Fits Like a Glove
“My hands are so sore I can’t hold a bat – and I wear gloves. I don’t know how the old-timers did it, before anybody used batting gloves,”
Dick Young, writing in the Sporting News in 1977, said “Most big league hitters now use one or two batting gloves to prevent palm blisters. Joe Rudi says he goes through two or three pairs a month.” This is a great find, buried deep within a notes column, which underscores one of the problems of baseball research: Often the moment of innovation goes unheralded, and nobody writes about the first guy to use batting gloves, but print references start to appear as the practice becomes widespread.
Columnists are not historians, and the nuggets of such history which find their place into such articles are often simply meant to fill out a bit of space at the end of a column. But full text search and retrieval allows us to find them in a more than random way, a great blessing to this generation of researchers. This type of searching also greatly facilitates finding much earlier references, which we sometimes can’t explain.
Ken Harrelson is credited with bringing the batting glove into the regular season, specifically on Sept. 4, 1968, in Kansas City. Golf again was the inspiration, as Harrelson reportedly spent a long day on the links, blistering his hands, and used his red golf glove to protect them a bit in that evening’s game, in which he homered twice. Mickey Mantle bought 20 pairs of red golf gloves the next day and the Yankees took the field for pregame warm-ups wearing them and harassing Harrelson, calling him “sweetheart,” and “Mrs. Harrelson.” Even as late as the 1980s, George Brett explained his non-use of batting gloves by saying “I ain’t no sissy,” and Mel Hall of the Cleveland Indians remarked “I don’t wear gloves. Gloves are for women.” But Harrelson immediately felt the gloves gave him an edge, as he told the New York Times in 2007: “The bat felt better in my hands than it did with the gloves off.”
By 1969, frequent ads promoting batting gloves for kids appeared in baseball publications, and the following year, the Orioles included batting glove day among their annual promotions. That same year, an article reported that batting gloves “have replaced the calluses of the past.”
“My hands are so sore I can’t hold a bat – and I wear gloves. I don’t know how the old-timers did it, before anybody used batting gloves,” said Dale Berra in 1983. The Pine Tar incident that July provided a window into the use of batting gloves, as the Sporting News described Brett as “one of the few batters who doesn’t use a batting glove.” Brett reported that he liked the feel of the bat, and the pine tar “Keeps my hands from getting torn up.”