Saturday, April 12, 2014

Catchers Mask Debuts In Professional Baseball

On April 12, 1877, James Tyng became the first man to wear a catcher’s mask in a professional game.

Fred Thayer had been brewing an idea for a while, ever since some dugout chats he had once held with former catcher Howard Thatcher. Back in 1875, after Thatcher had taken a few too many foul tips to the noggin, the two men had discussed how to better protect a catcher without impeding his visibility.

One of the first catchers mask's ever invented by Fred Thayer.

Realizing he could no longer sit on the idea, Thayer decided a fencing mask provided the closest blueprint to what they needed. In the winter of 1876 he hired a local tinsmith to construct a "bird cage" mask with padding in the chin and forehead area. During practices Tyng and Thayer experimented and revised the mask several times until they got it just right for Tyng’s face.

Thayer received a patent for the mask in 1878. Later in the year, A.G Spalding and Brothers Company, the leading sporting goods dealer in the country, began selling the Thayer Catcher’s Mask for $3.00 in their catalogue. Slowly, catcher’s  started to use it, but it wasn’t until 1879 that sales took off because of a rule change that did away with the one bounce rule. It was now necessary for a catcher to catch a two-strike foul tip in the air in order to record an out.

With catchers moving closer to the batter in order to take advantage of this new ordinance, the catcher’s mask became indispensible. Although Fred Thayer received the patent, it should be noted that both Howard Thatcher and James Tyng also layed partial claims to the invention of the first catcher’s mask.