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George Bush keeps his 45-year-old Rawlings Claw in a drawer of his desk in the Oval Office. Oriole infielder Rene Gonzales keeps his gamer in a bag that once contained Wonder Bread. (He'll explain later.) You might be one of the many people who kept a Bobby Richardson or a Phil Rizzuto or a Johnny Temple mitt under the pillow. No other piece of sports equipment, perhaps no other inanimate object, exerts quite the hold on us that the baseball glove does. Most anyone who has played the game remembers a favorite glove from his or her youth, the one he or she hung from the handlebars of a bicycle.
"A D & M Doak Walker," says Ralph Houk, former manager of the Yankees, the Tigers and the Red Sox. "It had a brass button with a picture of a dog on it. Bought the glove at Gibb Francis's Sporting Shop in Lawrence, Kansas, for about $10, which was a lot of money in 1930. I loved that glove. Took it with me wherever I went."
"I dug an outhouse hole to earn my first glove," says Bill Mazeroski, the former Pirate second baseman and a winner of eight Gold Gloves, the annual awards for fielding excellence that are sponsored by Rawlings. "My uncle promised me that if I dug him the hole he'd buy me a glove, and he did. A three-fingered Rawlings Playmaker."
"When we moved from Hawaii to California, my father bought me the six-fingered Don Demeter Spalding," says Red Sox outfielder Dwight Evans, another winner of eight Gold Gloves. "I can still see it. I can still feel it. I wish I still had it."
Evans actually gets dewy-eyed thinking about his gloves. "A good glove is like a wife," he says. "I really feel that way. Uh-oh. My wife just heard me say that and gave me this look. You know what I mean, honey. A glove should always be there for you." For the record, Dwight and his wife, Susan, have been married 19 years. He has had the oldest of his three game gloves for 14.
It's a magical thing, the mitt. Hundreds of thousands are made every year, yet each one is special to the hand it winds up marrying. Try not to choke on this line: You can't spell glove without l-o-v-e. The next time you're in a sporting goods store, stand by the baseball glove rack for a while, and sure enough, you'll see some guy sidle over, try on a glove or three, smile and walk away. He's not shopping. He's remembering.
Remember all the work you put into your glove, the neat's-foot oil you rubbed into it, the endless hours of catch, the autumnal rite of gagging it with a ball and binding it with string? Remember the ambivalence you felt when somebody from the other team borrowed your glove? (I hope he doesn't ruin it/I hope he likes it.) Remember how sad you were when the glove was retired, lost, stolen or chewed up by the family dog?
"I was one of those kids who oiled up his glove, put a ball in it, tied it up and stuck it under the bed," says Randy Ready, an infielder and outfielder for the Phillies. "Then I would dream sweet dreams of making the greatest play in the history of the game."
It's only leather, or in some cases leather with vinyl or nylon, but the glove is somehow a living thing, like the bud at the end of a stem. It's pleasing to all five senses: looks good, smells good, feels good, sounds good (when the ball smacks the pocket) and tastes good (to your dog). Aesthetically, the glove is quite beautiful: fingers reminiscent of ladyfinger pastries, a web as intricate as a spider's, laces that work in unison, disappearing into the glove and then magically reappearing. When the sculptor Claes Oldenburg was asked why he made a 12-foot-high, 5,800-pound lead-and-wood first baseman's glove, he replied, "Cézanne painted apples. I make mitts."
Here are five facts about gloves, one for each finger: