What could be more iconic symbols of the game than the gloves we cherish, the almighty bat, the helmet and visor, or even the catcher’s body armor? Serious baseball nuts know this was not always the way.
The heroic players of yesteryear stepped out onto the field in nothing more than the clothes they wore. They would have regarded today’s baseball apparel as something of a cheat.
They were the guys who’d take the knocks on the chest and head! Battles scars were common and bruises, even broken fingers, were a part of the action.
You could argue the game wasn’t as fast. After all, pitchers threw underarm to start with.
Even so the discovery of baseball’s battle armor is a fascinating part of our favorite sport’s history.
Bare hands not gloves
The glove was not a part of a respectable player’s kit. A far cry from the youth baseball gloves of today. In fact the first player to dare to wear a glove knew he’d be ridiculed. That was the glove worn by Charles Waite in 1875. In fact, he was so embarrassed that the glove he wore was flesh colored and most definitely unpadded. Well, he sure was right about one thing.
He was jeered and laughed at for being a sissy!
But someone must have thought he was onto something. Irwin was an infielder who was definitely anything but a sissy. A hard ball broke two fingers on his left hand. He didn’t want to wait for them to heal so he wore a buckskin glove into which he had stuffed some padding.
Other players liked the idea and manufacturers began to produce them. A pitcher called Spalding started a sports equipment company. The baseball glove became the recognisable symbol of the game it is today.
The Catcher’s Mask
You’d have to feel a little for the catcher in the early days. Crazy as it sounds they had no protection other than stepping to the side of the plate so they wouldn’t get hit. It was a coach, Fred Thayer, in 1887 who stepped in. He wanted to help a reluctant catcher’s confidence. He had a tinsmith cut eye holes out the wire mesh of a fencing mask. This was later changed to spaced iron bars. The design was adapted with forehead and chin rests. The first mask was patented in 1878. It didn’t take too long to catch on! Chest protectors came along in 1885.
Battling Batting Helmets
There was no attempt to provide helmets until the 1930’s. It wasn’t until a shortstop, who had gotten sick of being hit in the head, turned up at a game wearing a miner’s helmet! This was later adapted to a construction hard hat, but the idea had caught on and by ‘52 helmets were being made for Major League.
Shin guards were adapted from the English game of cricket. They were deployed by wary players who were being targeted with upturned spikes! Wooden strats had been used but were shattered when the opposition took to sharpening their spikes.
All in all the game we love today wouldn’t be quite the same without more than a few dangerous encounters. Next time you hit the field maybe we should all be a little grateful to our forebears.