trying to whittle something right now.  

 And, really, who wants that?


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