Baseball historian John Thorn has done extensive research on the baseball glove and identifies the first professional player to wear a glove in an era when the game was played bare-hand. He was St. Louis Brown Stocking Charlie Waitt, who in 1875 played first base with a flesh-colored glove that was about the size of a handball glove. As for the color, Thorn said that was because Waitt was hoping no one would notice.
So, using that as a historical starting point, perhaps it won’t make the memories of their first baseball gloves several will share today seem quite so old.
As for the youngest of my guys, 57-year-old Brad Clark, he remembers a Rawlings manufactured model with Cesar Cedeno’s autograph burned into the leather. Cedeno was best known as a 1970 Astro during the team’s rainbow-colored-jersey years. The glove was a fastback model, a longer glove that had no strap on the glove’s back, which caused Brad a problem.
“With no strap, that meant I couldn’t hook my glove onto my bike’s handlebars.”
As for 64-year-old Dave Busick, a Tiger fan since his toddler days, his first glove was a MacGregor Denny McLain model. In the Tiger World Series-winning year of 1968, Detroit’s McLain, almost without question given the way the game is played today, became baseball’s final 30-game winner.
For Dan Moening, 65, his first glove was a Zoilo Versalles Rawlings. Versalles was a slick-fielding Cuban-born shortstop whose best days were as a Minnesota Twin.
For 69-year-old Tom Cullen, another early-1960s infielder who became a good enough player to play collegiately, he remembers fondly his first glove with the embossed signature of a player he grew to admire, Nellie Fox.
Recalls Tom, now a noted glass artist of national repute, “I remember the glove was undersized compared to others my friends had, but, as a middle infielder, it was important once I caught the ball that I got it out and on to first quickly.”
I couldn’t help thinking of the recent passing of Reds great Joe Morgan, who played second base so well with one of the smallest gloves I’d ever seen when I saw it on display on one of my trips to the sport’s hall of fame in Cooperstown.
Cullen’s childhood friend, Peter Linneman, a recently turned 70-year-old Lima native and now Philadelphian, remembers his first glove was a hand-me-down from his father, a 1940s split-fingered model, meaning the fingers of the glove weren’t laced.
I have a similar split-fingered glove, rescued from a garage sale quarter box, with the name of Hal Newhouser visible on the outside finger. Newhouser, a southpaw, enjoyed a marvelous three-year run in the mid-1940s as a Tiger, winning 29, 25 and 26 games from 1944 through ’46.
For Jim Penn, 69, he remembers his first glove was a Rawlings, one he loved and used so much, he taught himself to re-lace it and repaired it multiple times.
For local barrister Brad Kelley, 69, he says, “When I first started playing organized ball, my dad told me to empty out the equipment bag, and what fell out last was my glove. What last hit the ground along with a chest protector, mask and shin guards was a catcher’s mitt. And, that’s when I first donned the tools of ignorance!”
Bill Gephart, 70, also donned those same tools and remembers his first glove with a mix of both fondness and reverence, as those who fell in love with baseball early on tend to do.
“I sure do remember that catcher’s mitt, a Gus Triandos (a 13-year MLB veteran in the 1950s and ‘60s) model. It was almost like catching with a pillow and was the best glove I ever had.”
For 72-year-old John Whittaker, who gets my vote for the best brother-in-law ever, he remembers growing up in Tiffin slipping on a six-fingered Rawlings, a Stan “The Man” Musial model.
A catcher in his earliest days, 73-year-old Bob Riepenhoff, tired of those tools of ignorance by his latter grade school days and remembers another glove with much more detail and fondness, a fielder’s mitt carrying an embossed autograph of longtime Tiger infielder Dick McAuliffe.
For Bob Seggerson, 72, he remembers a Mickey Mantle model.
Recalls Segg, “I got it at Repp from Mr. Mort, and the one thing I remember most is I loved the smell of that glove’s leather. To this day, when I smell leather, I think of that glove and the exuberance I felt playing baseball.”
For the former Lima Senior Spartan, John Bean, 73, his first glove was a brand some may not recall.
“It was a Sonnett, autographed by Ralph Kiner,” Bean recalled. “Later I switched to more familiar models like Spaulding and then the MacGregor Ken Harrelson model I still have today and use playing catch with my grandkids.”
Thinking back on those names brought a smile to my face. Neither Kiner, who led the National League in homers for seven straight years in the late 1940s and early ‘50s, nor Harrelson was particularly noted for their defense. In Kiner’s case, it was his power that secured the endorsement. As for Harrelson, just a career .239 hitter, it was his flamboyant lifestyle that may have played a role in securing the endorsement.
And, finally, Harry Johnson, at 77, my oldest bro, his first glove was a first baseman’s mitt with the embossed autograph of Ferris Fain, whose best years were playing first with the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1940s.
Says the man affectionately known as Grogan around town, “And, I could use that mitt better than Fain ever could!”
Boys and baseball, no matter the age of the boy, they’ll pretty much always have some recollections about those first prized possessions, ones they valued more than the fabled Crown Jewels.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at email@example.com.