The sight of protective gear has become so familiar that when we see professional athletes operating without it, the image seems fundamentally wrong. It’s one thing to have only a leather helmet for football or simple face masks for hockey; those are still protection, they’re just decades out of date. It’s another thing entirely to have no protection at all.
It’s easy to write that off as the requirements of the time. After all, boxing was an everyman’s sport… and not every man could afford expensive protective gloves. Certainly football players and hockey players got into collisions, but the athletes were not, by comparison, as large or as fast as today’s sportsmen. If they had been, there would have been a demand for pads long before they came of vogue.
Or so one would think. One common type of protective gear demonstrates the fallacy of this notion, however… the baseball glove. The demand was there, but it was fought. As recollected by A.G. Spalding, one of the highest-profile pitchers in the early days of the game, from the Eyewitness to History website:
“The first glove I ever saw on the hand of a ball player in a game was worn by Charles C. Waite, in Boston, in 1875. He had come from New Haven and was playing at first base. The glove worn by him was of flesh color, with a large, round opening in the back. Now, I had for a good while felt the need of some sort of hand protection for myself. In those days clubs did not carry an extra carload of pitchers, as now. For several years I had pitched in every game played by the Boston team, and had developed severe bruises on the inside of my left hand. When it is recalled that every ball pitched had to be returned, and that every swift one coming my way, from infielders, outfielders or hot from the bat, must be caught or stopped, some idea may be gained of the punishment received.”
Therefore, I asked Waite about his glove. He confessed that he was a bit ashamed to wear it, but had it on to save his hand. He also admitted that he had chosen a color as inconspicuous as possible, because he didn’t care to attract attention. He added that the opening on the back was for purpose of ventilation.
Spalding decided that a glove would be a good thing for himself, as well, and began using one. He wasn’t the only person to do so; Waite, obviously, but Red Stockings catcher Doug Allison had worn a glove for a time, too… because of a hand injury. For years, though, he was the only person in the league who would wear one, because it was considered very unmanly to have to wear a glove to catch a baseball.
How unmanly? Well, Spalding, who brought the glove to prominence because of his superstar status, did in fact wear a glove… starting in 1877, two full years after he’d spoken to Waite about wearing one, and despite his lingering and significant hand injuries.
Question of the night: What’s your favorite sports team?