by Fran Fleet
(This article appeared in HardBall Magazine prior to 2004)
In the mid 1970's, while I was still a sandal-maker, people began bringing their baseball gloves into my shop for repair. Since then I have repaired and reconditioned thousands of gloves at my shop and at baseball and softball tournaments throughout northern California and Nevada. My customers range from children to old-timers, and they all have a favorite glove that they love enough to want to repair.
I've had the opportunity to talk to glove manufacturers, players, leather suppliers, and other glove repairers. I've learned a lot, about gloves and about people. In this series of columns, I’m going to try to share some of the things I've learned.
Buying A Glove
A good glove does not have to be expensive. There are gloves that will give many seasons of satisfactory service for under $50. You can pay more, but more money does not necessarily mean a better, more serviceable glove. There are expensive ($90-$200+) gloves which may last one or two seasons, and there are inexpensive gloves ($35-$60) that can last for ten years or more with routine maintenance.
Select a glove for the position you will be playing most often:
Outfield: larger glove
Infield (except first base and including oitcher): small to medium
First base: first baseman's mitt
Catcher: catcher's mitt
Check for fit; a glove should feel fairly snug when adjusted. Check to make sure the glove adjusts to your hand. Allow for batting glove if you wear one and, except for hardball pitchers, you should wear one inside your glove. The batting glove will absorb most of the sweat from your hands, thus protecting the lining of your glove. Change the batting glove when it gets wet or rotted.
Choose Sturdy Leather
Feel the leather. It should be fairly sturdy-to-sturdy. Sure, a stiffer glove will have to be broken in but once done, the glove will be serviceable for many seasons. The softer "pre-broken" gloves feel great, but most of them wear out very quickly and may be difficult or impossible to repair.
The leather in "pre-broken” gloves is usually thinner and therefore weaker than that in a sturdier glove. Thinner, softer leathers tend to show signs of stress at the lacing holes in the web and fingers after a few months of continuous play. Softer gloves often have thin laces which cannot withstand the rigors of continuous hard play and will break after a few games. If these laces are replaced with a more substantial lace, this new lace can result in stretched or torn lacing holes because of the softer/thinner leather in the glove body.
Some Things To Avoid
Beware of gloves that are marked with such nebulous terms as "specially treated leather" or "all leather palm". These descriptions may mean tissue-thin leather bonded to a fabric backing (a sort of leather veneer). Obviously this leather is not going to give years of service to the serious ball player. The "veneer" glove presents the same repair problems as the "pre-broken" glove; the body material is too flimsy for permanent repairs to be possible.
"All leather palm" means just that. The palm of the glove is leather. The rest of the glove is usually not. Beware of plastic gloves - it is getting more and more difficult to readily distinguish between plastic and leather. Leather gloves will have "Genuine Leather" stamped on them; plastic gloves will not.
When plastic tears, it is seldom repairable. Plastic gloves for kids are not recommended because they are almost impossible to break in. Oiling plastic does not soften it. Plastic gloves are not necessarily cheaper, especially if you have to buy a new one next season.
Glove repair expert Fran Fleet graciously agreed to let HardBall reprint some of the material she has created for her website. Fran lives and works in Cotati, California, about fifty miles north of San Francisco. She truly enjoys talking about gloves and glove repair. Fran can be contacted through her website: www.sandalady.com or by phone (707) 795-3805. -Ed.