Steve Rushin Book Excerpt: The 34-Ton BatPosted: October 9, 2013
In this week’s SI, Steve Rushin tells the story of Foulproof Taylor, the unsung genius behind on-field armor. The story is excerpted from Rushin’s new book, The 34-Ton Bat (Copyright © 2013 by Steve Rushin. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, N.Y.).
On the night of Nov. 16, 1926, James Phillip Leo Taylor was a second tenor in the Metropolitan Opera chorus, when, at the end of the first act of the American debut of Puccini’s Turandot, he was kneed in the groin by accident. The next day Taylor fashioned a protective aluminum cup, which he wore to that night’s performance. “Taylor’s groin, ensconced in this new contraption, proved unassailable,” writes Rushin. “He had no way of knowing, in that moment, that he’d “invented” something that already existed. His cup, he was certain, was about to runneth over.” (PAGE 53)
In 1874, a cyclist and inventor names Charles F. Bennett invented the “bike web” to give comfort and support to male “bicycle jockeys,” for whom the undergarment became known as a “jockey strap.” By 1915, Pittsburgh Rebels catcher Claude Berry was wearing a piece of molded steel in his pants for protection.
Two years after he wore the protective cup, Taylor started to wear it to boxing matches. He asked boxers, promoters and writers to kick him as hard as they could in the testicles. He called the device his Foulproof cup, and he became known as Foulproof Taylor in boxing circles. After a heavyweight championship fight at Yankee Stadium in 1930 saw Max Schmeling take a below the belt hit from Jack Sharkey, New York State Athletic Commission chairman James Farley made cups mandatory but steered boxers to the cast-iron cup of Jacob Golomb, Foulproof’s archnemesis. Golumb’s boxing trunks made with an elasticized waistband appeared on nearly every boxer. His brand name: EVERLAST.
Still, Foulproof was able to sell some boxers on his cup. He would sue EVERLAST unsuccessfully for patent infringement. “I’m the guy who did the whole thing but I don’t seem to get any credit for it,” Taylor wrote in his self-published autobiography. “They kick me around, and it’s a good thing I wear my own invention.” (PAGE 55)
Foulproof set out to create other protective devices. Rushin writes, “Foulproof Taylor set out to save baseball with his greatest invention yet: the Beanproof Cap.” (PAGE 55) Taylor had strangers bang him over the head with a bat to test his helmet. But like in boxing, baseball needed a big moment to prove the need for this gear and it happened when Tigers catcher-manager Mickey Cochrane was struck in the head by a pitch. It fractured his skull and he would never play again. Teams began soliciting submissions for a protective cap, and many other inventors came calling with their products. Players were turned off by wearing a big helmet so some turned to a plastic insert that fit inside regular caps.
Foulproof’s helmet and other inventions, including a protective bra for female wrestlers, never made him a fortune. Rushin writes, “In the end, Foulproof Taylor’s greatest invention was Foulproof Taylor.” (PAGE 56)