The Major League Baseball game we are familiar with today is a far cry from its original origins and gloves, ubiquitous today, weren’t always a part of the game.
The game that most resembles today’s baseball emerged shortly after the Civil War. Union and Confederate soldiers often passed time during the long periods between battles playing a game brought to America from England in earlier decades known as Rounders, which is a close relative to Cricket. The game rules were malleable and lent it to multiple variations and configurations. In the proceeding years following the Civil War various leagues developed and when teams played more regularly, a more specific standard game began to progress. Professional clubs formed and the new attraction drew popular attention as well as being lucrative. The results were that rules consolidated and standardized.
Consistent with today, the game was played with innings and three outs per team per inning. In the earlier 1880’s one innovative new rule would significantly change the game. The new game changer would allow the pitcher to throw overhand. Prior to that, pitchers were only allowed to deliver the ball underhand. Moreover, the game did not include balls and strikes. The pitcher’s job was to serve up the ball so the batter would put the ball in play. If the batter missed the ball or hit the ball in foul territory it counted as an out. The Umpire stood alongside the batter, not behind the catcher. He was not concerned with the pitch location. His attention was directed to where the ball was hit and whether the batters made it to a base safe or out. The rule change to overhand was a logical development. Even though the pitcher was required to pitch underhand, he still had the ability to serve the ball to a batter in advantageous locations inside, outside, low or high, making it more difficult to get good wood on the ball, resulting in outs. The overhand rule change increased the pitcher’s control and ball location further. The new rule extended to include balls, strikes and the strike zone. The umpire location moved to behind the catcher, which gave him a naturally better position to call balls and strikes in the zone. No longer would a foul ball count as an out. Instead it would count only as a strike and the batter would be able to continue batting until he would put the ball in play or miss the ball altogether for a strikeout. Moreover, the overhand rule lent itself to an overall more exciting and interesting game.
Up until the point of the overhand rule change, players played bare handed. However, catchers were experiencing greater pain from the persistent catches from more and more faster and faster pitches. Soon after the overhand rule implementation, a leather padded mitten mitt was developed to aide catchers when catching the ball with the non-throwing hand. Catchers began wearing a protective mask, knee shin and chest padding as well. Shortly after catchers regularly began to use the mitt, fielders began using a leather glove on their non-throwing hand too. At first the glove was nothing more than a simple workman’s glove made for laborers. Shortly a new industry of specialty gloves was manufactured specifically for baseball. These earliest fielders gloves specially designed for baseball were nothing more than a simple leather glove with felt padding in the palm area to take out a bit of the sting from regular catching. They resembled the workman’s glove and hence their name was coined.
Shortly after fielders began using gloves, a little known forgotten rule was also changed. Prior to using gloves, a fielder could make an out if he caught the ball on one bounce. The bounce would take a lot of steam out of a well hit ball and soften the catch for the player. Since the glove helped a player grab a ball more easily out of the air, the one bounce rule was eliminated. Very few of these gloves still exist today and are exceedingly rare. Depending on their shape they could fetch as much as several thousand dollars at auction.
That’s why I have replicated the Workman’s Fielders Glove, handmade to exacting detail. Today’s ball players can now experience the game played back more than 100 years ago.