I haven’t had a chance to do much more than skim all the information on this infographic, but what I’ve noted so far is certainly fascinating. Click on the image below for a (slightly) larger version — though even then, you might still need to zoom in on it.
I remember my first pair of cleats. I was nine years old, embarking on my first-ever season of organized ball. My mom took my little brother and me shopping at a local Payless — the only place my folks, understandably, would buy any kind of shoes for our growing feet. I was excited to finally be able to wear a pair of cleats. I had seen the older kids wearing them, and they just seemed so cool. After trying on multiple pairs, I wound up with a pair of black, low-top cleats with royal blue shoelaces and royal blue lettering that announced “Rawlings.”
It turns out, the concept of cleats has been around since the 1500s — and possibly even
earlier than that. King Henry VIII is documented to have owned a pair of “football boots,” created for him by the royal shoemaker, Cornelius Johnson. These special “boots” were created from a strong material (most likely leather) for the purposes for playing “football” (by which Henry likely means some early version of soccer). The earliest cleats typically featured leather, metal, or wooden studs. For those who couldn’t afford to have a special pair made, they would create their own shoe enhancements with the use of metal plates or (cringe) nails.
The process of vulcanization, a chemical process for converting rubber into a more durable material, was developed in England and the United States in the 1840s. Vulcanized rubber proved especially useful in producing shoes intended to protect the wearer’s feet, and, as a bonus, it was a much lighter material. Furthermore, vulcanized rubber proved handy when the concept of studded or spiked shoes emerged. The first known spiked leather running shoes were developed by a British company in the 1890s, and the first soccer-specific shoes were also developed at the end of the 19th century.
In the United States, meanwhile, metal spikes began to appear on baseball shoes in the 1860s, typically in a detachable form, and the first official baseball shoe appeared in 1882 when Waldo Claflin started selling leather shoes with built-in cleats marketed specifically to baseball players. The emergence of American football in the early 20th century led to widespread recognition and popularity of cleats, the first football shoes actually being baseball shoes adapted to the new sport. Over time, as sports in general continued to grow and with the advent of artificial turf, cleats evolved, and different types of cleats developed according to various sports and playing surfaces. With safety in mind, Major League Baseball banned sharp, metal spikes in 1976, leading to further developments in the plastic studs we see on cleats today.
This photograph from the collections of the Library of Congress looks simple enough, but it prompts a lot of questions for me. It is noted that the photo was taken between 1873 and 1916. Given that the catcher’s mask wasn’t invented until 1876 and it wasn’t until a few years later that their use became common among backstops, we can eliminate the first few years of that range. The mitt, meanwhile, resembles the one patented by J.F. Draper in 1899, so I think it is safe to say this photo is likely from the early 20th century.
My questions, however, involve the player himself: Who is he? Where is he from? What team does he play for? Is he really a baseball player, or merely a man off the street the photographer convinced to put on some equipment for a photo op?
And if he really is a ballplayer, what is he thinking? He appears to be standing behind home plate, looking out at the field before him. Is he deciding on what pitch to ask for next? Is he unhappy with how the defense is arranged? Or is he upset because that damned umpire called the last pitch a ball when it was clearly over the outside corner?
Its listing in the Library of Congress catalog doesn’t answer any of those questions, unfortunately. I guess I’ll just have to continue to study the photo and wonder.
I spent much of the last week visiting an old friend who now lives in New York state. Though I was only there for a few days, we managed to cram a lot into our limited time together. We spent a full day in Manhattan — my first time ever in New York City. Another day, we went on a five-mile hike up a mountain in the Hudson River Valley. I also insisted, so long as I was making the trip halfway across the country, that we had to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The day we reserved for visiting the Hall of Fame came the day after our NYC day, and we didn’t get to bed until about 2:00 a.m. that night before. Cooperstown is about a three-hour drive from my friend’s home, and as late as we were out the previous night, there was no way we were going to be on the road by 6:00 am to be there in time for the 9:00 open time. Instead we pulled into town a bit after noon, and we stopped for sandwiches and coffee at a nice little café called Stagecoach Coffee (which I highly recommend, by the way, if you’re ever in Cooperstown).
We finished our lunch and arrived at the Hall of Fame around 1:00, leaving us about four hours to explore before closing time. There ended up being a couple of exhibits we didn’t get to see (pro tip: don’t go out the night before so you can get there earlier than we did), but we did see most of it, and I took an insane number of pictures in the process. For sanity’s sake, I’ll just post a few of the highlights here, but if you are somehow just morbidly curious, I’ve created a public album including all my photos here.
The rule requiring National League batters to wear protective headgear went into effect in 1956, and the American League adopted a similar rule in 1958. However, a number of players began wearing various types of head protection prior to this. Athletics infielder Lamar Newsome, for example, wore a protective insert under his cap in 1939, as shown in the clipping below. Newsome’s insert was made of tape-reinforced felt, but subsequent versions of the insert would be made of lightweight plastic and would become popular with many players.
I have a handful of friends whom I’ve converted into baseball fans just by talking about the game. Fortunately for me, they all already had some familiarity with how the game works, so it was really just a matter of conveying my excitement. However, I know there are some folks out there who are completely unfamiliar with baseball, and I was pretty happy to come across this video. I’ll have to keep it in my back pocket for the day I meet someone who might be interested, but doesn’t know anything about this wonderful pastime.
On March 7, 1941, during Spring Training, Brooklyn Dodgers Pee Wee Reese and Joe “Ducky” Medwick both slipped plastic inserts inside their caps during an exhibition game. The previous year, in 1940, both men had missed playing time do to injury after being hit by pitches. This is believed to be the first instance of players wearing protective headgear when going up to bat. Major League Baseball would not make helmets mandatory until 1971.