According to Elmer Blasco’s obituary, the concept for the Gold Glove award came to him in 1956 as he surveyed major league players in spring training on glove usage. Blasco is said to found that some 86% of the players were using gloves manufactured by Rawlings at that time. Blasco then pitched the idea to have Rawlings to recognize the “Finest in the Field,” or best glove men at each position with a Gold Glove Award. Selections for the Sporting News All-Star Fielding team were made for the minor leagues as well and those awards were to be called the Silver Glove Awards.
According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Rawlings had been using the phrase “Finest in the Field” for baseballs, baseball gloves and mitts since December of 1948 (First Commercial Use). Subsequent filings for this phrase would be made by the A. G. SPALDING & BROS., INC. CORPORATION in 1958. Louisville Slugger began awarding its Silver Bat Awards to the respective league batting champions in 1949. Awards like these help the buying public to link on field excellence with product or brand name recognition. If you want to be the “Finest in the Field”, use a Rawlings Glove. Want to lead your league in hitting, swing a Louisville Slugger. The message is simple and endearing to the consumer.
In looking at these two awards, I think Hillerich and Bradsby got a better return, at least initially. In the first ten years that this award was provided to both a National and American League batting champion, a greater number went to Louisville Slugger endorsers than not. In the National League, hurting this were Stan Musial whose H&B products became block “Musial Models” about the same time he was winning batting titles in 1950-52/1957 and Adirondack endorser Willie Mays in 1954. H&B could however boast American League champs were “their boys” throughout the period.
Volume 8 of the 1957 Rawlings Roundup featured a two page spread on the first winners of the awards, both at the major (Gold Glove) and minor league levels (Silver Glove). As a side note, a young second baseman on the Montreal club took the Silver Glove Award in 1958, his name…George “Sparky” Anderson.
I thought it would be interesting to look at this inaugural group of Gold Glove Winners and see if we could find that 86% of them were using Rawlings or at least endorsing Rawlings products. The teams were selected by a group of sports writers selected by the Sporting News, hence the original name of The Sporting News All-Star Fielding Team Rawlings Gold Glove Award.
86% is a pretty high percentage, and with a group this small, this comes out to be 7.74 of the 9 players. Let’s take this down to 7 out of 9 and see how Rawlings made out. We will look at this though period manufacturer catalogs as well as what period images might show.
1B- Gil Hodges: 1957 Wilson Catalog endorser.
2B- Nellie Fox: 1957 Wilson Catalog endorser and as far back as 1952 a Wilson endorser.
3B-Frank Malzone: 1950s Denkert Signature Model gloves.
SS-Roy McMillian: 1957 Wilson Glove advertisement.
LF-Minnie Minoso: Pre 1957 with a Wilson product.
CF-Willie Mays: 1956 & 1958 MacGregor Catalog endorser.
RF-Al Kaline: 1957 Wilson Catalog endorser and as far back as 1956 a Wilson endorser.
C-Sherm Lollar: 1957 Rawlings Catalog endorser and as far back as 1947s as a Rawlings endorser.
P-Bobby Shantz: Pre 1957 images with a Rawlings product. Rawlings adds a Shantz glove to their 1959 catalog offerings.
After this first year, at least from a marketing standpoint, it appears Wilson would have been able to leverage the most notoriety by laying claim to at least 5 of the 9. MacGregor could tout the only unanimous choice in the form of the “Say Hey Kid”, Willie Mays. While player endorsement is not guarantee of actual use, what comes with it is something far more valuable, the ability to advertise and promote the relationship since the real money was in the retail or trade sales arena. This is something I touched on in detail with the recent Hanna v Hillerich and Bradsby articles.
The first awards were rather simple in appearance. By 1960 they had become far more ornate. By the 1970s they had become far more personal, featuring a picture of the recipient on the award itself. Today, they include both the image of the player on the award as well as their name stitched into the glove.
A Gold Glove Award can mean many things to a player; fame, recognition and wealth. Wealth comes from the leverage a Gold Glove might have at contract time or if the player should decide to part with them. A sampling from recent years shows:
1963 Curt Flood Gold Glove Award: $13,200
1967 Curt Flood Gold Glove Award: $13,753
1969 Curt Flood Gold Glove Award: $10,015
1970s Rawlings Gold Glove Advertising Award Piece: $2,088
1971 Bob Gibson Gold Glove Award: $16,800
1974 Thurman Munson Gold Glove Award: $51,750
1976 Cesar Geronimo Gold Glove Award: $1,331
1979 Dave Parker Gold Glove Award: $5,220
For all but the most well healed collectors, items such as these remain out of reach. Affordable alternative? High end retail signature model gloves. In looking at the list of the inaugural winners, a very nice theme collection could be assembled for the 1957 grouping for a fraction of the cost of say even a sample award. The toughest of the bunch to find would likely be Minnie Minoso. The most pricey in top condition is likely to be that of Willie Mays. Veteran glove man Joe Phillips produces a guide/compendium of glove catalogs that would essential in guiding your efforts. You might also be well served in looking at the offerings found via the Vintage Baseball Glove Forum as well. E-Bay is also a very viable option. If you are a collector who has already assembled this “theme collection”, I would love to hear from you and I am sure others would as well.
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions or comments on this article, please feel free to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com