The History of Baseball Equipment
Baseball equipment has changed dramatically through the history of the game. Protective equipment that barely existed in the early days of the game has become quite elaborate. The tools of the trade like the bat and glove have become more streamline and easier to use. Uniforms are lighter and easier to play in than they were years ago.
The bat has undergone many changes since the start of the 20th century. In baseball's early days, hitters were likely to use large and heavy bats when they came to the plate. Babe Ruth used the heaviest bat in the history of the game -- a 54-ounce bat that he swung with ferocity. However, many players used bats that were 40 oz. or more to make hard contact. In the modern game, it is unusual for players to use bats that weigh more than 36 oz. Players want lighter bats because they generate more bat-head speed. While professional players still use wood bats, most youth, high school and college players use bats made out of aluminum or aluminum alloy. Metal bats have been used prominently since the 1980s.
The batting helmet did not become a required piece of equipment until it was grandfathered in to the major leagues starting with the 1956 season. Players who had been playing before the helmet was required could continue to play without one, but those who started in 1956 and beyond had to wear a helmet. Helmets had been used at the players' option since the 1941 season when the Dodgers first introduced them. Outsiders had called on baseball to adopt helmets ever since the 1920 season, when Ray Chapman was hit in the head by a fastball thrown by Carl Mays and died as a result of the beaning. Modern helmets are made of hard plastic and they protect the side of the face with ear flaps that hang down to cheek level.
When the game was in its infancy in the 19th century, catchers were completely at risk. They wore no protective gear, but that quickly changed when catcher's masks were added. By the start of the 20th century, shin guards and then chest protectors were worn by catchers. All those pieces of equipment are still used, but they have gone through many changes through the years. The catcher's mask has gone through the biggest metamorphosis. Modern baseball allows catchers to use hockey-style goalie masks that protect the entire head from foul tips and errant swings of the bat and still give the catcher a clear view of the game.
Modern gloves are streamlined and specialized for positions. Infielders' gloves are small and easy to maneuver. Outfielders' gloves have long fingers and help the fielder hold on to a fly ball. In the late 19th century and the early part of the 20th century, baseball gloves were short and thick and difficult to open and close. They were more for protection of the hand than to help players execute fielding plays.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman authored The Minnesota Vikings: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Who's Better, Who's Best in Football -- The Top 60 Players of All-Time, among others, and placed in the Pro Football Writers of America awards three times. Silverman holds a Master of Science in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism.