Monthly: November 2019


Facemasks Part II: Baseball Gets In the Act

In this second entry on facemasks, RetroCards looks at the world of baseball. Broken jaws are not uncommon in that sport and one early attempt at adding a facemask to a baseball helmet can be traced to Dave Parker (photos 1-4) in 1978 when he first used a hockey mask he purchased at a sporting goods store to protect a broken jaw. An intimidating player without the mask, he probably intimidating opposing pitchers with this unique choice until he switched to a football facemask which afforded him better vision.

The same goes for Ellis Valintine of the Expos (photos 5-6), where he wore a cut-in-half football facemask after a March 1980 injury to his cheekbone where it was shattered in 6 places. In another instance, Gary Roenicke used a football facemask after being hit in the mouth with a fastball that caused 25 stitches. He went to the Baltimore Colts locker room and used quarterback Bert Jones’ mask, screwing it onto his batting helmet (photo 9). He had a more stylized one made eventually (photo 10). Meanwhile, photo 8 shows an unidentified minor leaguer using a rather large cage to protect the throat area. Photo 7 shows current player Giancarlo Stanton with a sensible and customized mask to protect his matinee idol face. Will these become standard equipment in major league baseball? Probably.


Facemasks: A Pictorial History of Oddities

1. John Williams, Los Angeles Rams, 1978
2. Fred Williamson, Kansas City Chiefs, 1968
3. Keith Fahnhorst, San Fransisco 49ers, 1978
4. Dan Dierdorf, St. Louis Cardinals, 1977
5. Scott Player, Cleveland Browns, 2007
6. Norm Thompson, St. Louis Cardinals, 1976
7. Leonard Thompson, Detroit Lions, 1983
8. Pat Hughes, New Orleans Saints, 1978
9. Charlie Smith, Philadelphia Eagles, 1981
10. Toni Fritsche, Houston Gamblers, 1984
11. Eddie LeBaron, Washington Redskins, 1958
12. Y.A. Tittle, San Francisco 49ers, 1954
13. Doug Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1978
14. Ray Brown, Atlanta Falcons, 1974
15. Ollie Matson, Los Angeles Rams, 1959

Football facemasks have always fascinated me, particularly unusual ones. The evolution of the facemask had very humble beginnings. Starting in the leather helmet days, some facemasks were concocted on a one or two-game basis to protect a broken nose or some other facial injury. Early photos show facemasks being used as early as the 1940s. By the mid 1950s, facemasks were common and by 1960, nearly everyone used one.

The 1950s saw Riddle introducing the clear lucite facemask show above by Y.A. Tittle #12. Though they gave better vision, they could shatter so, they were discontinued. The handle you see on Y.A.’s helmet was for extra stability of the facemask but Y.A. commented in an interview that it was easier for the defense to pull him down by that handle!

Some of the above (#’s 4, 7, 9 13) were custom made to protect players with broken jaws while some were designed or modified to give additional protection. Some are just plain strange or totally unique with no apparent reason for the design.

Today, there are specs and rules for the types of helmets and facemasks that are allowed in the NFL, most of which are to maintain safety and protection.