"This is going to affect 95 percent of the outfielders and almost as many pitchers," says Bob Clevenhagen, the chief glove designer for Rawlings. Fortunately for Rawlings, Clevenhagen and the company's factory in Ava, Mo., spent the winter retooling and remodeling Rawlings' 51 different pro styles to make sure they complied with the rule. Rawlings supplied 55% of all major leaguers last year, so this year the percentage should be even higher. Baseball can also look for an increase in batting averages. You'll probably hear a lot of this: "Polonia goes back, back...oh, no, Scooter, it's just off his fingertips."
My brother Allie had this left-handed fielder's mitt. He was left-handed. The thing that was descriptive about it, though, was that he had poems written all over the fingers and the pocket and everywhere. In green ink. He wrote them on it so that he 'd have something to read when he was in the field and nobody was up at bat.
Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye
Although major leaguers have not been known to write poems on their gloves, they do write on them. Graig Nettles put "E5" (error, third base) on his glove, and that little reminder helped him win two Gold Gloves for the Yankees. Amos Otis, the Royals centerfielder for many years, had a glove so worn that it had a gaping hole in the palm. As his career wound down, Otis recorded his diminishing importance on that glove. First he wrote, "rightfield." Then he wrote, "leftfield." Then a helpful teammate wrote, "plays no more."
Other players have named their gloves. George Scott, who won eight Gold Gloves at first base for the Red Sox and the Brewers, called his mitt Black Beauty. Aurelio Rodriguez, who won a Gold Glove playing third base for the Tigers, named his The Black Hand. Mel Hall, a Yankee outfielder who will probably never win a Gold Glove, plays the field with Lucille. "Ted Simmons called his first baseman's mitt The Big Trapper when I played with him in Milwaukee," says Ready. "He talked about his glove as being 'Trapperfied.' "
Players can get even more peculiar with their gloves. Brewers manager Tom Trebelhorn tells a story about Buddy Peterson, an infielder who played mostly in the minor leagues in the 1950s. "He used to tie a rope around his glove and drag it around like a dog," says Trebelhorn. "If he had a bad day, he'd tie it up and make it sit up in front of his locker all night. The next day, he'd go out to shortstop and talk to his glove. 'Behave today, damn it!' "
Brewers outfielder Rick Manning had an equally strange habit. "He would pretend that the 'R' insignia on the back of his Rawlings was the button on a vacuum, so before he went out onto the field, he always pressed the button," Ready recalls. "He would say to me, 'Kid, make sure your vacuum's on.' "
Then there is Gonzales, the O's utility infielder. An otherwise sane and intelligent human being, Gonzales carries his game glove, the same glove he has worn since 1978, in a Wonder Bread bag. "My brother Phil had the glove first, but he promised me he'd give it to me if I made varsity at Rosemead [Calif.] High, which I did as a freshman," Gonzales says. "In college at Cal State-Los Angeles, my coach, Hank Moore, used to call me Wonder Bread. Why? Because the ads said that Wonder Bread had no holes. So I started carrying the glove around in Wonder Bread bags. My relatives collect them for me. And I never pack the glove with the rest of my gear. I always keep it with me in my in-flight bag. I just want to add that I am not a superstitious person."
Sure. But some players are. Zoilo Versalles, who won two Gold Gloves as a shortstop for the Twins in the '60s, would blame his glove for an error and throw it away. "After a while," recalls Lefebvre, "he went through so many gloves that he had to go to a department store to get one because the company he was under contract to wouldn't give him any more. So he was using ones he got off the shelf."
Wes Ferrell, a Red Sox pitcher in the 1930s, was lifted from a game because of wildness, and on his way to the dugout he shouted "It's your fault!" at his glove, then proceeded to tear it to shreds. More recently—last year, in fact—Gonzales went out to the mound to talk to the Orioles' ace reliever, Gregg Olson, and noticed that the pitcher was wearing a new black glove.
"What's with the new glove?" Gonzales asked.