Old Time Baseball: III - Equipment
The evolution of baseball also saw a revolution in the type and amount
playing equipment. The day of purposeful-some would say superfluous-
like the sweatband, headband, batting tee, batting glove, was far off in
future, but all equipment has its roots in the nineteenth century.
Bumps, bruises, and fractured fingers were part of the lot of
for years. The game was rough and tumble, the players were manly, and
of protective garb was frowned upon.
Then one day in 1875, in a game against Boston, outfielder Charlie Waite
Haven sauntered onto the field to play first base, his left hand adorned
ordinary leather dress glove. The garment was an inconspicuous flesh
Waite sought to attract as little attention as possible and did not wish
considered less than manly by the partisans in the stands and his peers
Waite was able to glove his hand but unable to cover up what he was
pioneer's "sissified" approach-the protective garment on his hand-
taunts and jeers from fans and players. Nevertheless, Waite played on,
protected, swapping the pain of ridicule for the pain of a batted
One who always appreciated a good idea was Albert Spalding, a man who
too well the pain of a hard ball on bare hand. A year after Waite's
appeared, Spalding and his brothers launched his sporting-goods
staple of which was the production of baseball gloves. And in 1877, when
shifted from pitching to playing first base, he also shifted to wearing
"When I'd recalled that every ball pitched had to be returned, and that
hit one coming my way from fielders, outfielders, or hot from the bat
caught and stopped, some idea may be gained of the punishment received,"
Spalding in defense of his wearing a glove.
The glove Spalding wore was padded but not disguised in flesh
Waite's; it was dark leather and there for all to see. "I found,"
Spalding, "that the glove, thin as it was, helped considerably. I
pad after another, until a great deal of relief was afforded."
Spalding began the trend, and gloves began to catch on in all types of
variations. Catcher Henry Fabian of New Orleans in 1880 utilized two
his left hand and placed a piece of sheet lead between the surfaces. Cap
sported kid gloves with cut off fingertips on his throwing hand. Anson's
catcher, Frank "Old Silver" Flint, got by with thin leather gloves
with raw beef steak.
Actually the mouth protector, not the glove, was baseball's first bit of
protective equipment. Sported by Cincinnati Reds shortstop George Wright
1860s, it was a patented piece of equipment and a welcome replacement
broad rubber bands that had previously been worn around the mouth by
save their teeth.
Wright's sporting-goods company patented, manufactured, and enjoyed some
big-money days selling the mouth protector for a time, until it became a
footnote to baseball history when it was replaced by the catcher's mask.
story goes, the captain of the Harvard team, F. Winthrop Thayer,
mask, using the one employed in fencing as a prototype. He then
new model to his catcher, James Alexander Tyny, who had issued threats
quitting the game because of fear of disfiguring his face. Not until
professional catchers adopt the maskthat fans referred to as a
"bird cage" and
that sportswriters ridiculed with such diatribes as: "There is a good
beastly humbug in contrivances to protect men from things that don't
There is about as much sense in putting a lightning rod on a catcher as
a mask."Despite the criticisms, sales of catcher's masks became a good business.
and Snyder's sporting goods stores sold them for three dollars each. The
ad copy claimed that "some of the top catchers of 1877" were using the
"made of wire and cushioned with soft leather . . . filled with best
hair. They are light and easy to adjust."
Peck and Snyder of New York City not only carried the catcher's mask but
also advertised "new styles of baseball uniforms and outfits; baseball
eight corners with star in top of corded seams for $10 per dozen ($1
mail); uniform flannel for $8 a dozen, and second quality flannels at $6
a dozen." There were also belts for sixty cents each, heavy English
hose in either solids or stripes for $2.50 each or $27 for a dozen. With
feet, the hose were just $24 a dozen-three dollars less for leggings.
The real impetus making the catcher's mask an important part of the
the national pastime took place in 1879, when the rules committee
foul-bound catch, banning catchers from retiring a batter on a foul tip
on the first bounce. This change in rules made catchers play closer to
plate-increasing their chances of injury and increasing the need for
protection. More protection also came with the introduction of the chest protector,
invented by a Hartford man as a way to eliminate the kayos of catchers
laid low by foul balls pounding into their chest. Dubbed a sheepskin,
protector was placed under the uniform, but its bulging nature served as
magnet for boos. The first chest protector was allegedly employed by
John T. Clements of the Philadelphia Keystones in 1884.
By 1886 finger gloves were in fairly widespread use, and instead of two
most players now used only one. By the 1890s, gloves werestandard
baseball. A few players, like Fred Dunlap, however, went through their
careers without ever using a glove. Dunlap claimed he didn't need "the
and maybe he was right. He led the National League four years in
fielding in the
1880s sans glove. And there were others who, like Dunlap, could not give
old bare-handed ways. "The game of baseball is being spoiled by allowing
to wear these abominations known as mitts," said Boston's Harry Schafer.
"Players do not have to show skill in handling balls with those mitts in
hands. Those who cannot play without them should get out of the game and
way to those who can."
One player who benefited greatly from the use of a glove was Lave Cross,
massive catcher. Converted in 1892 to a third baseman when hejoined
Philadelphia, Cross played the hot corner buttressed by his catcher's
Using his oversized glove like a fly swatter, Cross smacked down and
virtually every ball hit his way. "They're playing infield with
some reporters complained.
In 1895 the rules committee came up with restrictions on "barn doors."
gloves except for catchers' and first basemen's were limited to no more than 10
ounces in weight and no more than 14 inches in circumference, as
the palm. The smaller glove was the end of the line for a few players,
Cross, now unable just to hack away at fielding their position.
Baseball bats throughout history have possessed an almost mystical
Anson allegedly hung bats like hams from the ceiling in the cellar of
and at peak times the old baseballer had at least five hundred pieces of
favorite lumber seasoning away. Always on the prowl for a good piece of
Anson would go after ancient logs, shafts from carts, fence posts,
thought he could shape into good material for a baseball bat.
One of the more macabre stories about a baseball bat concerns a player
Perring, who, when the Ohio State Penitentiary was dismantled in 1880,
the hickory wood that had formed the scaffolding that had outlived its
usefulness. Perring fashioned the highly seasoned and strong wood into a
that endured for the next two decades.
What would go down in legend as the famed Louisville Slugger, as the
made its debut in 1884. Peter Browning, one of the premier batsmen of
broke his bat while performing for the Louisville baseball team. Faced
pressure of a crucial game the following day, Browning prevailed
on J. F.
Hillerich at the local wood-turning shop to create another bat exactly
one that had been broken. The day of the big game arrived. Hillerich had
followed orders to the letter and presented Browning with a bat
the wood of a wagon tongue. Browning batted out four hits with that
lumber and Hillerich and Bradsby evolved into the leading manufacturer
baseball bat-including the famed Louisville Slugger.
The baseball stems from the most primitive of beginnings. Albert
would go on to make a fortune producing them, mused about his early
"The ball was not what would be called a National League ball, nowadays,
served every purpose. It was usually made on the spot by some boy
his woolen socks as an oblation, and these were raveled and wound round
bullet, a handful of strips cut from a rubber overshoe, a piece of cork
almost anything, or nothing, when anything was not available. The
this ball was an art, and whoever could excel in this art was looked
upon as a
superior being. The ball must be a perfect sphere and the threads as
laid as the wire on a helix of a magnetic armature. When the winding was
complete the surface of the ball was thoroughly sewed with a large
thread to prevent it from unwinding when a thread was cut."
The early baseballs had personalities all their own. Their weights
a bit-and a few of them barely tipped the scales at 3 ounces. Stitching
sometimes consisted of crescent-shaped sections.
In 1877 the exclusive right to produce the National League baseball was
granted to A. G. Spalding & Brothers. All the covers of all the balls
of horsehidc an aspect of the ball that remained constant until 1973.
and quality control, however, was an absent item as teams "ordered up"
"doctored up" balls to meet their own needs. The better fielding clubs
a soft ball, while those teams who had good hitters made sure the ball
was hard and lively.
A baseball went through a great deal of heavy duty in those early years,
today, when it is routinely replaced for the slightest blemish. An
example of the use and overuse of a baseball took place on August 7,
Cleveland Spiders and the New York Metropolitans played out their game
rain at the Polo Grounds in New York City. The ball that was in use from
first pitch of the game was wet, soggy, and dirty. The ninth inning was
way and the captain of the Mets asked the umpire for a new ball to
virtually unusable and lopsided sphere. "I can't do it," said the
"You'll have to play on with what you have." The arbiter's ruling was in
negative because the rules stated that a new ball could not be put in
except at the beginning of an inning. The ninth had begun.
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