Take Me out to the Ball Game

By Debra Tobin

Baseball is as American as hot dogs and apple pie and is the sport chosen by millions today. Whether itís a game between the Cincinnati Reds and LA Dodgers or the NY Yankees and Cleveland Indians, baseball is by far one of the most exciting games in the history of sports.

BASEBALLGLOVEBASEMANMITT2.jpg (44128 bytes)Baseball became popular in the 19th century and was known as "townball" at the time. Other names given to the popular sport include goal ball, round ball, fletch-catch, and simply base.

Teams were formed by small towns, while baseball clubs became more familiar in larger cities. In 1845, rules of the game came into play when Alexander Cartwright wanted to establish a standard set of rules by which all teams could play. A lot of these rules still apply today.

Unlike todayís game, teams pitched to themselves, runners ran around the bases in the opposite direction and players could be called out by being hit by the ball. However, like today, a batter also was called out after three strikes.

While some believe baseball was invented by Abner Doubleday, Cartwright became known as the true father of baseball. Doubleday never laid claim to the title, but the Mills Commission declared he was the inventor of baseball in Cooperstown, New York in 1839. The Commission claims Doubleday invented the word "baseball," designed the diamond, indicated field positions, and wrote the rules and field regulations. This of course, is all myth and has never been proven.

In 1857, teams from the northeast sent 25 delegates to discuss these matters, and a year later the first organized baseball league was formed. The National Association of Base Ball Players supported itself by charging fans for admission, and the future, well, letís just say itís history. Today this sport is watched by millions of viewers from all over the world.

During the Civil War, the number of baseball clubs dropped unbelievably but this did not deter the interest of the sport. Other parts of the country soon cashed in on the idea and once the war ended there were more people playing baseball than ever before. In 1868 there were over 100 baseball clubs throughout the country. As the league grew so did the expenses of playing, and charging admission was not enough to keep the games going. Teams sought out donations and sponsors, and winning became the number one importance of the game.

It wasnít until 1869 that teams went professional. The Cincinnati Red Stockings was the first team to go completely professional. Players were recruited from around the country and the Reds went on to win all 65 of their games.

While some wanted baseball to continue as an amateur game, the idea of being paid soon caught on and before long amateur teams began to disappear. The best players from the amateur teams were recruited and more professional teams were united. This soon led to the formation of the first professional baseball league in 1871, the National Association. The association hosted nine teams in 1871 and by 1875 expanded to 13 teams.

Although the game had strengthened as a spectator sport, the presence of gambling at the games combined with the sale of alcohol soon drove the crowds away. The National League, which was operated by businessmen, not the players, replaced the National Association and standards and policies soon went into place for ticket prices, schedules and contracts for the players.

BASEBALLGLOVEDECKERPAT2.jpg (47826 bytes)During the next several years into the turn of the century, many changes came about with the baseball leagues. In 1884, infuriated players tried to form their own league but it was unsuccessful and only lasted one season. Several attempts were made for other leagues and in 1901 the American League was formed. This league recruited players from the National League and the so-called war began between the two. A court injunction was finally imposed and a solution was agreed upon for the two-leagues to co-exist peacefully. But again as time marched on, more and more problems arose for the baseball leagues.

Another league formed in 1914 and soon sued, arguing that the American and National leagues established a monopoly. This league folded after two seasons and in 1922, the Supreme Court settled the matter. The court recognized and validated baseballís monopoly.

Years passed and in 1919, George "Babe" Ruth became one of the most powerful and popular hitters in the history of baseball. "The Bambino" or "The Sultan of Swat," as Ruth was so often referred to, played with the American Major League from 1914 to 1935. He hit 60 homeruns in one season, which set the record for 34 years until 1961 when it was broken by Roger Maris. In his lifetime of baseball, Ruth hit a total of 714 homeruns and held this record for 39 years. Hank Aaron broke that record in 1974. Ruthís consistent record-setting brought him fame and recognition throughout the world.

Today, the game of baseball has changed tremendously as well as the equipment used in the game. When the game first began, players did not wear gloves. The use of gloves did not come about until Doug Allison, a catcher for the Cincinnati Red Stockings, injured his left hand during a game in 1870. Some say he was the first to use a glove during games, while others say it was Charles Waitt, a St. Louis outfielder and first baseman. Waitt wore a pair of flesh-colored gloves during a game in 1875 that caught the eye of everyone. Many players did not approve of wearing gloves and often referred to those who did as "sissy." But as time went on, more and more players began to accept the idea. The earlier baseball gloves were made of leather with the fingertips cut out for better control of the ball.

Another famous player, Albert Spalding, also made a great impact on the game. Once known as the "champion pitcher of the world," Spalding started wearing a baseball glove while playing first base for the Chicago White Stockings in 1877. Once cynical of donning the hand cover, he later pioneered the sporting goods conglomerate that is now known as Spalding. Due to Spalding, some say the use of the baseball glove became a familiar and necessary part of the equipment used for the game.

Earlier gloves were not webbed and were mainly used to bat the ball to the ground so it could be picked up. It wasnít until 1920 that webbing between the first finger and the thumb of the glove was introduced. This is now the standard of baseball gloves. Baseball gloves of today have certainly come a long way from earlier days. Today, they are made more accurate and more suited toward the individual player.

There are several types of gloves used in the game: catcherís mitts, first basemenís mitts, infieldersí gloves, pitchersí gloves and outfielderís gloves. Catcherís mitts have extra padding and no fingers. They are called mitts for that reason. The claw-like shape helps players catch high-speed balls and provides a larger target area for pitchers. First basemenís mitts also have no fingers. These gloves are usually larger to help the player pick up or scoop balls thrown in from the infield. Infielder gloves are usually on the small side and have shallow pockets. This allows the player to remove the ball easier. Pitchersí gloves have a closed, opaque, webbing to hide their grip on the ball from the batter. Outfielder gloves are long with deep pockets to help them catch fly balls while running or diving.

Doug and Diane McElwain of Goldsboro, North Carolina, started selling sports memorabilia in 2001, and have a Spalding glove dating back to1900-1905. The McElwains actually started collecting sports memorabilia in 1983, but didnít get into selling until 2001. Starting out with golf memorabilia, the couple soon got hooked on baseball memorabilia while at an auction, where McElwain purchased the Spalding glove. One of only a few exhibitors who deal in sports memorabilia, McElwain said he likes to discover new items and is always looking for anything sports related. The McElwains specialize in anything sports related from the 1920s or older such as trophies, pennants, equipment, uniforms, and photographs, but also has a collection of spool cabinets and other country store fixtures.

One item McElwain doesnít have in his collection is an old workman or what was also referred to as fingerless glove. "The first gloves used were like garden gloves," McElwain remarked. "These were referred to as workmenís gloves or fingerless gloves."

McElwain stated that most customers are looking for collector pieces, or something to decorate an office or bedroom with. "Weíve developed a real niche for decorative uses," McElwain said. "Some buy sports memorabilia for the husbandís office or kidsí room. Some just like the look and some are collectors like me. Whatever the need, we promote the total package." McElwain also sells to other dealers.

BASEBALLGLOVEREACHFIELDERS2.jpg (46938 bytes)When looking for authentic gloves or other equipment, McElwain said, "Look at the wear or pattern of the item. But mostly, it takes experience when distinguishing the difference between an authentic glove or a replica. And when looking for trademarks, look at the old companies that have gone out of business, check the dates and that will give you an idea of when the item was made or purchased."

Antique baseball gloves can cost anywhere from $25 upwards into the thousands. "Something like a workmanís glove or a Babe Ruth glove could cost a lot of money. They could cost hundreds or over thousands depending on the condition and the brand name," he said. "Workmen gloves are hard to come by and could cost over a thousand dollars. One of the most expensive and unusual gloves Iíve sold at Scott Antique Market was a left-handed catcherís mitt," McElwain said. He and his wife attend not only the market in Atlanta, Georgia, but also the Ohio market in November.

  • PHOTOS from top to bottom
  • 1915 Spalding basemanís mitt. Price undisclosed.
  • 1889 Decker patent catcherís mitt with finger protection. Appeared in the Spalding catalogs as late as 1915. Price undisclosed.
  • Reach fielderís glove, patent date of 1908, and was sold between 1908 and 1915. Undisclosed price.

For more information on Scott Antique Market in Ohio and Georgia, please visit www.scottantiquemarket.com or call 740-569-4112.