Creighton Hale, 93, Inventor of Little League Helmet, Dies

Creighton Hale, 93, Inventor of Little League Helmet, Dies

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In addition to being able to withstand pitches thrown at high speeds, the helmet had a flap on each side designed to protect the temples, ears and cheekbones.

Major League Baseball had experimented with helmets before Mr. Hale’s work. When he formally introduced his Little League helmet in 1958 at the Little League Congress in Chicago, he staged a demonstration of a helmet that was being used in major league games. When his cannon unleashed a 95-mile-an-hour fastball, the helmet split from top to bottom.


A Little League player in 1959 wearing the newly patented batters’ safety helmet.

Little League Baseball

Mr. Hale’s dual-earflap helmet became mandatory for Little League batters and runners in 1961. At its World Series that year, he later recalled, a boy was struck in the helmet by a pitch and fell to the ground.

“After being examined by a doctor, he hopped up and ran to first base,” Mr. Hale recounted in “More Than a Bat and a Ball: My 60 Years at Little League,” an autobiography, written with Mary Ellen Gardner, that was published by Little League Baseball in 2015. “No one wants to see a child in peril, but for me that was the ultimate field test and outcome.”

Mr. Hale also invented a catcher’s helmet with a mask attached to it and a chest protector that guards the catcher’s throat. He worked with Alcoa Aluminium and other companies to develop aluminum bats as a cost-effective alternative to wooden bats, which often shattered and had to be replaced.

Aluminum bats became controversial for the speed with which balls leave them, compared with that of wooden bats, and for the injuries that have been caused by them. Aluminum bats and others made of composite materials are used at youth, high school and college levels. Little League bats are moving toward meeting a standard in which they would perform like wooden ones.

In the 1970s Mr. Hale was chairman of a committee of the National Academy of Sciences that developed a new military helmet made of Kevlar.

Creighton J. Hale was born on Feb. 18, 1924, in Hardy, Neb. (He was given a middle initial but not a middle name.) His father, Russell, was a farmer, teacher and school superintendent. His mother, the former Anita Fay Farthing, was a teacher and homemaker.

As a boy, Mr. Hale played baseball but was more interested in boxing, football (he wore a leather helmet), basketball and track. He was so competitive, he wrote, that he entered a state typewriting speed competition as a teenager and won the 15-minute contest.

After serving in the Navy, he graduated from Colgate University in upstate New York, then earned a master’s in physiology at Springfield College in Massachusetts, where he taught for five years and worked on military research, including testing a more ergonomic infantry pack. He received a doctorate in the physiology of muscular activity from New York University.


Creighton Hale with players at the Little League World Series in 1982.

Little League Baseball

While at Springfield, he was asked by Branch Rickey, the renowned Brooklyn Dodgers executive who by then had become the general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, to develop a way to measure a player’s skills and predict his performance. (The tests he devised did not provide many answers.)

The Little League was a boys-only organization when Mr. Hale became its executive vice president in 1971. A case brought to the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights by the National Organization for Women changed that; a hearing officer ruled in 1973 that the prohibition against female players violated state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

Mr. Hale testified at the hearing that studies showed that the bones of females were weaker than those of males.

Girls began playing in the Little League in 1975 after the league’s charter was amended.

Stephen D. Keener, the Little League’s president and chief executive, said in a telephone interview that while Mr. Hale “defended the Little League position in the early 1970s that girls were not permitted to play,” he “would later say, ‘If I knew then what I know now, we were defending the indefensible.’ ”

Mr. Hale became president of the Little League in 1973 and its chief executive 10 years later. He retired in 1994.

During his tenure, Little League greatly expanded around the world.

“When I started here in 1980, we were in 18 or 19 countries, and we’re in 84 countries now,” said Mr. Keener, who succeeded Mr. Hale. “That’s largely due to his commitment to grow the game globally.”

In addition to his son, Mr. Hale is survived by his wife, the former Beverly Gray, who worked at Little League for 50 years; his daughter, Kathy Dumanis; 10 grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; and his brother, Russell. Mr. Hale’s first marriage, to the former Rita Hugo, ended in divorce.

“Little League is not a baseball program, it’s a leadership program,” Mr. Hale told The Sioux City Journal in 1992. “We use baseball as a vehicle to do other things. There’s no place for 2.6 million kids on major league teams.”

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