NEW YORK —
When Dr. Hale, a physiologist, arrived at Little League as its first director of research in 1955, he began to compile data that he hoped would improve the safety of the game. He measured reaction times of pitchers, which led to moving the mound back 2 feet to reduce the frequency of their being hit by batted balls. Taking the pulse rates and blood pressure of players, coaches, and managers before, during and after Little League World Series games, he determined that youngsters handled competitive pressure better than the adults.
His analysis of injuries led to changes like eliminating the on-deck circle, where players were at risk of being hit by foul balls.
To develop the helmet, Dr. Hale wanted to simulate the pitcher-to-batter confrontation. He built a compressed-air cannon with parts he had bought in a local hardware store. Working from his laboratory in the basement of Little League’s offices in Williamsport, he used the cannon to fire baseballs at various speeds at a plastic helmet mounted on a wood model. Testing showed that it could absorb a direct hit from a ball traveling at 90 miles per hour without cracking or being driven into a batter’s head.
The helmet also had a flap on each side to protect the temples, ears, and cheekbones. It became mandatory for Little League batters and runners in 1961.
In the 1970s, Dr. Hale was chairman of a committee of the National Academy of Sciences that developed a new military helmet made of Kevlar.
A native of Nebraska and Navy veteran, Dr. Hale graduated from Colgate University in upstate New York, earned a master’s in physiology at Springfield College in Massachusetts, where he taught for five years and worked on military research, and received a doctorate in physiology from New York University.