The baseball glove or “mitt,” as they say in the East consists of twelve pieces of leather cut from a pattern, like a dress. The fingers, palm, and thumb are attached wrong side out, with welted seams. The mitt is then turned right side out, and the lining, padding and heel are inserted into the mitt. Cowhide or rawhide is used for lacing the outer pieces together by hand. The trademark, name of player and stock number are then stamped on the shell and web. Next, the glove is placed over a hot forming iron and pounded into shape. Gloves are made in both the United States and in the Far East. Only smooth, flexible hides are chosen for durability, feel, and performance. The life of a glove depends on the character of its hide and the care it receives from its owner.
Gloves have changed in many ways since the first patent was issued for the “Base Ball Catcher,” on March 22, 1904. This invention was made of wood and wire. It was designed to be worn by a catcher on his front and had hinged doors that opened inward when hit by a ball. The catcher then retrieved the ball by reaching into the side of the wire box. Needless to say, this invention was not used very long.
The first so-called mitts can be traced back to the mid 1870’s. Boston pitcher and present-day star, Albert G. Spalding (yes, the sporting goods magnate) noticed that opponent Charles C. Waitt of the New Haven, Connecticut, team was wearing flesh-colored padding on one hand. This first baseman’s mitt had a large opening at the back for ventilation and, although it was thin, it provided considerable help and a great deal of relief when catching throws from the infielders. Spaulding had developed severe bruises on his left hand while trying to field hot shots from the hitters and decided to adopt his own version of a glove, but chose black for the color. Although Spalding’s glove was certainly more conspicuous than Waitt’s, he received no abuse from fans, teammates or the opposition. In fact, Albert started a trend by wearing his glove which continues today.
In the 1880’s, gloves continued to evolve by being made with thicker padding near the palm, especially for catchers; and the use of two gloves, one on each hand, became commonplace with the players. Players like catchers Henry Fabian of New Orleans and Siler Flint of the Chicago White Stockings continued to add padding as pitchers threw harder and harder. Eventually, the players who wore two gloves at the same time cut the fingertips off of their mitts to regain the feel needed to apply accuracy to their throws. “Cap” Anson was a fine example of this trend. By 1886, gloves with fingers were being sold, and players were using one glove more often than two.
Outfielder and infielder gloves came into general use understandability much later than the catcher’s mitt, and pitchers were the last as a group to wear gloves during the game. The first larger pillow-type mitts were used by catchers William “Buck” Ewing of the New York Giants and Lave Cross of the Philadelphia Athletics. A bit of trickery was also used by catchers with large gloves. In an attempt to intimidate enemy hitters, catcher Ossie Schreckengost soaked his mitt in water before catching fastball pitcher, Rube Waddell. When the ball hit his mitt, a loud crack could be heard all over the park. With the expansion of U.S. territory out West, in the late 1890’s, and the explosion of the game’s popularity, only then did the use of gloves come under fire from the old guard. It had now become apparent that young baseball players could catch and field with gloves as well as, if not better than, the veterans could, barehanded. Boston’s Harry Schafer blasted the game of baseball for allowing players to wear what he called “those monstrosities,” in 1894. He claimed that it spoiled the game and diminished the hand skills of the players. He barely stopped short of using the word “coward” and suggested that players using gloves collect only a portion of their salaries instead of full pay.
By the early 1900’s, gloves were being used by all players, and many innovative changes began to occur. Size and color of the gloves changed, as different companies began to compete for the glove business. Babe Ruth wore his famous white glove, while playing outfield for the Boston Red Sox. Ken-Wel, MacGregor, J.C. Higgins, Spalding, Rawlings, Nokona, and the Draper & Maynard Company are a few of the early glove manufacturers. Now companies like Wilson and Mizuno have joined the fray. Rawlings production chief, William P. Whitley, was approached in 1919 by a right-handed “spitballer” from the Cardinals, with an idea to create a naturally-formed, deep pocket with an oiled palm. The Bill Doak glove made its debut in 1920 and stayed in the Rawlings line until 1953. Other innovations took on strange names but were a hit with the players. The Trapper Mitt, Deep Well pockets, V-anchored webs, and the Edge-U-Cated heel were designed between 1922 and 1959. Hall-of-Famer Hank Greenberg used a larger-than-life mitt at first base for the Tigers, in the 1930’s. Its size angered his opponents, who claimed that his glove gave Hank an unfair advantage. As a direct result of the uproar, a rule was passed limiting the size of the first baseman’s mitt to eight inches across and twelve inches lengthwise. The catcher’s mitt also came under the same scrutiny years later, when Baltimore Orioles skipper Paul Richards created an oversized mitt for catcher Gus Triandos because he had trouble handling pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm’s knuckleball.
By 1954, two more small subtleties occurred involving the glove. Baseball rules were changed that year making it illegal to leave any piece of baseball equipment on the field; therefore, gloves were brought to the dugout between innings, and Yogi Berra started a trend that still exists today. Yogi is given credit for being the first player to leave one finger outside the glove while playing. He wanted to reduce the wear and tear on his hand. Many other players soon copied his style.
By 1957, Rawlings Sporting Goods Company, in conjunction with The Sporting News, created the annual Gold Glove Award, every year. Current managers vote for the players of each team. It’s just a shame that there were no Gold Glove Awards forty years sooner.
Can you imagine Roy Halladay snaring a line drive back to the box without a glove, or Mike Trout going over the fence for a fly ball barehanded? How about Jose Reyes going into the hole with no leather, or Buster Posey squatting behind home plate with two empty hands, waiting for an Aroldis Chapman fastball? Thank goodness for those monstrosities.
Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.