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OF MICE AND MITTS, AND OF A RULE THAT HELPED TO CLEAN UP BASEBALL
Jay Feldman
February 20, 1984
Members of the offensive team shall carry all gloves and other equipment off the field and to the dugout while their team is at bat. No equipment shall be left lying on the held, either in fair or foul territory.—Rule 3.14 of the Official Baseball Rules
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February 20, 1984

Of Mice And Mitts, And Of A Rule That Helped To Clean Up Baseball

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Members of the offensive team shall carry all gloves and other equipment off the field and to the dugout while their team is at bat. No equipment shall be left lying on the held, either in fair or foul territory.
—Rule 3.14 of the Official Baseball Rules

It's generally forgotten that before Rule 3.14 was adopted in 1954, all players except the pitcher and catcher customarily left their gloves on the field. The second baseman and shortstop threw theirs onto the grass just beyond the skin part of the infield, while the first and third basemen tossed theirs into foul territory near their respective bags. The outfielders simply dropped theirs on the greensward and hightailed it into the dugout. (The pitcher and catcher placed their gloves on the top step of the dugout.)

Oakland A's bullpen coach Ed Nottle, 44, remembers that when he was a boy, one of the joys of watching a game at Shibe Park was seeing Philadelphia A's shortstop Eddie Joost discard his glove. "There used to be an art to things like that," says Nottle, "and I think it was an art that was appreciated by everybody in the stands. At the end of every inning you'd look at Joost. And he'd put his glove in the same spot every time—it wasn't just sling it and take off. The gloves then were a lot smaller and flatter, of course, and he would throw it like a Frisbee, with great accuracy and style."

As artistic as glove tossing may have been, Rule 3.14, which was originally called Rule 3.16, was enacted to prevent injuries to players who might trip on a glove and to eliminate the possibility of a discarded glove changing the outcome of a game. "It happened an awful lot of times," says Red Sox manager Ralph Houk, 64, "that a batted ball would hit a glove and mess up the game. I've also seen it where a player, especially an in-fielder, would be running back and step on a glove, and naturally it would throw him off balance."

One of the more dramatic incidents involving a ball hitting a glove occurred in the opening game of the Pacific Coast League playoffs in 1944. In the second inning, San Francisco Seals pitcher Bob Joyce dribbled a grounder foul down the first base line. The ball hit a mitt and rolled into fair territory in front of the bag. Oakland Oaks' first baseman Les Scarsella picked the ball up and stepped on the base, whereupon umpire Jack Powell called Joyce out. Naturally, a rhubarb ensued, and when the other umpires supported Powell's decision, San Francisco manager Lefty O'Doul played the rest of the game under protest. The game turned out to be a marathon, going 13 innings before Oakland scratched out a 6-5 victory.

The next day, league president Clarence (Pants) Rowland upheld O'Doul's protest, ruling that the ball should have been declared dead when it hit the glove, and ordered the game replayed. (" Powell phoned me last night and admitted he'd missed the beat on the controversial play...he did not blame Mr. O'Doul for protesting," Rowland was quoted as saying.) The Seals won the replay 9-3 and went on to a 4-1 series victory over the Oaks, who were managed by Dolph Camilli.

A common hazard every player faced by leaving his glove in the field was that it became fair game for practical jokes by opposing players. On his way to the bench, for example, an outfielder would pick up an opponent's mitt and put it into his back pocket, leaving the other guy to roam the field in search of his missing piece of equipment. Or an infielder would take his counterpart's glove and sling it far into the outfield. It became commonplace for players to stuff an opponent's mitt with grass or sand or rocks.

Occasionally, word got around that a certain player had a particular aversion to certain creatures, and he immediately became a target. " Phil Rizzuto was one they really liked to get," says Houk. "They'd put dead mice in his glove—rats, frogs, lizards, all kinds of things. That really upset him." Red Sox coach Ed Yost was a member of a Washington Senators team that perpetrated such acts. "We had some guys on the club that put snakes and things in Phil's glove," says Yost gleefully. "I think Ray Scarborough, the pitcher, was one of 'em."

Bill Rigney, 65, names Eddie Stanky as being one of the worst offenders in the National League. "He always had something going," says Rigney. "You'd go out and get your glove and it'd be full of dirt. Or tobacco. Swell! Whatever he could find, he'd put it in the finger of your glove. One time I was playing second base for the Giants and he was playing second for the Braves.

"This had to be 1948 or '49. I caught the last out of an inning, threw my glove and went in to the bench. When our at bat was over I came running out and I looked around, but I couldn't find my glove. Our pitcher is taking his warm-ups, and Johnny Mize, our first baseman, is throwing grounders, and I'm fielding them barehanded and throwing them back. I'm still trying to find my glove. And I'm getting panicky. Buddy Kerr, our shortstop, comes over and says, 'What's up?'

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