"A couple of years ago, when Jose Oquendo was playing nearly every position for the Cardinals, he had more gloves than we did," says Bill Smith, a longtime service representative for Rawlings. "I went into the locker room one day, and Jose said, 'Bill, Whitey [Herzog, the Cards' manager] is talking about using me at first base.' I said, 'When I see it in the box score, you can have a first baseman's mitt.' Sure enough, Whitey used him at first, and Jose had his glove."
Ozzie Smith of the Cards, a winner of 10 Gold Gloves at shortstop, goes through a new glove every six weeks. But then Smith is one of the few major leaguers to use the six-fingered Trap-Eze, a glove Harry Latina originally designed for Stan Musial in 1959 so that The Man could switch from the outfield to first base without changing his glove. Smith likes a hard, stiff glove because he doesn't want the ball to spend too much time in the pocket; sometimes he uses the Trap-Eze more like a paddle than a glove. And since Smith is one of Rawlings' most valued endorsers, the Trap-Eze artist is not about to be denied a steady supply of gloves.
The top-of-the-line gloves, the ones that list for more than (gasp!) $200, usually don't carry the names of players on them, and most players wouldn't be caught dead with the names of other players on their gloves. So it's interesting to note that Tommie Agee made all those great catches for the Mets in the 1969 World Series with a Johnny Callison model glove. "That's funny," says Callison. "I didn't even use that glove."
It's a funny business, who gets his name on a glove and who doesn't. "The name is a secondary consideration," says Chuck Malloy, marketing manager of the baseball glove division at Rawlings, "but it's important. We shudder every time Jose Canseco or Darryl Strawberry gets in trouble, because it does affect sales. Last year I made a decision I regret now. I decided to take Nolan Ryan's name off our RBG 70 and put Bobby Bonilla's name on it, figuring Bonilla would have a big year." Bonilla had a decent year, but Ryan had a better one, with 16 wins and 301 strikeouts.
Rawlings had made a similar mistake in 1978. The company left its Graig Nettles model out of its catalogue, which significantly reduced the chances that stores would carry the model and Nettles would earn royalties. As Nettles recalls it, he approached sales rep Frank Torre, a former major league first baseman, and asked him to put the glove back in the catalogue. Torre declined. Nettles went over Torre's head and wrote to the president of Rawlings, who came down on Torre. When Torre next saw Nettles, he told the Yankee third baseman he wouldn't even have a contract in 1979, much less his glove in the catalogue.
This exchange occurred on Oct. 13, 1978, just before the third game of the World Series between the Yankees and the Dodgers. That night, Nettles gave the performance of his life in the infield, reversed the direction of the Series and secured his reputation as the premier third baseman in the game. The following year, he signed with Louisville Slugger.
For the most part, though, glove companies go out of their way to please their players. All the major companies have caravans that visit each of the spring training camps. The caravans not only provide players with gloves but also do whatever mitt-doctoring or breaking in a player asks. That's how Clevenhagen got his start in designing—fixing gloves for players. Last year he worked closely with Jim Abbott, the Angels' one-handed lefthander, redesigning his glove so that after throwing, Abbott could get the mitt on his hand more quickly. All of the companies were working overtime this spring, making sure gloves complied with Rule 1.14.
Bill Smith, who's always on the Rawlings Sports Caravan, tells about the time he worked for hours breaking in a glove for a player. "He took the glove, thanked me, and then I watched him soak it in a sinkful of water," Smith says. "After that, he put the glove on the floor and started pounding it with a baseball bat."
Once upon a time a ballplayer's bat and glove were everything to him. Now it seems to me that any old bat and any old glove are good enough.... How long is it since you've seen a ballplayer work on his glove? Do I sound like an old fogey mumbling in a chimney corner about the heedlessness of the younger generation? I hope not, but even if I do, I think it might be helpful to some young ballplayers if they listen to my mumbling and put to practice what they can make of it.
Hall of fame shortstop, as told to Frank Graham in an article in the February 1932 issue of Baseball Magazine
Bancroft actually recommended putting a glove in a barrel of water, to which some players have added a modern twist. "Robin Yount throws his glove in a Jacuzzi," says Ready. "Then he dries it off for a few days and says, 'Let's go.' "