New Rule on Size of Gloves Is Catching On
It was a sultry summer night at Memorial Stadium in 1969, but home plate umpire John Rice expected things to reach a boil after spotting Oriole Clay Dalrymple with his customary catcher’s mitt on his hand and a fielder’s glove hanging out of his back pocket.
Rice immediately questioned Dalrymple as to the purpose of the extra glove. The catcher replied matter-of-factly that if a play at the plate occurred, he would simply switch to his fielder’s glove.
After huddling with his fellow umpires, Rice could not find a rule forbidding the use of a second glove. But he extracted a promise from Dalrymple that he would not attempt to use the fielder’s mitt until the league office made a formal decision.
Expectedly, Oriole Manager Earl Weaver protested. He argued, “If there is nothing covered in the rules, why rule against, why not for it.”
Eventually, Weaver’s two-glove ploy led to Rule 1.12, which allows the catcher to wear “only a leather mitt.”
Weaver’s testing of the rule book came to mind Tuesday when major-league umpires were ordered to crackdown on mammoth outfielders gloves that exceed the 12-inch league maximum from heel to finger tip.
But this glove mandate was not expected to become a witch hunt or create the controversy that surrounded the balk rule two years ago. With few exceptions, the umpires, managers and players seemed to agree the new rule was much ado about nothing.
“It won’t be anything like we went through with the balks,” said Joe Brinkman, the crew chief working Tuesday night’s game between the Orioles and California Angels.
“We’re not running around with rulers, checking everyone’s glove. We’ll only examine them if a manager protests.
“And we’re not going to stop the action,” Brinkman added. “We want to be real quiet about it. If necessary, we’ll check gloves before a game or between innings. If it is too big, the player simply replaces it with a legal one. There are no fines or suspended games like in the (George Brett) tar bat incident.”
In other words, the new rule lacks teeth.
Brinkman believes the gloves debate began as a result of having outfielders with oversized mitts reaching over the fence to snare apparent home runs, much like Harry Caray leaning out of the broadcasting booth to catch a foul ball with his fishing net.
Angels Manager Doug Rader said he needed time to digest the new rule. Frank Robinson said there were more important things for umpires to worry about, like guarding against illegal pitches and bats.
But the baseball commissioner’s office was concerned enough to advise glove manufacturers last September to stop making illegal mitts. By 1991, even the minor-leaguers must conform.
“The ‘Pro-H’ model is our most popular one with the outfielders, and that is too big,” said Rawlings spokesman Scott Smith. “This spring we only delivered 12-inch gloves.”
But old habits are hard to break. Ballplayers tend to treat their favorite gloves with as much affection as lovers.
“Some of these guys won’t change,” said Smith. “They’ll try three different bats in a game if they’re not hitting, but they’re married to their gloves. It’s like a carpenter and his hammer.”
Brooks Robinson, the consummate gloveman, says it goes deeper than that.
“You just get real attached to a glove,” said the Orioles Hall of Fame third baseman-turned-sportscaster. “Actually, you usually have three gloves you work with: the one you use strictly in games, a back-up glove and a new one you’re slowly breaking in.”
“I had a glove I was really fond of in the ‘70s. A kid working in the Boston clubhouse swiped it. Before I got it back, I just didn’t have any confidence in my fielding. It felt like losing a best friend.”
As Brooks Robinson noted, infielders, except for first basemen, don’t have trouble with oversized gloves.
“It’s just the opposite,” he said. “Most infielders prefer small gloves with little padding. You get a better feel for the ball.
“Mark Belanger was a great shortstop, but his glove barely fit over his hand. I still don’t know how he caught the ball. It’s the hand in the glove. That’s what really matters.”