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History of Ballgloves

By Trevor McKey –

Peanut butter and jelly. Bacon and eggs. Pen and paper. If baseball is America’s Batman, then ballgoves are Robin.  There are countless examples of things that just go together, or better yet, fit like a glove.  In sports, there is probably nothing more beautiful and timeless than well crafted ballgloves. Today, much of the end result is taken for granted when the development of ballgloves took many variations to get to this point with countless production lines and supply chain inputs impacting the process along the way. To better understand the development of ballgloves, it is important to first trace their history.

Baseball evolved out of rounders and cricket, games played in England as immigrants brought elements of the game to the United States. Unlike the baseball bat and baseball, ballgloves were not initially a major component of the game. At the onset, individuals did not require ballgloves due to the different rules in the game and lack of velocity in throws and hitting. Additionally, there was the social stigma behind attempting to be tough enough to play the sport while withstanding the painful elements of fielding and catching barehanded

As rules changed, throwing speeds increased and hitters became more proficient. Pride alone could not keep people from how painful catching and fielding a baseball was for an individual’s hand. As such, around 1860 individuals playing baseball began using work gloves to help shield their hands while providing grip on the baseball. At the catcher position, which was and still is the most demanding position in baseball physically, Cincinnati Red Stocking’s catcher Doug Allison in 1870 wore one of the first ever ballgloves. The ballglove was fingerless buckskin mitt with padding to absorb the impact of the ball rather than catch the ball in a pocket. Other accounts of who was the first to formally wear a ballglove includes St. Louis’ Charles C. Waite in 1875 donning a tan, flesh style padded glove hoping to not reveal to the crowd he needed assistance for a bruised hand.

Fast forward a tad and you have St. Louis Cardinals pitcher William Doak in 1920 creating and patenting the first ever ballgloves with webbing in-between the thumb and first finger. This subtle addition creates a deeper pocket and more versatility for infielders when fielding the ball or attempting to snag normally difficult to field baseball plays. 

In 1932, management at Nokona decided to manufacture sporting goods equipment made of leather. After seeing the popularity for America’s Pastime and ballgloves soar, W.T. Hartman, retired manager from Stall & Dean Sporting Goods of Chicago was coaxed out of retirement to assist Nocona Leather Goods in making ballgloves. Two years later, President and Chairman Bob Storey applied for trademark of “Nocona,” as a stand-alone word. The U.S. Trademark Office denied the application on the basis you can not trademark a town’s name. Storey chose“Nokona” as the company’s brand name and in the same year, Nokona creates it’s first ballgloves.

Fast forward to 1940 and little did Nokona know but they would make the childhood ballglove for one of the best pitchers ever to play baseball, Nolan Ryan. The specific ballglove Nolan Ryan wore was the Jerry Moore Model G30. Consistent with today, the Jerry Moore Model consisted of the finest selection of leather with a deep pocket, reinforced padding, and stitched to perfection. 

Two years later in 1942, Nokona was notified by the United State’s Office of Procurement that they would receive a contract to produce ballgloves to servicemen during World War 2. Aided by government assistance and contracts, the factory at Walnut and Baylor expanded to a 60,000 square foot facility with a second floor to aid in the production of must needed and well crafted Nokona ballgloves. The model created for WW2 was the G12 Tony York pattern.

Continued Excellence

As many of Nokona’s competitors shipped production facilities overseas in the 1960s and 70s after WW2, Nokona maintained the commitment to American manufacturing. Consistent with the American ‘can-do attitude,’ Bob Storey, founder of Nokona Ballgloves, was quoted saying, “I would rather quit and go fishing than import Nokonas.” In the 1980s, Nokona’s continued excellence in hand-crafted premium ballgloves won a cameo in two of the most recognizable baseball movies of all-time, Field of Dreams and A League of Their Own.
For over 85 years, Nokona has continued to craft premium ballgloves with top of the line leathers made of horse, steer, bison, calf, kangaroo and now even caiman. In addition to the materials, Nokona is an expert in tannages of leather to an individuals’ preference. WIth Nokona’s expertise and rebranded image combined with the American resilience, Nokona is posed to make the continued improvements needed to be competitive in the 21st Century. 

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