Nelson feels about his new glove the same way he felt about his glove when he was eight years old, "which means I have to get a new one in two to three years time." Of Phillips's venture, Nelson says, "I'm sorry I didn't think of it myself. I tip my hat to him. He's obviously in love with the game. I don't think you have to be a fanatic to appreciate what Joe has done."
The Nokona line of nostalgia gloves is limited, and Phillips becomes irritated when people ask, "Do you have a Joe DiMaggio or a Ted Williams?" Says Phillips, "You need a tie-in to celebrities, and Nocona didn't sign any big-name players. If I had hooked up with MacGregor or Rawlings, I'd probably be selling more gloves. A lot of the guys in the card market only want Mays or Mantle or Clemente."
Phillips has explored the possibility of getting reissue rights from other glove manufacturers and from famous former ballplayers. He has also contacted the major league baseball players alumni associations about acting as the middleman for players who are dead or who never had glove contracts. Until then, he has the Nokona gloves.
"If it weren't for Joe, nobody would hear of Nocona," says Jim Storey, president of the family-owned firm. In the '30s, Jim's father, Bob Storey, transformed the company from a billfold manufacturer—"remember, billfolds didn't sell real well during the Depression," says Jim—into an athletic-equipment company. Bob didn't want to fork out a lot of money to sign big-name players, so he recruited Texas League players. For every 25 or 30 he signed, he was lucky to get one who made it to the majors.
Erskine, now a bank president in Anderson, Ind., was with the Fort Worth Cats, the Dodgers' AA team when he signed. He agreed to endorse a Nokona glove for two free gloves each year. Erskine even helped modify the design of the glove because he thought it was too wide in the heel.
When Erskine was called up by the Dodgers in 1948, Bob told him, "Carl, I'm not going to hold you to the contract. You'll probably get a chance to sign for money."
"They had always been so nice to me," says Erskine. "I said, 'Bob, you signed me when I didn't have a name of any kind, so I'll stay with you.' "
That was lucky for Nocona, for Phillips and for Erskine. "As a kid I dreamed of being a major league player," says Erskine, who played in five World Series. "That dream came true. I never thought that 30-something years later that dream would still be so much alive."
This spring Phillips signed Elroy Face, pitcher for the Pirates and Expos from 1953 to '69, to endorse a glove, and is considering reissuing gloves with the signatures of such Nocona standbys as Don Hoak, Billy Hunter, Billy Loes, Karl Spooner and Dick Williams. The movie Field of Dreams inspired Phillips to send out feelers among his friends to see if there was any interest in an Archie (Moonlight) Graham commemorative glove from the early 1900s. "I had only one vote for Moonlight," says Phillips sadly. "If I brought it out, I might be the only guy to buy it."
But he may try to tap into the Dreams roster. Phillips is bringing out a Joe Jackson model ($144.95), which appeared in a Nokona catalog from the 1940s. But he doesn't know if the Jackson was Shoeless Joe or just an ordinary Joe. "We didn't know whether Mr. Storey actually made contact with [ Shoeless Joe]," says Phillips. "But the glove was issued."