Baseball Equipment Through the Decades
The rules of baseball have evolved over the many years. And everything from jerseys to scoreboards has changed along with it. Let’s take a few leaps back in time and take a look at how baseball equipment has changed through the decades. (And check out the last page to see what things haven’t changed quite so much.)
1. Catcher’s mask – 1878
All baseball equipment has basic origins. The first catchers mask, for example, came about because the addition of curveball pitches put catchers in danger of getting hit. Harvard student Frederick W. Thayer, who was also a baseball team captain, patented the first catcher’s mask in 1878.
Next: Masks weren’t the only thing that were different …
2. Catcher’s mitt – 1900s
Catcher’s mitts at the turn of the 20th century were significantly bigger than the ones used today. Mitts created by sporting goods manufacturer A.J. Reach are well-known classics.
Next: This bit of equipment has come a very long way …
3. Catcher’s gear – 1900s
Gear catchers use today is far and away better than the protection used in any of the leagues in the early 1900s, before companies mass-produced things like well-fitted shinguards.
Next: Then, of course, there was …
4. The uniform – 1879
Early baseball attire was nowhere near as streamlined as it is today. Jerseys were worn big and baggy, while equally-oversized pants were worn bunched up at the knees with high-socks.
Next: One thing that hasn’t changed much …
5. Umpire’s apparel – early 1900s
Behind-the-plate umpires have been sporting large chest protectors since the game was in its infancy. Although, their go-to uniform has evolved over the year. (More on that later.)
Next: ‘Equipment’ that isn’t found on the field
6. The scorecard – 1880s
Even the “equipment” used by sportswriters was different, as you can see from this scorecard from the 1880s.
Next: But back to equipment the players used …
7. Batting gloves – 1920s
Shoeless? More like gloveless! Ballplayers in the 20s may have had more fabric on their uniforms, but they went walked up to the plate without protection on their hands.
Next: But speaking of hands …
8. The glove – 1920s
Even with the massive number of rule-changes which occurred during the 1920s, one thing remained consistent — the baseball gloves were enormous.
Next: One piece of gear takes shape …
9. The catcher’s mask – 1920s
While the catcher’s masks of the 1920s weren’t as flashy as the ones seen in today’s game, they had begun to take shape as a more effective way of protecting the catcher’s face. And that early design can be seen in today’s masks.
Next: But enough about the face, let’s focus on …
10. The cleats – 1920s
The first pair of baseball cleats were invented way back in the 1840s when player Paul Butler put spikes on the bottoms of his shoes. Even after the turn of the century, his basic leather style with spikey bottoms was still used.
Next: Without this, nobody could keep track of the score …
11. The scoreboard – 1920s
Most of the early scoreboards were manually operated. However, there were a few scoreboards which used animatronics to help patrons outside the game follow along, like the one pictured here in New York.
Next: Evolution of player safety …
12. The catcher’s gear – 1940s
By the 1940s, catchers gear was finally taking shape with full chest protectors and fitted guards. (Although the equipment continued to evolve in the decades that followed.)
Next: As for the other guys behind the plate …
13. Umpire’s apparel – 1940s
Although umpires were equipped with protection, they were showing up to the diamond in full suits. (Yes, even in the dog days of summer when the heat was unbearable.)
Next: When if comes to carrying equipment …
14. The baseball bag – 1950s
The baseball bag is essentially a player’s briefcase. And back in the 1940s and 50s — when players like infielder Billy Goodman were taking the field — the “briefcases” were a bit smaller.
Next: Hey batter batter batter …
15. The batting helmet – 1960s
While many pieces of equipment took shape in the decades prior, batters didn’t start wearing helmets until 1956. And the models in the 50s and 60s were nowhere near as protective as they are today.
Next: And there’s more …
16. The batting helmet – 1960s
According to Safer Sports Technologies, early batting helmets were referred to as “beanball hats” and some regarded wearers as being weak and scared at the plate.
Next: Still keeping score?
17. The scoreboard – 1960s
Many of the most infamous scoreboards in baseball began to take shape during this era. Like Wrigley Field’s manual scoreboard, which is pictured above set up for football when the Bears played there 1921-1970.
Next: Finally some head protection …
18. The batting helmet – 1964
In 1964, Tony Gonzalez of the Phillies became the first NL player to wear a batting helmet with a molded flap after he had been hit multiple times that season.
Next: This equipment finally got a downsize …
19. The glove – 1950s-60s
After decades of lugging a gigantic glove around, baseball manufacturers began making smaller and more streamlined gloves for professionals and aspiring players alike.
Next: Well, at least ‘some’ gloves were smaller …
20. The catcher’s mitt – 1950s-60s
Catchers mitts shrunk in size — unless you had to catch nasty knuckleballs all day. Orioles catcher Gus Triandos shows the difference between the “Hoyt Wilhelm Knuckleball Mitt” versus the conventional mitts in the 1950s-60s.
Next: Things are starting to look more familiar …
21. The uniform – 1960s
By the 60s, the baggy jerseys were history and the colorful, streamlined uniforms were are accustom to today began becoming the norm. However, specialty jerseys and sponsor patches were still not on anyone’s radar yet.
Next: A modern-day staple …
22. The catcher’s mask – today
In today’s game, catcher’s masks take many shapes and cater to each player’s personal style. Of course, some modern-day catchers, like Buster Posey, sport a full-covering helmet that resembles the headwear worn by NHL goaltenders.
Next: It doesn’t stop at the mask …
23. The catcher’s gear – today
Catcher’s gear isn’t just more effective, it’s also colorful and personalized. Just one example is the gear pictured above, which was auctioned for the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation.
Next: Fancy footwork …
24. The cleats – today
In many modern day sports, professional athletes stand out from their uniformed teammates by wearing their favorite pair of kicks. Baseball is no different, with players sporting a wide array of cleats.
Next: And as for the ump …
25. Umpire’s apparel – today
Just as fans stopped wearing suits to attend baseball games, umpires stopped dressing to the nines as well. An ump’s go-to uniform? A polo and a pair of slacks.
Next: An improvement from Shoeless Joe Jackson’s time …
26. Batting gloves – today
Like cleats, batting gloves have become a way for players to add some personal flair — all while becoming a mainstay in their equipment bags.
Next: Speaking of which …
27. The baseball bag – today
Baseball bags aren’t just bigger and more functional now. They’re also designed to represent teams much like jerseys and hats do.
Next: As for the equipment used off of the diamond …
28. The scorecard – today
Keeping score at a baseball game has only evolved as much as the rules have. But there’s no denying the scorecards are much nicer — and the access to in-game statics is significantly faster.
Next: And since we’re keeping track of the score …
29. The scoreboard – today
Everytime TV gets a technological upgrade, baseball park scoreboards follow suit. Today’s scoreboards help to give fans the ultimate in-game experience while continuing to do what they’ve always done — help everyone keep score.
Next: Last but not least …
30. Preserving the past
Even with all the advancements in baseball equipment, some baseball teams continue to preserve parts of their past as an ode to their baseball forefathers. Many teams host throwback nights featuring old-school jerseys and equipment, and some parks — like Fenway Park, for example — continue to preserve infamous parts of their play space, no matter how much the game around them has evolved.
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