Former Major League Baseball scout Jim Martz wanted one thing when he was growing up.
He would often go to the sporting goods store window and gaze at the display of new baseball gloves.
“Some kids go look in the window of a pet shop and look at puppies,” Martz said. “I would go and look at the window at Repps (Sporting Goods) at gloves. … When I was a freshman in high school I worked the whole summer to buy a Rawlings Mort Cooper pitching glove, which was the top-of-the-line pitcher’s glove. I was so thrilled with that. It was in the summer of 1952 and it cost me $35.”
Anyone who has ever been on a diamond probably has a similar story when it comes to their first baseball glove.
And over the years, while the sentiments haven’t changed, baseball gloves have. From the 1930s, gloves have grown, webs have expanded, the stitching has improved and the leather has gone from stiff as a board to as cushy as a pillow.
As the leather has improved, the prices have skyrocketed, from $35 in the 1950s to upwards of $550 for a current pro model.
Established major league players receive up to seven new gloves a year, but few seldom request changes.
“It’s tough to get them (major league players) to change,” said Lima’s Denny Helmig, the north region sales manager for Jarden Team Sports, which supplies Rawlings and Worth brand gloves. “They’ll use the same model and the same color.”
Gloves now come in a variety of sizes and colors. But when it all started, a baseball glove was smaller than what you wear to shovel snow.
How it all started
The Cincinnati Red Stockings were the first professional baseball team in 1869. Back then, there were no gloves. It was actually considered “unmanly” to wear a glove.
The first player recognized to wear a glove was Reds catcher Doug Allison, who donned a glove over his injured hand in 1870.
Charles Waitt, a St. Louis outfielder/first baseman, began wearing a pair of gloves in 1875. By the 1890s, one of the top players of the game, Albert Spalding, wore a glove at first base. By the mid-1890s, most players wore gloves.
Cincinnati Reds’ Bid McPhee was the last second baseman to play without a glove, as he retired in 1899. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.
Early gloves weren’t much more than work gloves. However, in 1920, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bill Doak came up with the idea of putting in a web between the first finger and the thumb. This created the first crude pocket.
For the first half of the 20th century, gloves were left on the field. Infielders would toss them back on the grass just past the infield dirt when they’d leave the field. In 1954, Major League Baseball adopted a rule that all players must take their gloves off the field when they came to bat.
By the 1950s, lacing was used between the fingers and “modern webs’’ were created.
Gloves are now specific by position. Second baseman and shortstops want smaller gloves to better handle grounders and double-play balls. Outfielders go for the biggest webs available.
“In the 70s, they redesigned and fine-tuned them,’’ Martz said. “The big thing was designing so many different models for different positions.
“Scott Rolen’s (third baseman for the Blue Jays) glove isn’t real big, but it’s very flexible and has a pretty good size web. … Catcher’s gloves were originally a round, circular thing, then they went to a hinged pocked. Johnny Bench was an advocate of that. Bench caught with one hand and it (the catcher’s glove) became like a first baseman’s glove.’’
Knowledge of the evolution of baseball gloves is quite extensive in the Lima area. A few local baseball devotees recently offered their experiences with baseball gloves.
Ed Sandy in the 1940s and ’50s
Former Gomer High School baseball coach Ed Sandy said his early gloves came from a catalogue or a sporting goods store.
“I had a few different ones before I went to high school,” Sandy said. “One was an old Sears and Roebuck or JC Penney model. The one I got in high school from Repps Sporting Goods got me through high school.’’
The 1945 Columbus Grove High School grad signed with the Class D Phillies in 1951. At the time, the left-handed pitcher bought a glove at Repps for close to $20.
“I remember that was a prize weapon,” Sandy said. “It did the job. It became a part of me. One glove got me through the minors. It was big enough that I could hide my wrist in it and hide the ball. It was comfortable.’’
Sandy, who went 11-9 in 1951 and made the all-star team, said he continued to use that same glove when he coached at Gomer from 1951 to 1964.
“That was my last glove,’’ he said. “I don’t remember it falling apart.”
Jim Martz in the 1950s and ’60s
Longtime major league baseball scout Lima’s Jim Martz was drawn to baseball gloves at an early age.
“I always had a fascination for gloves,” Martz said, who scouted for 30 years with the Braves, Orioles and Major League Baseball. “I thought I was the king of the world when I had the Mort Cooper glove (in the 1950s). It was almost as big as an outfielder’s glove. The idea was I could hide the ball and knock down line drives.”
Martz, a 1956 Gomer High School grad, pitched in Paris, Ill., in 1957, a Cubs’ farm team in the Midwest League.
“I probably bought four more gloves after that and all were Rawlings,” Martz said. “They made them more streamline with basket webs and stitched palms. In the early ’50s, it was trendy to have a trapper model, a three-finger glove.”
Martz later went undefeated two years in a row in the Lima Metro League and threw the league’s only no-hitter in 1969.
Todd Hall in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s
Shawnee grad left-hander Todd Hall, who climbed the Chicago White Sox’s minor league ladder as far as Class AA Birmingham in 1990, has kept an assortment of gloves.
“I think gloves are a personal thing,” he said. “You have a glove and play well with it and it becomes your favorite.’’
Hall, a 1983 Shawnee grad and Shawnee Hall of Fame member, also played a year in the Mets’ organization in 1991.
“You had your good-luck gloves in high school. I never recalled a guy ever throwing a glove out,” Hall said. “Even when it was torn up, it was pliable and worn and they would get it re-stitched.’’
In the minor leagues, Hall signed a deal with Rawlings and received two new gloves each year. He said those gloves were worth about $200 each.
“I still use a black mitt, a six-finger trapeze model. It feels good to me,” Hall said. “I still have five of those at home. I consider it bad luck to throw one out.’’
Hall said gloves were normally kept close on lengthy bus trips, and if he had to fly, his glove was in the carry on.
Hall was also aware of the many different ways his teammates broke in gloves.
“I heard of guys soaking them in shaving cream or hanging them in the shower,” he said. “I put oil on it, put a ball in there, wrapped it up and casually broke it in. I wasn’t going to put a $200 glove soaking in the shower.’’
Rob Livchak in the 1970s and ’80s
Locos coach Rob Livchak grew up in Lorain and recalled a highlight with his first glove, a Sudden Sam McDowell model, named after a former fireballing pitcher with the Indians.
“When I was 6, I went to (Cleveland) Municipal Stadium with my Sudden Sam McDowell glove,” Livchak said. “I was there before BP (batting practice) and went out to the bullpen and Sam was throwing. I threw the glove down to the bullpen and he signed it. Then, he motioned me down and I played catch with him.”
Livchak, a product of Ohio University, went on to pitch in the St. Louis Cardinals’ farm system from 1985 to ’89. When he was in the minors, one of his teammates signed a glove contract.
“He was a first-round draft pick and got two gloves a year,” Livchak said. “He sold me one of his gloves for $20 and it was a $190 glove. I still use it every day. It’s getting a little dry.”
Gene Stechschulte in the 1990s and 2000s
Right-hander Gene Stechschulte pitched with the St. Louis Cardinals from 2000-02. But his pro gloves were tiny compared to the one he used at Kalida High School.
“My high school glove was probably the biggest glove on the face of the earth,” Stechschulte said. “It was a glove that my brothers used to play softball with. It was probably 15 or 16 inches long.
“It was quite a shock when I got to Ashland and they gave me an 11-inch glove to play shortstop. Any room for error was out the window. That glove was the same type of glove I used in the majors, only my major league glove was a 13 instead of an 11.”
Stechschulte had to buy his own gloves in the minors. But when he made the Cardinals’ 40-man roster, he said four different glove companies sent him a glove before spring training.
“I signed a contract with Rawlings and used a Gold Glove series glove from then on. They would pretty much give me a glove any time I asked for one, but really, how many gloves does a pitcher need? … They sent me four a year, even though I only asked for one a year. I gave some of the gloves to the minor league guys in the same situation I was in that couldn’t get anyone to give them a glove.”
In 2001 with the Cardinals, Stechschulte had six saves and a 3.86 ERA.
“The gloves they gave me at the time sold for $450, but I really didn’t notice much difference between that and the $40 synthetic glove I used in my first three years in pro ball,’’ he said.
The Locos and gloves in the 2000s
Lima Locos shortstop Anthony Toth (Michigan) grew up in Lorain and went to Cleveland St. Ignatius High School.
“(For my early glove), it was a typical go-with-dad-to-Dick’s (Sporting Goods) and pick out a glove and that should last you five or six years,” Toth said. “I picked out whichever one felt right or looked cool and what was in the budget. I think it was a Mizuno. I think it was a $40 glove.’’
Things have changed dramatically for Toth and most of his Locos’ teammates. Now, most college players receive free gloves because their school has a glove contract.
“We have a contract at Michigan with Louisville Slugger. The rep just came, had a bunch of models out and we got to pick out whichever one felt best. I went with that one and it worked out pretty well. … I think this is a $320 glove.”
Locos coach and a member of the 2007 Locos Dan Furuto (Montevallo) has a glove he’s been using for six years.
“It’s a Mizuno, a 12 3/4-inch outfielder’s glove,” Furuto said. “It has that Ichiro special weave pocket. … I picked it out of Baseball Express, a magazine they send out every month. It ran me about $170 back then.”
Locos catcher Danny Jones (Marietta), from Shawnee High School, has a pair of catcher’s gloves in his bag and uses them both.
“I got this one from the Worth representative, who came here and had a bunch of gloves,” Jones said. “It was only $100 and it was probably a $150-to-$185 glove.
“My other glove is an Easton glove, which is a little bigger and has a little bigger web. It’s for guys who throw more junk that moves. If I have a guy who throws a lot of fastballs that doesn’t move as much I can use the smaller one and it’s a little lighter.’’
Locos right-hander Brad Long (Kennesaw State) was given a new glove this year in college, but prefers using his five-year-old black Mizuno model.
“I like it. It still has good form,” Long said. “Being a pitcher, I haven’t worn it out yet. If I do good with it, I’ll keep using it. If I do bad, I’ll go back to the other one. It’s kind of a superstitious thing, I guess.”
And like many players, Long still has his first glove.
“It was a Rawlings,” Long said. “I was 5 and I got it for my birthday. I started playing and I haven’t stopped.”
The perfect fit