This is no ordinary
office; 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 on April 1 -- 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 the main entrance at
Rawlings is the display of 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 team standings are updated daily.
It's like being in baseball heaven.
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
For the record, it was Alexander Cartwright who invented the
rules of modern baseball in 1845, while Abner Doubleday, later a
Civil War officer, 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 the Cubs?
Paul Niemann may be reached at
Copyright Paul Niemann 2007
[Text from file received
from Paul Niemann]