Baseball gloves are crafted from various materials, predominantly leather, offering the durability and flexibility needed for players to make their mark on the field. Let’s delve into the anatomy of these essential tools of the trade and discover what makes a quality glove truly indispensable for the game’s greatest catches.
- Baseball gloves come in many kinds of leather, from cattle to kangaroo to buffalo.
- The category of leather is also a key factor in selecting the right glove: full grain, kip leather (kipskin), or steerhide.
- In addition to the type of animal skin used, other materials used in baseball gloves include synthetic leather laces and protective padding (usually two layers of leather with thin layers of plastic in the thumb and fingers).
- There are five main types of gloves: infield, outfield, catcher’s mitt, first base mitt, and training.
- The evolution of baseball gloves began in the late 1800s when people started wearing them for protection while playing.
- By 2011, an all-synthetic baseball glove was introduced.
Materials used in baseball gloves
Baseball gloves come in many kinds of leather. When most people think of leather, they assume it is all from the skin of a cow. The truth is that “leather” is the skin of an animal that has been tanned and treated to improve its look, feel, and durability. Most baseball gloves are constructed from cattle leather, but other manufacturers will use different hides, such as kangaroo or buffalo.
Besides the type of animal skin used, the category of leather is also a key factor in selecting the right leather glove. Here is a quick explanation of each:
1. Full Grain
Full-grain leather is the strongest and most durable leather and comes from the top layer of skin just below the animal hair. The grain pattern in the skin is very tight, which is why almost all catcher’s gloves are made of full-grain leather.
2. Kip Leather (Kipskin)
Kip leather comes from younger cattle and has a softer feel, which makes it easier to break in. Kip leather also has a smooth feel because it comes from the lower back of the cattle, where there is less hair. Because of the young age of the cattle, gloves made of Kip leather are lighter and softer than cowhide gloves and offer a firm, quality feel. Because of these factors, gloves made from kip leather are much more expensive.
This kind of leather is stronger and stiffer than regular cowhide and takes much longer to break in. The major benefit of steerhide gloves is that they last for many years, so while they may cost more upfront and take more work to break in, they can last an entire career with the right care.
While that covers the kind of leather, there are other materials that go into a glove. For example, the leather discussed above is for the palm, fingers, and webbing of the glove, but not the laces that stitch the glove together. The laces that tie the leather pieces together to make a baseball glove are most often made of cowhide, but some are made of synthetic leather to save on costs. Laces are found on the palm, heel, thumb, pinky, fingers, and webbing.
The protective padding in gloves contains different materials, too. Most gloves will have the standard two layers of leather with thin layers of protective plastic in the thumb and fingers. For catcher’s gloves, the palm will have five layers of leather padding, and some catchers will add additional soft materials to the palm for further protection. Remember, a 98-mph fastball carries enough force to break bones, so extra glove padding is crucial behind the plate.
Types of baseball gloves
Because the demands of each player on the field are different, there are five main kinds of gloves. Below is a breakdown of the most common:
1. Infield Gloves
These are the smallest of all gloves because infielders need to get the ball out of their glove quickly after fielding a ground ball, so their gloves are smaller, lighter, and formed into a bowl shape with a shallow pocket.
2. Outfield Gloves
Outfield gloves are the largest of all gloves, next to the first base mitt. They are longer with deeper pockets because they need to cover more ground and need the extra few inches that a larger glove gives them.
3. Catcher’s Mitt
The difference between a glove and a mitt is that gloves have individual fingers, and mitts do not. This is why a catcher wears a mitt, not technically a glove, but fans can use either word. The catcher’s mitt is almost always made of steer hide and heavily padded with strong stitching. The bones in hand could not withstand catching repeated fastballs without it.
4. First base Mitt
At first base, fielders will also wear a mitt that is like a catcher’s mitt in that it has no fingers, but it is much thinner and has a shallow pocket to catch balls quickly and scoop them out of the dirt. Aside from the catcher, the first baseman will catch the most throws during a game, so using a dense, strong mitt allows for better performance.
5. Training Gloves
Training gloves come in a few styles and can look like a traditional infield glove, a catcher’s mitt, or a “pancake style,” which allows for more hand movement. Training gloves are smaller than normal gloves and are used to train infielders and catchers on transferring the ball from the glove to the throwing hand quickly and using two hands to secure the ball. Gloves like this are made of the same leather as standard gloves.
The evolution of baseball gloves
As baseball spread throughout the country following the Civil War, it was rare for people to wear any gloves (toughness seemed to be more important than performance back then). However, as players became better, baseball gloves started becoming a regular sight by the late 1800s, especially for catchers. B
ack then, baseball gloves were nothing like what we see today. Some were just padded leather with no fingers; others resembled padded work gloves. There were no standards at the time.
By the 1930s, baseball gloves had evolved into more than just a protective leather hand cover, becoming a piece of equipment that improved performance on the field. There are many claims that it was Bill Doak of the St. Louis Cardinals who created the stitching system to tie fingers together on the glove, which is still used today (although much improved since then).
In the 1970s, baseball gloves increased in size, including outfield gloves that were extended to almost 14″ long, changing a decades-old rule of not allowing gloves longer than 12 inches.
Fast forward to 2011, and the first all-synthetic baseball glove was introduced. For players looking for an affordable, lightweight glove to learn with, a synthetic glove is best. This is especially true for little leaguers. In the pros, Brian Gordon of the New York Yankees was the first player to use an all-synthetic glove in an MLB game.
While baseball gloves can be manufactured from the hides of several different animals in several different ways, the importance of this piece of equipment is agreed upon by everyone.
Being able to field a baseball cleanly and make plays is the number one purpose of a baseball glove, and there is more than one glove that can manage that job. What matters most as you shop for the perfect glove is the leather’s fit, flexibility, comfort, and softness. To make the right choice, a simple conversation at your local sporting goods store can help you learn more, and as technology improves, so does glove design.
So, while most focus on name brands, as an educated glove buyer, you can now ask better questions about the type and quality of leather, as well as the stitching and padding, and make a choice based on what matters—how you play the game.
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