The future of baseball gloves arrived in the major leagues on June 16, specifically on the left hand of New York Yankees pitcher Brian Gordon, who took the mound against the Texas Rangers wearing the first glove made entirely of synthetics.
The glove, made by Carpenter Trade Company, consists of a nylon microfiber with a suede-like texture and weighs five to 10 ounces lighter than standard leather gloves. The Carpenter glove is the brainchild of owner Scott Carpenter, who moved to Cooperstown 10 years ago to start his business with the future in mind.
All glove experts and baseball historians would agree on one thing when it comes to the future of baseball gloves: lighter is better. Whether that comes from a lighter leather or an entirely synthetic glove remains to be seen, although Carpenter, who made sneakers before gloves, considers his innovation a leader in the race toward the future.
"One thing I’m certain about is if you can get into a time machine and travel 50 years into the future, what you’d notice about the average major league glove in the future is it’s going to have a lot more synthetics and is going to be a lot more lighter than the average major league glove today," Carpenter, 39, says. "And you’re already seeing this."
Easton already has developed a glove made of leather and kevlar, the material used in bullet proof vests. Wilson uses a type of synthetic on the back of several models of gloves and mitts called “Superskin.” Mizuno is using photography and linear regression to design a glove pocket that would be made specifically for each position; it’s also used 4-D technology to figure out the pressure points of where each position player most frequently catches the ball to improve its position-specific gloves. Tanneries such as Horween Leather Company, which supplies leather to Rawlings, has challenged its lead tanner to come up with a composition formula that will make the leather lighter.
"How do you get a cosmetically positive glove -- because they want it to look a certain way -- a performance glove, and get that weight down? It’s a challenge," Horween President of Global Solutions John Culliton says.
It’s a challenge not entirely met by all. Nokona, known for its genuine leathers, parted ways with a Boston-based investment group when the group wanted to take production overseas and introduce more synthetics into manufacturing. Cutters Gloves, which purchased Nokona a year ago, wants to return the brand back to its roots, said president Jeff Beraznik.
"That's not to say we’re not looking to be on the forefront of advancement in the next creative ball glove but we do understand the importance of Nokona and have to stay true to who we are, authentic to who we are," he says.
Which is exactly what Carpenter has done with his line of gloves. Carpenter said the idea that the future of gloves would be in synthetic materials came to him in 1999, and if he needed any justification he got it from three-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, who played a big part in popularizing the mesh back used in today’s gloves and was vocal about the advantage that a lighter glove gave him on the mound.
"Roger Clemens is a big guy, a heavy guy, and for him to notice a one-and-a-half ounce difference in his glove and believe that it affects his performance says a lot about the advantages that lightness give," Carpenter says.
Carpenter’s research claims that the difference in glove weight affects a pitcher’s windup mechanics and balance on the rubber, and how over the course of a high pitch count a lighter glove can save an unquantified amount of energy.
From a fielder’s perspective, Carpenter says, "if you think of a bad hop and fielding a bad hop with your glove, when you have to cross your body and try to locate the pocket of your glove onto the new location of that bad hop, the only feature of that glove that’s going to help you locate the pocket in front of that glove in time is a lighter, faster (glove) versus heavier, slower."
Carpenter said that design challenges such as avoiding wrinkles and bubbling in the pocket of the glove and keeping the pocket’s rounded form forces glove makers to find some sort of middle ground between having too much and too little synthetic material.
Whether leather or synthetic, Dick Grapenthin, Vice President of the Mizuno Diamond Division, believes that based on market trends, detailed customization will be a key for the future of gloves.
"If you look back 20 years ago at the gloves on the market and look what’s on the market now, what’s really happened is the winner here has been the consumer because the the product out there now is of great value compared to what it was 15 years ago, 20 years ago," he says.