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Getting a collecting grip on baseball mitts

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For many years now, baseball collectors have been interested in and
intrigued with the equipment used in the game of baseball. Bats, gloves, uniforms and the baseballs themselves are among the leading categories with these groups essentially divided into two basic categories: game-used and store or retail models through a variety of public market places.

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Of these major equipment areas in the industry, baseball gloves seem to hold a special attraction with many collectors. Though the glove doesn't have the essence of power and mystique that bats possess, or the display attractiveness of the uniform, glove collectors tend to create a real bond between themselves and their leather memorabilia.

I've been studying baseball gloves for more than 15 years now and through research and accumulation, I have been able to process and convey a great deal of glove information and background, gleaned from archival material such as glove company and sporting goods histories. We have published books and glove collecting newsletters since 1989. The hobby interest patterns seem to fall into clear divisions of various interests. These break into two main segments, that of game-used, where there seems to be a mystical connection between the collector and the player, and store-issued variety, far more common, yet with a special charm of their own.

Livelier market in later-day game gloves
For the game-used glove category, there is quite an active market in gloves used by major leaguers for the past 5-10 years where gloves are more readily available, whereas the game-used gloves of 20 years ago and earlier are difficult to locate and often even more difficult to authenticate. The further back in time one goes the more complicated it is to locate and verify legitimate gamer gloves. Unlike game-used baseball bats, where distribution records were kept by the major supplier of bats, Hillerich & Bradsby, and in uniforms, where very few (4 to 6) were issued on an annual basis and which have been closely monitored, game gloves, were supplied privately two at a time to players as stipulated in their glove endorsement contracts and virtually no records of this dissemination were kept.

In recent years, players and their agents have come to realize that their game-used gloves and bats have a high value to collectors. The more prominent the players, the more the perceived prestige and higher dollar value the glove will draw. This reached the point recently where All-Star players have had their gloves stolen from their lockers.

Identification has become another problem with more current game-used gloves. Bob Clevenhagen, Rawlings chief glove designer, reveals that the gloves used by major league players in the past year don't come from the same place anymore. Some of these gloves, like that of Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter, may emanate from the Philippines with no record of these being issued. "I don't know how many gloves A-Rod got. I know how many came from me. The market is saturated with game-used player glove of the modern-day player. I'd have to have that ballplayer tell me that the glove used to be his in today's market." Up until about the mid-1990s, all the Rawlings pro-stock gloves came from the same manufacturing source.

Earlier game leather difficult to find
While the availability is there for those in the market for gamers from 2000 and newer, the earlier gloves only surface when a family member, or friend turns one up that was given to him by the pro. These are often misdated by the player or the owner though, thinking that the gloves were earlier or used during a significant time during the star's career. Most gloves, if they come from the player or out of his estate, are the last glove the player owned. The one he "took to the house with him" when his playing days were over. The major supplier of game gloves for the players like Rawlings (at one time estimated at 80 percent usage by the major leagues) would designate their gloves with the model number of the glove (ie... MC - Mort Cooper Style - followed by an "X" thus bearing an MCX designation. But although this "X" addition method was commonly used during the 1940s, '50s and '60s, other game-used gloves have shown up without the "X" added.

Wilson used a numbering system on its "pro stock" that was placed on the wrist strap and later on the thumb. Again this is a rule of thumb that sometimes, for various reasons, is used to identify game-used Wilson gloves of the 1950-80s.

Other manufacturers like MacGregor and Spalding didn't seem to have designated IDs for their game-issued glove to the pros. Today, many new glove brands can be found on players hands, like, TPC (H&B), Mizuno, SSK, Cooper, Zett, and others which makes identification as gamers more difficult for the collector.

Retail gloves abundant and less expensive
While the complexities of game-used gloves present problems for the collectors, the "store bought" gloves offer a purity and safer avenue for the aficionados of gloves and mitts. One of the beauties of store glove collecting is that there are hundreds of thousands of them out there to collect, and they're not nearly as pricey. EBay reveals great quantities every day, including gloves that have been been considered extremely rare or unknown in the past 20 years.

And there are many specialty niches for the store glove collector, those that are endorsed. These can be broken down into Hall of Fame and star players or by teams desired by team collectors. This gives these hobbyists an opportunity to complete sets of gloves. But there are also those collectors who desire such groupings as base mitts, catchers' mitts or left-handed mitts.

Two other major areas for retail gloves are gloves considered as artifacts of the game. These are gloves and mitts from the turn of the century or earlier. Many of these pre-1900s mitts are referred to as workman (since they resemble webless, leather workman glove) or crescent gloves (bearing protruding, external padding in the shape of crescents) common to the 1890-1905 periods. Some of these very early gloves, such as the fingerless catching gloves of the 1870s, might command prices between $10,000-$15,000. These early catchers gloves are extremely scarce though.

Another hot area for collectors has been the premium pro-comparable gloves such as Wilson A2000s or Rawlings Heart of the Hide gloves. Many of these are as well made as the "pro stock" issued gloves and were intended for top-level play such as semipro, college, even high school. These have been designated in one of our books called the Glove Catalog Source Book, a compendium of models obtained from glove manufacturer catalogs from the turn of the century forward. The source book also serves as an excellent tool for looking up all of the store model gloves for years, model numbers, list prices and endorsements information.

Probably the most popular areas for store gloves have been the Hall of Fame and star player gloves. The early Hall of Famers like Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Cy Young, Walter Johnson and others often reach the $1,000-$3,000 ranges. The right kind of Babe Ruth glove, the Draper Maynard G41 can result in a $4,000-$5,000 price tag in great condition and likewise the famous zipper back Lou Gehrig Ken Wel basemen mitts can elicit prices in the $3,000-$5,000 range. Mickey Mantle gloves have become more and more popular since the glove hobby came on the scene and seem to continue to rise in prices and demand. The best of these are the Mantle personal models such as the MM, MMP and XPG6s in the correct hand use for Mantle (fit on the left hand for right hand throwers). In fact the "personal model" designation is often the best glove for the player a collector could want.

Other popular post-World War II models include those of Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Ted Williams and Stan Musial. Again, the personal models of these players in the correct hand use of the player are the most desired of the retail gloves.

Store gloves are often rated by condition, usually in the very good, excellent and near-mint categories. Some "glovers" prefer a used look in their gloves. Others enjoy red lacing, and diligently cleaning their gloves, trying to get them to look as neat as possible.

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