George Bush keeps his 45-year-old Rawlings Claw in a drawer of his desk in the Oval Office. Oriole infielder Rene Gonzales keeps his gamer in a bag that once contained Wonder Bread. (He'll explain later.) You might be one of the many people who kept a Bobby Richardson or a Phil Rizzuto or a Johnny Temple mitt under the pillow. No other piece of sports equipment, perhaps no other inanimate object, exerts quite the hold on us that the baseball glove does. Most anyone who has played the game remembers a favorite glove from his or her youth, the one he or she hung from the handlebars of a bicycle.
"A D & M Doak Walker," says Ralph Houk, former manager of the Yankees, the Tigers and the Red Sox. "It had a brass button with a picture of a dog on it. Bought the glove at Gibb Francis's Sporting Shop in Lawrence, Kansas, for about $10, which was a lot of money in 1930. I loved that glove. Took it with me wherever I went."
"I dug an outhouse hole to earn my first glove," says Bill Mazeroski, the former Pirate second baseman and a winner of eight Gold Gloves, the annual awards for fielding excellence that are sponsored by Rawlings. "My uncle promised me that if I dug him the hole he'd buy me a glove, and he did. A three-fingered Rawlings Playmaker."
"When we moved from Hawaii to California, my father bought me the six-fingered Don Demeter Spalding," says Red Sox outfielder Dwight Evans, another winner of eight Gold Gloves. "I can still see it. I can still feel it. I wish I still had it."
Evans actually gets dewy-eyed thinking about his gloves. "A good glove is like a wife," he says. "I really feel that way. Uh-oh. My wife just heard me say that and gave me this look. You know what I mean, honey. A glove should always be there for you." For the record, Dwight and his wife, Susan, have been married 19 years. He has had the oldest of his three game gloves for 14.
It's a magical thing, the mitt. Hundreds of thousands are made every year, yet each one is special to the hand it winds up marrying. Try not to choke on this line: You can't spell glove without l-o-v-e. The next time you're in a sporting goods store, stand by the baseball glove rack for a while, and sure enough, you'll see some guy sidle over, try on a glove or three, smile and walk away. He's not shopping. He's remembering.
Remember all the work you put into your glove, the neat's-foot oil you rubbed into it, the endless hours of catch, the autumnal rite of gagging it with a ball and binding it with string? Remember the ambivalence you felt when somebody from the other team borrowed your glove? (I hope he doesn't ruin it/I hope he likes it.) Remember how sad you were when the glove was retired, lost, stolen or chewed up by the family dog?
"I was one of those kids who oiled up his glove, put a ball in it, tied it up and stuck it under the bed," says Randy Ready, an infielder and outfielder for the Phillies. "Then I would dream sweet dreams of making the greatest play in the history of the game."
It's only leather, or in some cases leather with vinyl or nylon, but the glove is somehow a living thing, like the bud at the end of a stem. It's pleasing to all five senses: looks good, smells good, feels good, sounds good (when the ball smacks the pocket) and tastes good (to your dog). Aesthetically, the glove is quite beautiful: fingers reminiscent of ladyfinger pastries, a web as intricate as a spider's, laces that work in unison, disappearing into the glove and then magically reappearing. When the sculptor Claes Oldenburg was asked why he made a 12-foot-high, 5,800-pound lead-and-wood first baseman's glove, he replied, "Cèzanne painted apples. I make mitts."
Here are five facts about gloves, one for each finger:
•When pitcher Mike Flanagan was with the Orioles, a Japanese manufacturer sent him a glove with the autograph Mike Franagan.
•Yes, you know the joke, "What do Bill Buckner and Michael Jackson have in common? They both wear one glove for no apparent reason." Well, Michael's brother Tito, an avid baseball fan, has an electric guitar that looks like a baseball glove.
•Jesse Orosco, then with the Mets, gave the glove he threw into the air after the last out of the 1986 World Series—the same Series in which Buckner let the ball slip between his legs—to New York City police officer Steven McDonald, who had been paralyzed by a bullet in the line of duty.
•When he was with the Red Sox, Babe Ruth wore a white glove.
•When a time capsule is opened in Los Angeles in the year 2085, historians will discover a glove that belonged to 20th-century Dodger pitcher Fernando Valenzuela. It's not his gamer, however.
The gamer is a sacred object. Never, ever put your fingers in the fingers of a professional baseball player's game glove. "Players become sexually attached to their gloves," says Astro coach Phil Garner. In other words, don't mess around with gamers. (This has been presented to you as a public-service announcement.)
The modern standard professional glove is made from about 20 pieces of leather tied with approximately 154 inches of rawhide. It comes in all shapes and sizes and colors. Catchers' and first basemen's mitts are, of course, the most specialized. Outfielders' gloves are usually the biggest, the better to catch flies with, although some pitchers also have huge gloves, the better to hide the ball with. Infielders, particularly second basemen, like small gloves for better control. Outfielders break in their gloves vertically, for longer reach. Infielders break in theirs horizontally, for a wide target and a shallow pocket they can get the ball out of quickly.
There is a 40-year-old major league rule, No. 1.14, which says that fielders' gloves can be no longer than 12 inches and no wider than 7¾ inches, but until this year, May 1 to be exact, the rule was not enforced. So outfielders like Luis Polonia and Brett Butler are no longer allowed to use gloves that seem as long as jai alai cestas. "Polonia's glove was so big," says Mariners manager Jim Lefebvre, "he could use it for a shopping basket. He could put three dozen eggs, a pound of ham, some vegetables in it and still have enough room to get lost."
The smallest glove in recent memory, about eight inches long, belonged to Joe Morgan, the second baseman recently elected to the Hall of Fame. Says Lefebvre, who could do a monologue on mitts, "Joe used his glove to play golf during the day and catch grounders at night. It was so small that I think he broke it in with a marble or maybe a BB."
Last November, without consulting either the Players Association or the glove manufacturers, the Baseball Commissioner's office quietly told some of the manufacturers that it would be making sure that players' gloves measured up—or rather, measured down—to Rule 1.14. This came as a surprise to the players, some of whom acted as if Fay Vincent had just put his hand in their gamers, which in away he had.
"This is going to affect 95 percent of the outfielders and almost as many pitchers," says Bob Clevenhagen, the chief glove designer for Rawlings. Fortunately for Rawlings, Clevenhagen and the company's factory in Ava, Mo., spent the winter retooling and remodeling Rawlings' 51 different pro styles to make sure they complied with the rule. Rawlings supplied 55% of all major leaguers last year, so this year the percentage should be even higher. Baseball can also look for an increase in batting averages. You'll probably hear a lot of this: "Polonia goes back, back...oh, no, Scooter, it's just off his fingertips."
My brother Allie had this left-handed fielder's mitt. He was left-handed. The thing that was descriptive about it, though, was that he had poems written all over the fingers and the pocket and everywhere. In green ink. He wrote them on it so that he 'd have something to read when he was in the field and nobody was up at bat.
Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye
Although major leaguers have not been known to write poems on their gloves, they do write on them. Graig Nettles put "E5" (error, third base) on his glove, and that little reminder helped him win two Gold Gloves for the Yankees. Amos Otis, the Royals centerfielder for many years, had a glove so worn that it had a gaping hole in the palm. As his career wound down, Otis recorded his diminishing importance on that glove. First he wrote, "rightfield." Then he wrote, "leftfield." Then a helpful teammate wrote, "plays no more."
Other players have named their gloves. George Scott, who won eight Gold Gloves at first base for the Red Sox and the Brewers, called his mitt Black Beauty. Aurelio Rodriguez, who won a Gold Glove playing third base for the Tigers, named his The Black Hand. Mel Hall, a Yankee outfielder who will probably never win a Gold Glove, plays the field with Lucille. "Ted Simmons called his first baseman's mitt The Big Trapper when I played with him in Milwaukee," says Ready. "He talked about his glove as being 'Trapperfied.' "
Players can get even more peculiar with their gloves. Brewers manager Tom Trebelhorn tells a story about Buddy Peterson, an infielder who played mostly in the minor leagues in the 1950s. "He used to tie a rope around his glove and drag it around like a dog," says Trebelhorn. "If he had a bad day, he'd tie it up and make it sit up in front of his locker all night. The next day, he'd go out to shortstop and talk to his glove. 'Behave today, damn it!' "
Brewers outfielder Rick Manning had an equally strange habit. "He would pretend that the 'R' insignia on the back of his Rawlings was the button on a vacuum, so before he went out onto the field, he always pressed the button," Ready recalls. "He would say to me, 'Kid, make sure your vacuum's on.' "
Then there is Gonzales, the O's utility infielder. An otherwise sane and intelligent human being, Gonzales carries his game glove, the same glove he has worn since 1978, in a Wonder Bread bag. "My brother Phil had the glove first, but he promised me he'd give it to me if I made varsity at Rosemead [Calif.] High, which I did as a freshman," Gonzales says. "In college at Cal State-Los Angeles, my coach, Hank Moore, used to call me Wonder Bread. Why? Because the ads said that Wonder Bread had no holes. So I started carrying the glove around in Wonder Bread bags. My relatives collect them for me. And I never pack the glove with the rest of my gear. I always keep it with me in my in-flight bag. I just want to add that I am not a superstitious person."
Sure. But some players are. Zoilo Versalles, who won two Gold Gloves as a shortstop for the Twins in the '60s, would blame his glove for an error and throw it away. "After a while," recalls Lefebvre, "he went through so many gloves that he had to go to a department store to get one because the company he was under contract to wouldn't give him any more. So he was using ones he got off the shelf."
Wes Ferrell, a Red Sox pitcher in the 1930s, was lifted from a game because of wildness, and on his way to the dugout he shouted "It's your fault!" at his glove, then proceeded to tear it to shreds. More recently—last year, in fact—Gonzales went out to the mound to talk to the Orioles' ace reliever, Gregg Olson, and noticed that the pitcher was wearing a new black glove.
"What's with the new glove?" Gonzales asked.
"The old glove was getting hit," said Olson, who was going through a rough stretch. "I had to make an adjustment."
Oddly enough, notoriously bad fielders often coddle their gloves. Dick Stuart was known as Dr. Strangeglove for his disgrace around first base, but he was "the player who kept the best care of his glove," Lefebvre says. "It was manicured perfectly." When Mazeroski, who played with Stuart in Pittsburgh, was reminded that the first baseman took good care of his mitt, Maz replied, "Whatever for? It didn't do him a hell of a lot of good."
Ron Blomberg, the first man to come to bat as a designated hitter, always had his glove with him, even though he rarely needed it. One Sunday afternoon in 1974, the first of two years Blomberg's Yankees shared Shea Stadium with the Mets, a severe thunderstorm hit and the players scattered. It rained and rained and rained, until the dugouts were flooded to field level. Anything left behind that was buoyant rode the waves, including Blomberg's glove. Said Nettles to Blomberg, "I thought iron sunk."
Players have been known to play tricks with others' gloves. Before 1954, players left their gloves on the field. Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto is very squeamish, and one day, when he went to pick up his glove behind second base, he found a dead rat inside. "Phil went one way and his glove went the other," recalls Irv Noren, a teammate at the time. Bill Rigney once went out to get his glove but couldn't find it. "Eddie Stanky had hidden it under the second base bag," says Rigney. And Red Sox shortstop Johnny Pesky, an avid player of the card game Hearts, once found the dreaded Queen of Spades in his glove.
Plus ‚Äö√†√∂‚àö√ºa change, plus c'est la meme chose. In 1973, Yankee shortstop Gene Michael went out to his position, only to discover a hot dog in one of his glove's fingers. "He started cursing, took the glove off, threw it down, took the hot dog out and tossed it all the way to the warning track," says Nettles. "Stick blamed Johnny Callison because he laughed the hardest. But George [Steinbrenner] was at the game in Texas, and he wasn't laughing. He had someone pick up the hot dog. He was mad because we were fooling around. We always referred to that as the Great Dallas Hot Dog Caper."
The hardest thing was the little gloves. Even the actors who knew how to play had to adjust. Those gloves were what you'd use today to drive a Maserati. You couldn't one-hand everything the way players do today.... You had to use both hands to make a catch, and you had to get your body in front of the ball.
The Boston Globe
On directing his movie Eight Men Out, about the 1919 Black Sox scandal The glove has certainly come a long way since 1869, when Doug Allison, a catcher for the Cincinnati Red Stockings, donned buckskin mittens to protect his bruised hands. From there the glove evolved by fits and starts. In 1875 a St. Louis outfielder and first baseman named Charles C. Waitt began wearing flesh-colored gloves with the fingers cut out of the right glove to allow him to throw. They were flesh-colored because Waitt did not want to draw attention to himself. Fans and opponents called him a sissy, anyway. The glove gained some credibility two years later when Albert G. Spalding, the great pitcher for the Chicago White Stockings, moved to first base and started wearing a black leather glove. Ever the entrepreneur, Spalding began selling baseball gloves at his sporting goods emporium in Chicago for $1 to $2.50 apiece.
The early gloves did little more than protect the hands. In the 1880s, the puff-pillow catcher's mitt appeared. There is some debate as to whether Joe Gunson of the Kansas City Blues or Harry Decker of the Washington Statesmen invented it, but, for certain, Hall of Famer Buck Ewing of the New York Giants popularized it. In 1883 a Providence shortstop named Arthur Irwin had glovemakers at Draper & Maynard—hence, the D & M glove that Houk remembers—make him a special padded glove to protect the broken third and fourth fingers of his left hand, and that glove became the standard for years to come.
Spittin' Bill Doak was a pretty fair pitcher for the Cardinals from 1913 to 1924, but his name would be lost to history if not for one thing. In 1919, Doak came up with two revolutionary ideas for a glove: a few strands of rawhide between the thumb and the forefinger, and a preformed pocket. He took the ideas to the Rawlings sporting goods company in St. Louis, and with the Bill Doak glove, as it quickly became known, the baseball mitt took a quantum leap forward. Ty Cobb once sent off a frantic wire to Rawlings: SEND TWELVE BILL DOAK GLOVES SIX SHORT FINGER STOP SIX LONG FINGER.
In 1922, Harry Latina, an ex-minor league ballplayer, began working at Rawlings. Over the next 40 years he doctored and remodeled so many gloves that he took out about 30 patents. Among his most famous innovations were the Deep Well Pocket (1940), the Trapper mitt (1940), the U Crotch (1941), the Snugger Wrist Adjustment (1942), the Palm Crotch Extension (1946), the Laced Pocket (1946), the Playmaker three-fingered glove (1947), the Web Controller (1949), the V-anchored Web (1950), the Trap-Eze six-fingered glove (1959) and the Dual Step-Down Palm (1961). Red Smith once wrote, with some justification, that Latina was "the man most responsible for the demise of the .400 hitter."
Harry's son, Rollie, took over the Rawlings designer post in 1961 and held it until 1984 (when Clevenhagen succeeded him), so for more than 60 years, all of Rawlings' gloves were designed by Latinas. The Latinas had almost as much feel for the language as for leather. Even today, Rawlings gloves make for delightful reading: HolDster, Fastback, Edge-U-cated Heel, Heart of the Hide, and The Finest In The Field are all registered trademarks.
First basemen will forever be grateful to Harry Latina for the Trapper, which he invented in 1940. Designed to scoop balls out of the dirt, it changed the way baseball was played. The mitt that President Bush keeps in his desk is a George McQuinn Trapper Claw. McQuinn was a good-fielding, average-hitting first baseman who played mostly for the St. Louis Browns and led the American League in fielding four times. Bush himself was a good-fielding, average-hitting first baseman for Yale from 1946 to '48. "This is the very glove I used for three years at Yale," the President told Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post last year. "I remember when this glove came out. It was just wonderful." Sometimes, when Bush is talking with one of his advisers, he will take the glove out of the drawer and pound his fist into it.
The catcher's mitt was little more than a shield until the '50s. The breakthrough came when a little-known journeyman catcher named Gus Niarhos used a knife to cut an opening in the pocket. Yogi Berra adopted the idea, and in the '60s, Randy Hundley and then Johnny Bench perfected the one-handed style of catching. Paul Richards, the manager of the Orioles from '55 to '61, came up with an oversized catcher's mitt so that Gus Triandos wouldn't have to keep chasing Hoyt Wilhelm's knuckleballs to the screen, but that particular mitt was eventually disallowed. Five more facts to lace into this glove story:
•In 1904 a man named James Bennett invented a cage to be worn by catchers. The device worked like this: The pitcher threw the ball at the cage, which collapsed inward upon impact, whereupon the ball hit the padded chest of the catcher and dropped down a hole into his waiting hand. Describing the cage as "built for a homesick bear or a dyspeptic hyena," The Cincinnati Enquirer wondered whether a base runner would be "expected to wait until the catcher removes the chicken coop in order that he may be in a position to throw."
•The first truly oversized mitt was invented by Joe Orrell, a pitcher who played for the Tigers from '43 to '45. Orrell brought the 14¼" by 12¼" glove to the Cincinnati Reds' spring training camp in '39 so that he could hide his pitches better and protect his legs from line drives up the middle. Said Reds manager Bill McKechnie, "He could use the thing for a cushion when sitting on the bench." The glove was subsequently disallowed.
•One innovation that did make it was patented by none other than Al Campanis, the former general manager of the Dodgers. Campanis thought that sewing a strip of material painted fluorescent orange around the perimeter of a catcher's mitt would provide a better target for pitchers, and Rawlings went ahead and manufactured the Campanis Target Mitt, patent No. 3,898,696.
•Clay Dalrymple had a bright idea when he was catching for the Orioles. He came out in the first inning of a game in 1969 with a catcher's glove on his hand and a fielder's glove in his back pocket. Dalrymple figured the fielder's glove would be of more use to him on a play at the plate, and there was nothing in the rule book that prevented him from carrying two gloves. The umpires conferred and got Dalrymple and Baltimore manager Earl Weaver to agree not to use the extra glove until the umps had consulted the American League office. "I'm confident the league office will let me carry the glove," Dalrymple said at the time. "I'm just as confident the league office won't," said Weaver. The league office didn't.
•On Sept. 3, 1986, Terry Mulholland, a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, demonstrated extraordinary ingenuity. In a game at Shea, he fielded a comebacker by Keith Hernandez of the Mets and ran toward first to shorten his throw. However, he could not get the ball out of his Wilson A2000 because it was firmly lodged between the glove's middle and index fingers. He thought fast. He thought well. He tossed his glove to first baseman Bob Brenly, and umpire Ed Montague called Hernandez out. Brenly had one regret, though: "I should have flipped the glove around the infield."
How is a glove made? Well, a Rawlings glove starts out grazing on a ranch in Iowa or Nebraska. (Lest this be construed as an advertisement for Rawlings, let us point out that Wilson, Louisville Slugger, Spalding, SSK, Mizuno, Cooper, Regent and others make professional gloves of very high quality. Rawlings and the small Nocono company are the only ones, however, that manufacture their gloves in the U.S. And let's face it: Ava, Mo., is a lot easier to visit than, say, South Korea.)
The steers, raised primarily for beef but also for their hides, are sent packing—literally—to beef processors in such places as Dakota City, Iowa, or Jocelyn, Ill The next stop is the Horween Leather Co. in Chicago. There the hides are tanned, and then they are sorted according to quality. Each cow yields two hides, one from each side, and each hide yields 3½ or 4 gloves.
"Generally, we save the best hides for baseball gloves," says Skip Horween, treasurer of the company. "No brands, no nicks because of barbed wire, no bug or tick bites. It's a great honor for a steer if his hide is chosen for a glove. It's kind of a posthumous award, however."
From Chicago, the hides arc shipped to Ava. A quiet town of 3,000 in south-central Missouri, Ava is somewhat off the beaten track. A hearty lunch for five at Sue's Cafe costs about $16. Yet this is where Rawlings makes all of its batting helmets, most of its footballs and all of its professional baseball gloves. Perhaps because of its proximity to all of these sporting goods, Ava High has won three district championships in football, one in baseball and another in golf in the past five years.
While the hides await their turn, Clevenhagen usually tries out new patterns for gloves. A separate pattern has to be made for each of a glove's 20 pieces. The most obvious pattern, the one for the fingers and palm, looks like a hand flattened by a steamroller. Clevenhagen has file cabinets full of patterns so that if he wanted to see, for instance, George Sisler's old pattern, he could. Clevenhagen has an advantage over the Latinas in that he lives and works in Ava; they had to ship their patterns from St. Louis, and the resulting gloves had to be shipped back to them. Now if Clevenhagen wants to test a new glove, he can have the dies cast out of the patterns right in Ava and get immediate results. This was particularly important last winter because of Rule 1.14. How did Clevenhagen get big gloves down to the official size? "Basically, I took the inches off the heel of the glove. Outfielders have been moving the glove up on their fingertips more, anyway, so hopefully they'll still be comfortable with the new ones."
The best part of a hide, the so-called heart, comes from the top back portion, and that's what goes into a glove's pocket and fingers. Each of the 20 dies is pressed into the hide like a cookie cutter; the trick is to get as much leather as possible from the hide without sacrificing quality. The workers who cut the leather like to save unusual brands that come across their tables—one woman in Ava had a big smiley face displayed at her work station.
It's a factory, but then again, it's not. The 80 workers involved in the 50 different glovemaking operations are all craftsmen, and whatever machines or instruments they use have been used for decades. Even the mallets with which they pound the pockets into the gloves are 30 to 40 years old.
Basically, a glove is sewn together inside out. Then someone turns it inside in. Each glove is put on a "hot hand," a sort of iron with fingers, to give it shape. A sticky wax is spread between the inside and outside layers of the pocket to hold the pocket securely to a player's palm and make the ball feel at home. The webbing is laced into the glove. Then padding is put in the heel, and the heel is closed up. The completed product is pounded and, finally, inspected. On a very busy day, the plant can produce 300 gloves, but 100 is more the norm. The turnaround time from hoof to hand is about six weeks. "This glove," says plant manager Don Haught, handing a mitt to a visitor in midwinter, "was alive on Thanksgiving Day."
The factory also has a fix-it shop in the back, where people can send their Rawlings gloves to be repaired. The shop is presided over by Arthur Allen. "We still see some gloves from the early '50s," he says. "I once got a call from a crying woman who said she had let her child play with the beloved glove her husband left on the mantel, and the family dog had chewed the thumb and little finger. She asked me if I could fix it, and we did, although we had to mail the glove to her neighbor so her husband would never know. Her husband never did find out, and that lady kept calling me back just to thank me."
Ozzie Smith of the Cards, a winner of 10 Gold Gloves at shortstop, goes through a new glove every six weeks. But then Smith is one of the few major leaguers to use the six-fingered Trap-Eze, a glove Harry Latina originally designed for Stan Musial in 1959 so that The Man could switch from the outfield to first base without changing his glove. Smith likes a hard, stiff glove because he doesn't want the ball to spend too much time in the pocket; sometimes he uses the Trap-Eze more like a paddle than a glove. And since Smith is one of Rawlings' most valued endorsers, the Trap-Eze artist is not about to be denied a steady supply of gloves.
The top-of-the-line gloves, the ones that list for more than (gasp!) $200, usually don't carry the names of players on them, and most players wouldn't be caught dead with the names of other players on their gloves. So it's interesting to note that Tommie Agee made all those great catches for the Mets in the 1969 World Series with a Johnny Callison model glove. "That's funny," says Callison. "I didn't even use that glove."
It's a funny business, who gets his name on a glove and who doesn't. "The name is a secondary consideration," says Chuck Malloy, marketing manager of the baseball glove division at Rawlings, "but it's important. We shudder every time Jose Canseco or Darryl Strawberry gets in trouble, because it does affect sales. Last year I made a decision I regret now. I decided to take Nolan Ryan's name off our RBG 70 and put Bobby Bonilla's name on it, figuring Bonilla would have a big year." Bonilla had a decent year, but Ryan had a better one, with 16 wins and 301 strikeouts.
Rawlings had made a similar mistake in 1978. The company left its Graig Nettles model out of its catalogue, which significantly reduced the chances that stores would carry the model and Nettles would earn royalties. As Nettles recalls it, he approached sales rep Frank Torre, a former major league first baseman, and asked him to put the glove back in the catalogue. Torre declined. Nettles went over Torre's head and wrote to the president of Rawlings, who came down on Torre. When Torre next saw Nettles, he told the Yankee third baseman he wouldn't even have a contract in 1979, much less his glove in the catalogue.
This exchange occurred on Oct. 13, 1978, just before the third game of the World Series between the Yankees and the Dodgers. That night, Nettles gave the performance of his life in the infield, reversed the direction of the Series and secured his reputation as the premier third baseman in the game. The following year, he signed with Louisville Slugger.
For the most part, though, glove companies go out of their way to please their players. All the major companies have caravans that visit each of the spring training camps. The caravans not only provide players with gloves but also do whatever mitt-doctoring or breaking in a player asks. That's how Clevenhagen got his start in designing—fixing gloves for players. Last year he worked closely with Jim Abbott, the Angels' one-handed lefthander, redesigning his glove so that after throwing, Abbott could get the mitt on his hand more quickly. All of the companies were working overtime this spring, making sure gloves complied with Rule 1.14.
Bill Smith, who's always on the Rawlings Sports Caravan, tells about the time he worked for hours breaking in a glove for a player. "He took the glove, thanked me, and then I watched him soak it in a sinkful of water," Smith says. "After that, he put the glove on the floor and started pounding it with a baseball bat."
Once upon a time a ballplayer's bat and glove were everything to him. Now it seems to me that any old bat and any old glove are good enough.... How long is it since you've seen a ballplayer work on his glove? Do I sound like an old fogey mumbling in a chimney corner about the heedlessness of the younger generation? I hope not, but even if I do, I think it might be helpful to some young ballplayers if they listen to my mumbling and put to practice what they can make of it.
Hall of fame shortstop, as told to Frank Graham in an article in the February 1932 issue of Baseball Magazine
Bancroft actually recommended putting a glove in a barrel of water, to which some players have added a modern twist. "Robin Yount throws his glove in a Jacuzzi," says Ready. "Then he dries it off for a few days and says, 'Let's go.' "
Shaving cream seems to have replaced neat's-foot oil as the emollient of choice, which is too bad, because now we'll never know what a neat is. (Actually, neat is an obscure word meaning bovine animal. So the cow gave twice.) Here is a brief list of some other substances used to improve gloves: petroleum jelly, baby oil, olive oil, mink oil, saddle soap, shoe polish, tobacco juice, bubble gum juice, tape remover, skin lotion and...well, we'll let Tony Kubek tell it: "I was sitting on the bench with Eddie Brinkman, the great shortstop with the Senators and Tigers. He had his glove in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. Suddenly he began pouring coffee in his glove. 'Eddie, you're kidding!' I said. 'No,' he said, 'this is the way I've always broken in my gloves. Coffee—cream and a little sugar.' "
Teams often have designated breaker-inners. Willie Stargell used to do gloves for his fellow Pirates. The Royals used Tim Ireland, a journeyman infielder in their organization who now stars for the Fort Myers Sun Sox in the senior association. When Ready was with the Padres, he did a lot of customizing.
"It's pretty simple," he says. "Basically, I just lather the glove up with shaving cream. Sometimes a guy will want me to take out some of the padding in the heel, which is easy enough. Then I tie the glove up with two balls in it. After a few days, I unravel it to see if it's ready. If not, I just repeat the process. But the best way to break it in is to practice with it."
Keith Hernandez, Cleveland's new first baseman and the recipient of 11 Gold Glove awards, has a more complicated recipe:
1) Practice with the glove until the leather becomes more flexible.
2) Tighten the laces.
3) Practice some more.
4) Saturate the glove's pocket with warm water.
5) Place two balls in the pocket and fold the finger portion of the glove inside the thumb.
6) Tape the glove closed and let it dry.
The best advice, though, comes from Gonzales, Mr. Wonder Bread. "Take care of your glove, and it will take care of you."
Five final facts:
•An intrepid reporter interviewed Brooks Robinson's glove after one of his great games in the 1970 World Series.
•Billy Williams of the Cubs made an annual rite of throwing his glove to the crowd at Wrigley Field after the last game of the season.
•Babe Dahlgren of the Yankees not only inherited first base from Lou Gehrig but also inherited Gehrig's glove. "It wasn't until 1940, a year after Lou played his last game, that I got his glove," Dahlgren told Bill Madden of The Sporting News in 1979. "He was cleaning out his locker, and he took his glove and threw it over to Pete Sheehy, the clubhouse man. I remember him saying, 'I won't be needing this anymore, Pete.' Well, even though Lou was lefthanded and I was a righty, I wanted that glove. So I told Pete I'd give him one of my black gloves for Lou's."
•Mizuno, the Japanese manufacturer, developed a glove with a radio transmitter so that the pitcher and catcher could communicate without the use of hand signals.
•Roberto Clemente, who used a new glove every year when he was with the Pirates, couldn't stand the sight of Bill Mazeroski's tired old mitt. "He threw it to a kid in the stands," says Mazeroski. "And the kid threw it back."
"When Frank Howard was a coach with the Brewers," says Ready, "he once told me, 'There are two ends to this business: lumber and leather. If you're not good at one, you better damn well be good at the other.' Then he whispered, 'Leather's been known to give me a rash.' "
Dwight Evans has been pretty good at both ends of the business during his 18-year career, but he still considers himself a leather man. "I think the reason I've never felt comfortable at first base is because I didn't have a first baseman's glove I really liked," he says. "My outfield gloves are not just things I catch the ball with. I want to be so familiar with the glove that I'll be able to reach in there and pull out the ball so that I can grip it with the seams when I make my throw. I can't understand guys who change gloves all the time. I just can't believe they're any good as fielders if they don't have a glove they've lived with for a while.
"Your glove should be an extension of your hand."
In Evans's case, and in those of so many others, the glove can also be an extension of the heart.
The expense of my brief sojourn in Concord was:
gifts to take back to a boy
Left-handed fielder's glove
Hotel and meals