I assume many of you heard about Mike Coolbaugh's death a couple weeks ago—he was the first-base coach with the Tulsa Drillers who was killed by a foul ball to the head.
Although extremely rare when you consider the amount of foul balls hit every day of the season, Mike wasn't the first to lose his life on the field. In fact, before 1951, at least six major and minor league batters were killed when they took balls in the head. Why before 1951 you might ask? Because the following year the fiberglass batting helmet was introduced, something that would become a mandate for all teams by 1956.
The Pittsburgh Pirates were the first team to wear them (because Charlie Muse, who invented the plastic helmet, worked in the Pirates' organization) and for years were the laughing stock of the game, considered "wimps" and "pansies" for protecting their heads.
But then in 1954, the Braves' Joe Adcock was beaned so badly that he fell unconscious for 15 minutes and, as a result, more players started wearing them.
Now that a coach has died, however, some first- and third-base coaches are starting to wear protective helmets on the field, too. Sometimes, when I'm sitting behind one of the dugouts, I feel like even WE spectators in the stands should be wearing them. I've seen some balls (and bats) launched my way with such velocity, you wouldn't want to be caught ordering an overpriced cold beer when one of those babies comes your way.