As you enter the main
office of Rawlings
Sporting Goods near St. Louis, you can't help but notice the
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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second column in this article]
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?
is this week. Go, Cards!
Invention Mysteries is written each
week by Paul Niemann. He can be reached at
Paul Niemann 2004