Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Rawlings S100: They Should Have Listened to Miles Davis

I remember once seeing an interview with Miles Davis in the 1980s. The interviewer asked Miles what was the most important thing he thought about when he was on stage. Miles chewed his gum and thought for a bit while wearing his big sunglasses. As a musician, I leaned forward and anticipated what musical tidbit I could learn from his genius. Finally, he stopped chewing and said, "You got ta look cool."

Fast Forward to 2009, where Rawlings is about to unveil its latest batting helmet. Current batting helmets only protect players up to 70 m.p.h. The goal they had was to create a helmet that could withstand the impact of a fastball thrown at 100 m.p.h. They succeeded in meeting that goal. Then they showed it to the players. Here are some quotes:

Jeff Francoeur, NY Mets: "No, I am absolutely not wearing that. I could care less what they say, I’m not wearing it. There’s got to be a way to have a more protective helmet without all that padding. It’s brutal. We’re going to look like a bunch of clowns out there."

Nomar Garciaparra, Oakland A's: "I want a helmet that’s comfortable and that doesn’t look bad."

Mark Teixeira, NY Yankees: "I'd feel like I'm wearing a football helmet in the batter's Box"

Rawlings themselves thinks that the helmet it a "very nice cosmetically looking helmet" as you can see in the video below. Clearly there is a disconnect somewhere, and it looks like it is in the product lifecycle at Rawlings. It seems silly that these players would let aesthetics factor in here when their health is on the line, but they do. How much of a percentage of "cool" goes into the product design process at Apple? How do you measure or track this? Not simple to answer, but we should remember Miles the next time we embark on a new product design.

Direct link to Rawlings video:

UPDATE #1: 3 days after the New York Times has a story on this new helmet, David Wright was hit flush on the temple area of his old helmet with a 95 m.p.h. fastball.

UPDATE #2: Upon David Wright's return after being on the disabled list, he wore the Rawlings S100. He was made fun of by both teams because of the size of the helmet and said it needed "tweaking" because it fell over his face while he ran the bases. Innovation is imperfect strikes again!


Anonymous said...

I am interested to see what happens with this new Rawlings helmet. It doesn't seem like they did any research amongst actual baseball players, or they would have found that the helmet was aesthetically displeasing and not functional when running the bases. Having your helmet fly off while sliding head first on the base paths or at home plate is a big concern. This helmet needs tweaking, I am surprised the MLB has mandated it be worn in the minor leagues.

Anonymous said...

MLB is all about the Benjamins. They make a royalty off every helmet that Rawlings sells with the MLB logo on it. This is why Rawlings is the exclusive batting helmet on the pro diamond. Look no further than that to see why it has been mandated in the minors. I bought two S100s. They both fit horribly. The foam was not glued in very well, either. And the paint was not truly scarlet... very disappointing for a $100+ helmet. Rawlings has another helmet called the Low Profile or something like that. It's even worse than the S100... it's like no one ever put the helmet on a real human head during their development phase. Kind of baffling for me as an engineer.

Michael Grossman said...

I wonder if someone did try one on and notice the problems, but the company doesn't have a good feedback system. Could you get your money back?