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Harry's son, Rollie, took over the Rawlings designer post in 1961 and held it until 1984 (when Clevenhagen succeeded him), so for more than 60 years, all of Rawlings' gloves were designed by Latinas. The Latinas had almost as much feel for the language as for leather. Even today, Rawlings gloves make for delightful reading: HolDster, Fastback, Edge-U-cated Heel, Heart of the Hide, and The Finest In The Field are all registered trademarks.
First basemen will forever be grateful to Harry Latina for the Trapper, which he invented in 1940. Designed to scoop balls out of the dirt, it changed the way baseball was played. The mitt that President Bush keeps in his desk is a George McQuinn Trapper Claw. McQuinn was a good-fielding, average-hitting first baseman who played mostly for the St. Louis Browns and led the American League in fielding four times. Bush himself was a good-fielding, average-hitting first baseman for Yale from 1946 to '48. "This is the very glove I used for three years at Yale," the President told Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post last year. "I remember when this glove came out. It was just wonderful." Sometimes, when Bush is talking with one of his advisers, he will take the glove out of the drawer and pound his fist into it.
The catcher's mitt was little more than a shield until the '50s. The breakthrough came when a little-known journeyman catcher named Gus Niarhos used a knife to cut an opening in the pocket. Yogi Berra adopted the idea, and in the '60s, Randy Hundley and then Johnny Bench perfected the one-handed style of catching. Paul Richards, the manager of the Orioles from '55 to '61, came up with an oversized catcher's mitt so that Gus Triandos wouldn't have to keep chasing Hoyt Wilhelm's knuckleballs to the screen, but that particular mitt was eventually disallowed. Five more facts to lace into this glove story:
•In 1904 a man named James Bennett invented a cage to be worn by catchers. The device worked like this: The pitcher threw the ball at the cage, which collapsed inward upon impact, whereupon the ball hit the padded chest of the catcher and dropped down a hole into his waiting hand. Describing the cage as "built for a homesick bear or a dyspeptic hyena," The Cincinnati Enquirer wondered whether a base runner would be "expected to wait until the catcher removes the chicken coop in order that he may be in a position to throw."
•The first truly oversized mitt was invented by Joe Orrell, a pitcher who played for the Tigers from '43 to '45. Orrell brought the 14¼" by 12¼" glove to the Cincinnati Reds' spring training camp in '39 so that he could hide his pitches better and protect his legs from line drives up the middle. Said Reds manager Bill McKechnie, "He could use the thing for a cushion when sitting on the bench." The glove was subsequently disallowed.
•One innovation that did make it was patented by none other than Al Campanis, the former general manager of the Dodgers. Campanis thought that sewing a strip of material painted fluorescent orange around the perimeter of a catcher's mitt would provide a better target for pitchers, and Rawlings went ahead and manufactured the Campanis Target Mitt, patent No. 3,898,696.
•Clay Dalrymple had a bright idea when he was catching for the Orioles. He came out in the first inning of a game in 1969 with a catcher's glove on his hand and a fielder's glove in his back pocket. Dalrymple figured the fielder's glove would be of more use to him on a play at the plate, and there was nothing in the rule book that prevented him from carrying two gloves. The umpires conferred and got Dalrymple and Baltimore manager Earl Weaver to agree not to use the extra glove until the umps had consulted the American League office. "I'm confident the league office will let me carry the glove," Dalrymple said at the time. "I'm just as confident the league office won't," said Weaver. The league office didn't.
•On Sept. 3, 1986, Terry Mulholland, a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, demonstrated extraordinary ingenuity. In a game at Shea, he fielded a comebacker by Keith Hernandez of the Mets and ran toward first to shorten his throw. However, he could not get the ball out of his Wilson A2000 because it was firmly lodged between the glove's middle and index fingers. He thought fast. He thought well. He tossed his glove to first baseman Bob Brenly, and umpire Ed Montague called Hernandez out. Brenly had one regret, though: "I should have flipped the glove around the infield."
How is a glove made? Well, a Rawlings glove starts out grazing on a ranch in Iowa or Nebraska. (Lest this be construed as an advertisement for Rawlings, let us point out that Wilson, Louisville Slugger, Spalding, SSK, Mizuno, Cooper, Regent and others make professional gloves of very high quality. Rawlings and the small Nocono company are the only ones, however, that manufacture their gloves in the U.S. And let's face it: Ava, Mo., is a lot easier to visit than, say, South Korea.)
The steers, raised primarily for beef but also for their hides, are sent packing—literally—to beef processors in such places as Dakota City, Iowa, or Jocelyn, Ill The next stop is the Horween Leather Co. in Chicago. There the hides are tanned, and then they are sorted according to quality. Each cow yields two hides, one from each side, and each hide yields 3½ or 4 gloves.