Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Monday, January 30, 2012

Gloves Tossed on the Field...the 1954 Rule Change

In 1954, Major League Baseball adopted a new rule that surprisingly wasn’t a popular move at the time.  It really was a no brainer and I'm surprised that MLB didn't put the rule in place much earlier.
Rule 3.14:  “Members of the offensive team shall carry all gloves and their equipment off the field and to the dugout while their team is at bat.  No equipment shall be left lying on the field, either in fair or foul territory.”
When the rule change was announced it was unpopular and controversial.  "Nobody thought it would work, they thought it was a terrible thing,” said former player and manager Ralph Houk. Critics thought that it would slow up play, with players searching for their equipment between innings.  Now, I simply can’t imagine a game when such a thing would be allowed on the field.  In today's game, if a wayward ball escapes from the bullpen or an object lands on the warning track that a fan throws, the game is stopped cold.  Can you imagine it any other way?

1935 World Series photo, note the gloves sitting on the playing field.
In games that occurred pre-1954, once the side was retired, corner infielders tossed their gloves in foul territory near the bases, middle infielders threw their mitts in the middle of the diamond, just off the infield dirt and outfielders left their gloves in the field near the warning track.  Only catchers and pitchers returned to the dugout with their equipment.
I heard Vin Scully once say during a broadcast that he never once saw a glove on the field interrupt play or effect the outcome of a game, but there are stories out there that say otherwise.  One happened in the 1944 Pacific Coast League Championship.
The San Francisco Seals were playing the Oakland Oaks when a foul ball dribbled up the first base line hit a lying glove in foul territory and deflected inside the field of play where the first baseman fielded it and stepped on first base for the out.  Such a rhubarb resulted that the game was played under protest by Seals Manager Lefty O’Doul.  When his team lost the game in extra-innings, his protest was upheld by PCL President Clarence Rowland.  The game was replayed, this time with a Seals victory.
Gloves weren’t the only things left on the field, so were articles of clothing, such as jackets.  A 1929 game at Wrigley Field between the Cubs and Reds was decided in the ninth inning on what was ruled an inside the park homer down the third baseline.  The ball simply disappeared into thin air.  Or so they thought at the time.    Cincinnati’s relief pitcher, Jack Penner was warming up in the third base line bullpen and he had dropped his jacket on the ground before he began to throw.  The liner was scooped up by the jacket and the left fielder was unable to locate the ball until the winning run crossed the plate.  The ball disappeared from everyone’s view.  Umpires and players searched, trying to determine where it disappeared and it wasn’t until Penner put on his jacket and the ball popped out of his left sleeve that the mystery was solved.
How'd they used to catch with these things?  No wonder some preferred to go bare handed.


But getting back to gloves.  Can you imagine catching a game bare handed? When the sport was in its early stages, players took pride in playing the game with their bare hands.  Putting up with pain was part of the game and many a player dislocated fingers or lost fingernails from fielding that hard sphere that was often so grimy and dark by games end that as it was difficult to see.  It was in 1870 when Doug Allison, a catcher with the Cincinnati Red Stockings, started using a mitt, and he took heat for doing so.  It wasn't manly to wear protection when fielding in those days.  After catching 8 games in 9 days and having taken his lumps with foul tips, Allison had had enough.  The Cincinnati Commercial reports that Allison wore a “pair of buckskin mittens to protect his hands.” Record has it that players continued playing bare handed for another five years.
(Source: Noah Lieberman, Glove Affairs: The Romance, Tradition and History of the Baseball Glove)
Albert Spalding

It was Albert Spalding (recognize that name?) a Chicago White Stockings first baseman that got the baseball world hooked on the mitt. He owned a sporting goods store where he began peddling the 1st baseman’s glove between $1.00 and $2.50 per unit.  The popularity eventually caught on and Spalding became a rich man.  Perhaps Spalding encouraged the routine of leaving mitts on the field in an effort to have them wear out sooner, who knows?
Eddie Stanky
With gloves being left on the field in the old days, opposing players used the opportunity to play pranks on their counterparts.  It is said that Eddie "the Brat"  Stanky lived up to his nickname and was known to fill his opposing numbers’ glove with dirt or tobacco chaw.  Washington Senator Ed Yost was notorious for putting dead frogs, mice and other critters in the glove of Phil Rizzuto.  The  antics were endless it is said.  It makes me wonder how they got away with it with so many witnesses simply watching the game.
Though there isn’t much record of it, Houk admits that gloves on the field affected the games outcome, and more than once.  “A batted ball would hit a glove and mess up the game.  I’ve also seen it where a player, especially an infielder, would be running back and step on a glove, and natuarally it would throw him off balance.”
(http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1121759/1/index.htm, article written by Jay Feldmen, February 20, 1984 “Of Mice and Mitts, And of a Rule That Helped To Clean Up Baseball.”)
It is recorded that Hank Greenberg who sat on the Baseball Rules Committee in 1953, was the primary force that pushed strongly for the rule for two reasons: 1) possible hindering of play and 2) objects left on the field looked sloppy.
The New York Times corroborates that story and reports in a November  4, 1953 article : "Another new rule calls for the removal from the playing field of all gloves....Greenberg proposed the change."
Reporter Whitey Martin of the Hartford Current questioned the intelligence of the baseball establishment and had interesting comments about then Giant Manager Leo Durocher regarding the rule change.  In his April 17, 1954 column he said:
“If the report that several clubs intend to defy the rule requiring players to bring in their gloves from the field when the opposing side is retired is true, you begin to wonder about the intelligence of some of the men who are running major league baseball.
“Here is a sensible rule made to protect the payers and to at least help to prevent a game from being won or lost through circumstances not concerned woth the merits of the two teams. 
“More than  once a player has tripped over a carelessly tossed glove, missing a ball or twisting an ankle, and more than once a ball has struck a glove and been deflected, the incident affecting the outcome of the game.  They might as well scatter tombstone out there.
“The players naturally gripe a little at the rule, as it means they must break a lifetime habit, and ballplayers like everybody else, look upon change from an established routine with a jaundiced eye.
“Its just too bad if an athlete left stranded at second base has to trot all the way to the dugout to pick up his glove.  Why, that extra exercise could shorten a man’s career, figuring all the extra steps he might take over a season.



“If Leo Durocher were of suspicious nature he might think the new rule was aimed at him personally.  Durocher for years has had an established routine at the start of every Giant inning.  He would walk to the third base coaching box, pick up the discarded glove of his third baseman, pound his fist into the pocket three times, walk over to the bag and kick it three times, toss down the glove and be ready to master mind.
“If the Giants don’t win the pennant this year he’ll blame it on the rule which prevents him from carrying out his superstitious rigamarole.”
Well, I guess the rule change was actually Durocher’s good luck charm.  His Giants won the World Series under the first year of Rule 3.14.  Fifty-six years later they won their second.  Perhaps it was much of a Giant Good Luck Charm.

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