Rules Of Baseball: Mitts and Gloves

Baseball Rules:
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One July day in Baltimore in 1969, the umpires were faced with a problem. Clay Dalrymple was to catch for Baltimore that evening, but he emerged from the dugout with both a catcher’s mitt (on his hand) and a fielder’s glove (in his back pocket).

“I asked him about it,” reported home plate umpire John Rice. “And he told me he was going to switch to the fielder’s glove if he had a play at the plate.”

The umpires huddled, and though they couldn’t think of a rule that specifically forbade the use of the second glove, they exacted a promise from Dalrymple that he wouldn’t use the glove until a ruling was made by the league office.

Oriole manager Earl Weaver argued, of course. “If nothing covers it in the rules,” offered Earl, “then why rule against the glove? Why not for?”

When it comes to catcher’s mitts, Rule 1.12 ought to be called “The Oriole Rule.” There are two reasons for that. The first is because it allows the catcher to wear only “a leather mitt,” while prior to the Dalrymple debate, the catcher could wear “a leather glove or mitt.” (Mitt is short for mitten, so mitts by definition have two sections: one for the thumb, the other for the rest of the hand.)

The second reason for linking the Orioles to this subsection involves Oriole manager Paul Richards, and it happened in the late fifties. The rule in its entirety in those days read, “The catcher may wear a leather glove or mitt of any size, shape, or weight.” That made it possible for Richards to put his imaginative baseball mind to work. His stopper out of the bullpen was Hoyt Wilhelm, a knuckleballer who accumulated a remarkable 227 career saves. Unfortunately, Wilhelm’s elusive knuckleball was often as difficult to catch as it was to hit.Richards came up with a solution. When Wilhelm came in, Richards’s catcher, Gus Triandos, would don an oversized catcher’s mitt, one with a circumference of forty-five inches. It helped reduce wild pitches and passed balls. Over the next few years, however, enough bellyaches were heard from the opposition that finally, in 1965, the rule was changed to prohibit gloves with a circumference of more than thirty-eight inches.

(Apparently, the mitt didn’t help Charlie Lau when he tried catching Wilhelm’s knuckleball. In a game in 1962, he allowed four passed balls, three of them in one inning.)

Other Catcher’s Equipment

Although the rules don’t offer any specifications for the catcher’s mask or chest protectors, both are essential equipment. The first mask, put to use in 1875, was a modified fencing mask. It was invented by Fred W. Thayer and used by James Tyng of Harvard. Ten years later, the chest protector was introduced, and in 1908 Roger Bresnahan of the New York Nationals introduced shin guards.

Fielder’s Gloves

The fielders of baseball’s earliest generations actually played barehanded. It should come as no surprise to anyone that it was the first basemen and catchers who started the move to handwear. Fingerless gloves that just fit the palm came first. Charles Waite is thought to have been the first to use one, and when he took the field with a flesh-colored glove in 1875, the fans literally called him “sissy.”

Reenter Albert G. Spalding. In 1877, he switched from pitching to playing first and decided to wear a black kid glove. Though it did contain some padding, Spalding’s glove bore a considerable resemblance to today’s golf gloves. As Spalding was one of the game’s better-known and respected personages, he gave the glove legitimacy. Needless to say, in the years to come entrepreneur Spalding also turned it into profit, selling his “Spalding’s model” for $2.50.

The Catcher’s Mitt

The catchers were the first to put gloves with fingers to use in the 1880s. In fact, in those years catchers used gloves on both hands, though the glove on the throwing hand remained fingerless. The pillow-type mitt came next, and it was first used in 1888 by Buck Ewing, the New York Giants catcher. The pillow-design catcher’s mitt, though different in many details, is essentially the configuration that remains in use today.

Unlike the catcher, the first baseman today “may wear a leather glove or mitt.” (Fielders are not permitted to use mitts, just gloves.) Like the catcher, however, the first baseman has a variety of limitations on his glove’s or mitt’s specifications. It may not be more than twelve inches long or in excess of eight inches from the base of the thumb to the outer edge of the mitt. Other dimensions are specified, too, but the glove “may be of any weight.”

The baseball glove has evolved considerably from those Spalding and Waite used. Bill Doak was one important innovator. A spitball pitcher for the Cardinals, Doak devised a multithong web in 1919. Another glove designer, Harry Latina, came up with a variety of innovations while working for Rawlings, including the Deep-Well Pocket (1940), the Snugger Wrist Adjustment (1942), and the TRAP-EZE six-finger glove (1959). Ozzie “The Wizard” Smith, the perennial Gold Glove winner at short for the Cardinals in the 1980s (he won it all ten years!), swore by the TRAP-EZE design. In fact, since he liked them hard and stiff, Smith broke in a new glove every six weeks during the season. Today, the glove is such a part of the game that as one commentator wrote earlier in the century, “The fielders have become so inseparably attached to their gloves that if you jerked one off a man’s hand, you’d almost expect to see him bleed to death.”

Pitcher’s Gloves

Pitchers were the last players to put on their gloves. For some reason, there was a notion prevalent for years that a pitcher would be rendered ineffective if he muffled either hand. A minor leaguer named McVicker is said to have been the first pitcher to wear a glove.

In recent decades there have been some rule changes regarding pitcher’s gloves. Today, they must be uniform in color and cannot be white or gray. The pitcher’s glove must not have “any foreign material” of a different color attached to it.

Batting Helmets

Batting helmets and attached ear flaps are relatively new as equipment goes, and they became mandatory only in recent years. All players today are required to wear batting helmets, and all but the handful of 1982 major leaguers who objected to the single-ear flap helmet must have the flap, too.

Catcher’s Helmets

All are now required to wear a “protective helmet” while performing their appointed tasks.

Other Equipment

The last rule in this section is a catchall for bases, bats, balls, the plate, uniforms, catcher’s mitts, and everything else to do with the game. It says that no “undue commercialization” of any equipment will be allowed.