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As baseball season opens, find out who invented the modern baseball glove

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By Paul Niemann

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[APRIL 1, 2004]  As you enter the main office of Rawlings Sporting Goods near St. Louis, you can't help but notice the wall decorations.

This is no ordinary office because it's the headquarters of the exclusive supplier of Major League baseballs. The company also supplies gloves to more baseball players than any other glove company. In fact, you could say that Rawlings invented the modern baseball glove.

Rawlings was founded in 1887 by two brothers, George and Alfred Rawlings, and their name is still synonymous with baseball nearly 120 years later. Since baseball season begins this week -- finally -- we take a look at an invention that's become a part of every father and son's life. You could even say that it's one of the most important inventions since medieval times. OK, I may be a bit biased in my judgment of the glove's importance, but if you're a baseball fan, you can probably relate.

What catches your attention as you enter Rawlings' main entrance are the baseball bats hanging from the walls. Each bat has the name of a major league team carved into it, and the bats are placed from top to bottom according to their standings in their respective divisions. The teams' standings are updated daily. It's like being in baseball heaven.

Very neat, or as my baseball-playing nephews would say, "way cool."

In the early days of professional baseball, the baseball gloves had nothing to connect the glove's thumb with the index finger. The idea for the webbing between the index finger and thumb on every baseball and softball glove used today came about when a man named Bill Doak stopped by the Rawlings plant one day and suggested a way to improve the glove. At the time, Rawlings was located just a few miles from where the Cardinals played their games.

Who was Bill Doak?

"Spittin' Bill" Doak made his major league debut in 1912, a year in which the World Series went eight games because one game ended in a tie. Doak earned his nickname as a spitball-throwing pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals during a time when spitballs were legal. When Major League Baseball outlawed spitballs in 1920, Bill Doak and the 16 other spitball pitchers were allowed to continue throwing the spitter under a grandfather clause.

 

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If you can't imagine playing baseball with a glove that doesn't have the webbing, then imagine what it felt like to play without a glove, because that's how the original players did it during much of the 1800s.

For example, when one Cardinals player wore a thin glove for the first time in 1875, he was ridiculed by fans, by opposing players and even by his own teammates! The rule change in the mid-1880s that allowed pitchers to pitch overhanded resulted in line drives coming off the bat much harder than before. As a result, most of the players started wearing gloves.

Have you ever wondered how the glove companies get major league players to endorse their gloves and bats?

They offer "glove contracts" to minor league players before they make it to the major leagues. The players then get free gloves in exchange for the future use of their names on the gloves if and when they make it to the major leagues.

In an interesting twist to this story, the company that manufactured major league baseballs prior to Rawlings was a sporting goods company known as Spalding. That company's founder was a Hall of Fame pitcher for Chicago named Al Spalding, and it was Al who started the debate over who invented baseball -- Cartwright or Doubleday.

For the record, it was Alexander Cartwright who invented the rules of modern baseball, while Civil War veteran Abner Doubleday laid out the four bases on a diamond and called it baseball in 1839 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Spalding's company was the official supplier of major league baseballs for 100 years -- from 1876 to 1976 -- until St. Louis-based Rawlings became the official supplier. Could that have anything to do with the rivalry between the Cardinals and Cubs?

Opening Day is this week. Go, Cards!

[Paul Niemann]

Invention Mysteries is written each week by Paul Niemann. He can be reached at niemann7@inventionmysteries.com.

Copyright Paul Niemann 2004

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