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Everyone aware of baseball as a game knows how dangerous that little ball can be to a human body. In youth baseball many kids are required to wear protective cups over their private parts. Which begs the question: Do MLB players wear cups, too?
Major League Baseball players are free to choose whether or not to wear a cup, and many choose not to. Officially in the MLB, the rules do not require players to wear cups.
For all other baseball leagues, rules regarding the protective cups (as well as for other gear) vary by league or organization. Players who regularly play a specific position are more apt to wear a cup than others, which we will explore below.
While it’s just a small cork ball covered by tightly wound yarn, when covered with cowhide a baseball is hard to the touch. It may give a little upon hard impacts, but to a person’s bones or skin that’s of little relief.
In the MLB, baseballs can travel as fast as 120 mph ~ or faster! Pro pitchers toss from 90 to 100 mph generally, and those balls when projected by bats can rocket even faster.
Studies have shown that being struck by a fast-moving baseball in the groin without a cup can be the equal to an impact of up to 2,400 pounds of force!
Hard-hit or -thrown baseballs can break bones. Why, then, doesn’t every MLB player wear a cup to protect their most sensitive areas?
We’ll go into more detail on each below, but influencing factors in the decision to wear a protective cup in baseball play can be summarized thusly:
- Impact on performance or running speed
- Position (e.g. catchers with more opportunities for groin shots, vs. outfielders who are not threatened by line drives or hard grounders on defense)
- Previous experience (e.g. start wearing cup after being struck)
- Requirement (by some leagues; but not the MLB)
- Safety (especially while hitting)
- Avoid injury
- Avoid pain
- Mental (e.g. confidence in play, or lack thereof)
Primarily there are a couple of reasons why MLB players avoid using a cup:
Baseball players spend hours on end on the field in full playing gear, including practice and games. Protective cups even when held in place by the best jock straps can be awkward, burdensome, even a little painful.
While major leaguers can afford the most-advanced and well-designed cups, many of them choose not to just because cups feel weird, never feel right down there, or feel like they impede physical action.
Cups can pinch, and their rubber edges (placed there, ironically, to protect the skin) can rub and cause rashes. Cups not properly sized or fitted can slip and move during hard action. In the end, the cup might not even be in the right place to deflect a ball properly.
A famous case was that of Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre, who was struck in the groin so hard he sustained real injuries that kept him off the field for a spell (See details below). Yet, afterward he said he still would not wear a cup during baseball play.
Some players just believe they don’t perform as well wearing a cup.
Of all the positions, pitchers are the least likely to wear protective cups, followed by outfielders. Most often they will cite impediment to body motions needed to perform baseball actions well. Some say it might limit flexibility, or just flat-out slows them down.
For outfielders, it might be understandable, since they are less prone to hard grounders and bad hops on the dirt than infielders, who are closer to home plate, too. Cups are prone to slip or move while running full speed, and outfielders tend to do that more than other players.
Pitchers end up only about 52 feet from the batter when a ball is hit, not a lot of space to react really fast to protect the family jewels. Still, many of them skip the cup.
In summary, all catchers wear cups for obvious reasons. And most infielders do, too. Those blazing fast pitches, grounders, and low line drives are just too much to bear for them. But most outfielders and pitchers do not.
A 3rd reason might be general annoyance, but that could be classified into either the comfort or performance category. Other things to consider:
A key area where baseball players can take a groin shot is while batting. In fact, it is not uncommon for hitters to foul pitches straight down into the dirt ~ and then have those balls deflect straight back up fast. Bouncing baseballs have caused injuries to batters’ groin area as well as face.
Even players standing off to the side in practice or lulls in game play are not entirely safe from the epic groin shot.
Baseball players also could get struck in the testicles by an errantly swung bat. Accidents, after all, do happen.
Then there are the times when teammates might jokingly smack another player’s groin area while saying, “Cup check!” It’s not so funny when you fail the test.
Well, you get to pass the “cup check.” All joking aside, the main benefits of wearing a protective cup in sports is to prevent injury, followed by avoiding or reducing pain. As stated from the start above, baseballs are hard and travel fast, and human body parts do not fare well when colliding with them.
In youth and young adult leagues, a benefit of wearing a cup is being allowed to play. Some league rules require them.
A final benefit that is not often discussed but we believe is real is confidence. Players wearing cups can afford to be more aggressive during certain plays, and be fearless that serious pain from the groin area will come.
This is especially true for infielders. Players who have been struck in the groin by hard grounders can become tentative afterward, not charging hard or getting in front of ground balls for fear of being hit again … in the same area of the groin.
Players confidently wearing a cup have shed fear or squaring up to a hard grounder, or line-drive short-hop straight at them.
All males understand how sensitive the testicles are, and even all the soft tissue near and around them. The pain is nature’s way of informing boys and men to protect the testicles to avoid damage, thus ensuring reproduction.
Can being struck in the testicles affect reproduction? The answer is yes. Even if that’s not the end result, other testicular injuries are possible, too:
- Bleeding. In the instance noted above, Beltre suffered significant testicular swelling and even some bleeding.
- Intensive swelling. Again, suffered by Beltre, and also by an injurious incident with catcher Yadier Molina in 2018.
- Bruising. Because of gravity, serious bruising down there could form in strange places, as blood accumulates wherever.
- Cracks in testicle(s). It may seem glarly, but testicles can be cracked by very hard impacts. Ouch!
- Removal. More than 1 athlete has had a testicle removed due to an in-play incident.
Even without a specific injury, a big annoyance with groin shots is a player may be forced to leave a game on account of pain, or to seek medical advice. At the very least, some players wear cups just to make sure they can stay out on the field, e.g., not be forced off by freak injury.
Be involved with baseball long enough, and you’re bound to hear about a catcher who, while wearing a cup, suffered great pain getting hit in between the legs. The victim might say something like, “The ball barely grazed my cup, and it still hurt like heck!”
Either the cup was not worn or fitted right, or the incoming ball just happened to strike at the wrong speed or angle.
Cup manufacturers will openly talk about the importance of wearing cups properly. Using them with jockstraps is tradition, and now some manufacturers are even making compression shorts to wear atop a cup.
One only needs to consider the names of some of the top protective cups on the market to know how important they are for players. One brand, Shock Doctor, offers the AirCore soft cup and Titan Alloy Flex Cup models. Other cups on the market are the Comfy Cup, and Nutty Buddy Flex.
In today’s baseball, there seems to be a movement to skip protective cups ~ even by players who have taken an unlucky strike. They just consider performance the top priority; potential pain or injury is secondary. Some major leaguers never get comfortable wearing one. (See Beltre, Adrian).
Many adult players of course might already have had children. Young baseball players should try to wear a cup at all times, if possible. The potential for serious injury is just too high.
Ever been struck by a baseball in the groin area? Any thoughts on wearing a protective cup? We’d love to hear from you!