Why Do Baseball Helmets Cover One Ear?

Batting helmets in professional baseball only have one ear flap, which is different than most standard batting helmets you see in high school and youth baseball.  When watching baseball on TV, helmets with only the single ear flap may stand out and look peculiar.  Why do baseball helmets cover one ear?

Professional baseball players use batting helmets with only one ear flap mainly for comfort.  It is easier for players to get the helmet on and off their head with only one ear flap. 

Players only need one ear flap because the ear facing the pitcher is the only ear exposed to an incoming pitch.  Also, having one ear uncovered makes it easier to hear instructions shouted by coaches while running the bases. 

Below we talk about these issues in more detail and discuss some other small differences in equipment between amateur and professional baseball. 


Why Are MLB Helmets One Sided?

When a batter is in the batter’s box awaiting a pitch, only the front ear of the batter is exposed to the incoming pitch.  This means that only the front ear needs added protection. 

In amateur sports, most batting helmets have both ear flaps so that they can be used effectively by both right-handed and left-handed hitters.  This allow amateur teams to buy less helmets and save on money.

In Major League Baseball, hitters use helmets with only one ear flap because they can still have protection for their exposed ear, but the single ear flap makes the helmet more comfortable and easier to use, and also allows them an exposed ear to hear shouts from coaches while running the bases. 

Comfort of One-Flap Helmets

If you’ve ever worn a batting helmet you know getting them on and off your head isn’t the most comfortable experience.  The helmets need to be snug enough not to bounce around while you swing, but still loose enough to slide on and off your head. 

For a youth player to find a helmet that fits snug enough, it means the helmet will likely drag across his ears as he removes the helmet.

Single ear flap helmets help combat this issue.  Professional players can find a helmet that fits them correctly, but still be able to remove it comfortably because the helmet slides off much easier with the backside ear flap missing.  

Communication with Coaches

Having one ear uncovered helps base runners hear instructions shouted from base coaches.  During live game action, a Major League Baseball stadium can be loud – fans are shouting while the player is hustling around the bases.  It can be hard to hear. 

Major League Baseball players must pick up their base coaches with their eyes.  Non-verbal communication is a big part of baseball.  Base coaches will shout, but also use hand signals to communicate with runners.  

Single ear flap helmets make it a bit easier for base runners to hear the shouts of coaches through the roars and excitement of the crowd. 


Equipment Differences: Amateur vs Pro

What other equipment differences exist between youth and high school baseball vs professional baseball?  Here is a list of some other differences in equipment:

Baseball Bats – Professional baseball players are only allowed to use wood bats. Metal bats are not allowed.  The speed of the ball off a metal bat is too fast and would endanger pitchers,fielders, and coaches. 

Pine Tar – Although the use of pine tar is not restricted in most youth and amateur leagues, it is very rare to see it used.  On the professional level, pine tar is left in the on-deck circle and nearly every batter will use it on their bat to strengthen grip.

Rosin – Rosin bags are located on the backside of professional pitching mounds for pitchers to use to help grip the baseball.  Like pine tar, the use of rosin is usually not prohibited in youth or high school baseball, but it is very rare to see it used. 


Why Do Baserunners Wear Helmets?

Baserunners wear helmets to protect themselves from being hit with a baseball struck off a bat. 

Some fans watching baseball find it odd that baserunners need this type of protection, but fielders do not wear helmets.  But it is important to remember that fielders have gloves to protect themselves with, and are at a ready position at the time of the pitch, focusing on the batter.  Baserunners are not always looking at the batter.  They may be stealing a base at the time the ball is struck. 

Also, when leading off third base, a baserunner gets dangerously close to home plate as the pitch is delivered.  With exit velocity speeds off the bat of 110+mph, if a batted ball struck a charging baserunner in the head when they weren’t wearing a helmet, the consequences could be severe.  The helmet gives baserunners a bit of protection for this type of scenario. 


Why Don’t Pitchers Wear Helmets in Baseball?

There have been numerous occasions in Major League Baseball history where a pitcher has been struck in the head by a batted ball. These injuries can be very gruesome due to the speed of the baseball after it comes off the bat.  This leads some spectators to wonder why MLB pitchers do not wear helmets for protection.

MLB pitchers do not wear helmets because they feel it would affect their concentration while pitching. 

Helmets do not always fit tight and a pitcher’s concentration and possibly eye sight could be impeded by the movement of a loose helmet. 

In all likelihood, at some point in the future baseball will develop a type of head protection that works for pitchers without disrupting their rhythm and focus.  At this point in time, Major League Baseball pitchers only wear a standard team-issued baseball hat on their head. 


Why Do Base Coaches Wear Helmets?

On July 22, 2007, Mike Coolbaugh, first-base coach for the Double-A Tulsa Drillers (Colorado Rockies affiliate), was killed when a batted ball struck him in the neck. 

This incident reverberated throughout the sport and brought to the forefront the safety of base coaches while on the field.  Base coaches often must watch fielders instead of the batter in case they need to alert a baserunner to a pickoff attempt.  This makes the coaches vulnerable to being struck by sharply hit line drives. 

In November 2007, Major League Baseball general managers came to an agreement to make base coaches wear batting helmets while on the field.  The decision was received positively by the sport. 

Paul Johnson

Paul has been with us from our beginnings. He focuses on a wide range of sports, including NFL, NBA, MLB and golf.

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