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Fred Thayer: The Father of the Catcher's Mask

Necessity is the mother of all invention. In the early days of baseball, catchers didn't wear a chest guard, shin guards, glove or mask. The only form of protection the most dangerous position in baseball was granted was a simple rubber mouth guard. It took a Harvard man to invent one of the most important pieces of equipment in all of sports.

The Inventor

Fred Thayer was born on August 14, 1854 in Boston, Massachusetts. He enrolled in Harvard in 1875 where he played football and was the manager/third base coach of the baseball team. In three years at the helm, Thayer built an impressive 72-31-2 record while also going to school as a full-time student.

While he enjoyed success in all three years, the program fell back to earth in the year after he left, finishing 1879 with a paltry 11-15-2 finish. But by then, Thayer was well on his way to changing the game forever.

The Invention

Fred Thayer was in a bind. The Harvard University baseball manager had grown tired of watching his catcher, Jim Tyng, continuously getting beaned in the head with fastballs and unpredictable curveballs. So one day, he went to the local tinsmith with an idea.

What if they put together a birdcage-like mask with pads resting against the chin and forehead? After some practice in early 1877, Fred Thayer was ready to debut his invention. Jim Tyng (who ironically was primarily a pitcher in the majors) performed well enough in the new contraption in its first public appearance on April 12, 1877 and it has stayed with the sport ever since.

In February of 1878, Thayer applied for and received a patent for his invention, but not even a patent could keep competitors from attempting to circumnavigate the process. Spalding was a growing company back then and it tried to produce and sell catchers masks without paying Thayer his due. Thayer found out about this and sued them in 1883 where the court ruled in his favor, awarding him a hefty sum.

Fred Thayer died on September 17, 1913.

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