While collectors are scrambling to get their hands on baseball memorabilia of every type and from every era, Joe Phillips is offering collectibles they can get their hands in. In the fall of 1989, Phillips began reissuing baseball gloves from the 1930s, '40s and '50s through his Dallas-based company, the Glove Collector.
The gloves are made by the Nocona Athletic Goods Co., a modest firm in Nocona, Texas, that manufactured the original gloves under the Nokona name (the k replaces the c because the company couldn't trademark the name of the town). The leather for Phillips's gloves must be cut by hand because all the old dies were sold for $60 as scrap metal before Phillips struck the deal with Nocona.
Phillips goes back a long way with the company, though not as far back as the gloves, which were first manufactured in the 1930s. A former semipro ballplayer, he had done some marketing and p.r. for Nocona in the mid-1970s, so he felt comfortable approaching the company with his idea of recreating the old gloves.
Although his business is off to a slow start, the deal could turn out to be a good one. "I'm doing better in the newsletter business than in gloves," says Phillips, a Greenville, Texas, native and a die-hard Cincinnati Reds fan. "And that's encouraging. At least I know the interest is there." A bimonthly, The Glove Collector Newsletter covers all aspects of vintage gloves.
So far Phillips has sold about 70 of the, reproduction gloves. One of his popular models is the Carl Erskine G-57, which costs $139.95 and comes with a certificate of authenticity signed by Erskine, the former Brooklyn Dodger pitcher who in 1953 set a record for most strikeouts in a World Series game (14). For only $79.95, you can purchase the genuine article—a mint-condition glove endorsed by Jim Lemon, who played outfield for the Indians, Senators and Twins in the 1950s and early '60s, or one by Don Mossi, a pitcher for the Indians, Tigers, White Sox and the Athletics during the same period. Phillips found the old lefthanded gloves stashed in a trailer truck at the Nocona plant. He labels the people who collect gloves "closet collectors," because the mitts aren't as popular as bats or uniforms and are "certainly not comparable to cards."
Of course some collectors would rather play with their gloves than display them. Paul Maheu, an office manager in a San Francisco municipal-bond brokerage firm, had never heard of Rudy York, the former Tiger first baseman, when he bought a York glove from the Glove Collector. York, who played 13 years in the major leagues, began endorsing the Nokona G-30 model—the one with the novel FieldRite pocket—back in the 1930s. The mitt predates finger lacing, reinforced webs, and thumb and finger loops.
The 38-year-old Maheu, who plays second base in a senior league in the Bay Area, uses the stubby-fingered York glove in practice. But he switches to a modern glove for games. "It brings you back to the art of catching with two hands, which is kind of a lost art today," says Maheu of the old glove. "You can get the ball out of the glove a lot faster."
The price of a Rudy York G-30 was $8.50 in 1942. Today, it costs $140, $150 with the autograph stamp. "That's right in line with the real good gloves made by manufacturers now," says Maheu. "But I guess a lot of people are buying them just to hold them and smell the leather."
Rob Nelson, 41, a baseball junkie who has played on at least three continents in the 19 years since he made a brief appearance in the Cardinals' organization, bought a 1950s model from the Glove Collector that had been endorsed by Chico Carrasquel, the former White Sox, Indians and Oriole shortstop. Nelson gave it to himself for Christmas in 1989. "My parents thought I was crazy," he says. "But I always wanted a stubby-fingered glove."
Nelson has coached eight-, nine- and 10-year-olds in summer camps in Oregon and on Long Island. "It's always fun to show them the glove I used when I was their age," he says. "When kids forget their gloves—and it's typical for these kids to forget their gloves—I let them use mine. For them it's like watching a bunch of clowns getting out of one of those cars at the circus. They can't believe it's a real glove. They think I got one miniaturized."