When Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay delivered the first pitch of the 2011 All-Star Game, he did so with his usual black Nike Diamond Elite glove on his left hand. On the field with him, the rest of the National League starters represented a handful of the game’s longstanding glove manufacturers: Rawlings, Mizuno, Wilson, Easton and Nike.

A snippet of air time on national television that shows a player flashing some leather would make any glove company proud. Scour the internet message boards and you’ll find posts from fans wanting to know their favorite player’s glove model. In 2010, there were 5.1 million baseball and softball gloves sold in the U.S. that brought in approximately $208.7 million, according to the National Sporting Goods Association’s most recent Sporting Goods Market report. So the baseball glove industry is steady and still growing.

Who would have thought that a glove would evolve from two pieces of leather designed to prevent injury into a multimillion dollar business? And to think, there was a point in time when players were frowned upon for wearing a glove, the very instrument that has become as much a necessity as, say, a baseball bat to America’s pastime, a tool of the trade whose evolution through the 21st century can essentially be brought back to three cornerstone gloves: the Bill Doak glove, the Rawlings XPG and the Wilson A2000.

The history of the baseball glove can be traced back to as early as 1860, when players started to experiment with a glove as a form of protection, often of the brakeman type of glove used by railroad workers.

Cincinnati Red Stockings catcher Doug Allison was one of the first players to wear a buckskin mitten in 1870 after suffering a hand injury, and St. Louis' Charles Waitt was the first confirmed player to don a glove in 1875, although according to MLB official historian John Thorn, Waitt wore a flesh-colored glove in hopes of it going unnoticed.

"He wanted it to be surreptitious use because it was thought unmanly to not catch with bare hands," Thorn says. "Cricket players did not use gloves, so baseball players ought not to. That was the thinking in the 1870s."

But as hand injuries continued to occur, that psyche changed, and by the 1890s baseball gloves were the norm. Several glove experts, including Pittsburg-based Denny Esken, believes no one was credited for inventing the first baseball glove.

"There's plenty dispute, however, over who invented the catcher's glove, because the catcher took the greatest beating," Esken says. "For a catcher to appear in 100 games in a season was considered an incredible marvel of endurance because it was so difficult."

There’s a claim for Harry Decker as the inventor of the catcher’s mitt. There’s also a claim made for Joe Gunson, which was largely made by Gunson, but there’s not valid evidence.”

Decker actually had a patent for the "Decker Safety Catcher's Mitt" in 1890. Gunson, meanwhile, was a catcher for Albert Spalding, who later went on to sell fingerless gloves with padded palms through his Spalding catalog.

One of the earliest baseball glove manufacturers was New Hampshire-based Draper & Maynard, which made its first padded glove for a Providence shortstop named Arthur Irwin in 1883. According to its website, D&M supplied gloves to nearly 90 percent of ball players in the 1920s, including Honus Wagner and Babe Ruth, then with the Boston Red Sox.

"Probably up until they were bought out, they were kind of the Rawlings of that day," says glove collector Joe Phillips, owner of Dallas-based The Glove Collector. "They were the most well thought of baseball glove."

Rawlings came to the forefront of glove manufacturing in 1919, when St. Louis pitcher Bill Doak went to the company with the idea of putting a web between the thumb and index finger. Known as the Bill Doak glove, it transformed the way a baseball glove was viewed: no longer as a means of protection, but as a tool.

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"If you look at Web Gems, almost every play is made with the web of the glove, because it provides an extension and your fingers, in effect, get longer and you have a catching device," Thorn says. "You no longer have to catch it in the palm. When I was a boy and I was instructed on how to play baseball, you were always instructed to catch the ball in the palm of the glove and no one today would tell you that. It would be very difficult to catch the ball in the pocket of the glove while on the run. So the web is the key. So Bill Doak and his innovation is a landmark."

When players headed overseas for World War II in 1942, the gloves followed. Nokona Leather Goods, which began manufacturing baseball gloves eight years earlier, produced them exclusively for the servicemen stationed in the South Pacific, shipping some 250,000 gloves there each year so they could be used for recreational use.

Meanwhile, more glove innovation was already underway, and the 50s saw an influx of gloves hit the market: Wilson's A2000, which had a large web, broad pocket and would eventually become the official glove of MLB, came out in 1957; Rawlings' XPG, with its deep pocket and u-shaped heel, was released in 1958; and its six-fingered Trap-Eze debuted the following year.

"We start out trying to make the perfect glove for the major leaguer and if we succeeded then it became the perfect glove for retail," says Rawlings Senior Glove Designer Bob Clevenhagen.

Clevenhagen succeeded the father-son glove designer duo of Harry and Rollie Latina at Rawlings, both of who are responsible for some of the most iconic gloves and trademarks today: the Fastback, Heart of the Hide and the Trapper, to name a few.

While cheap labor led many glove manufacturers to export production to Japan and Asia in the 1960s, Nokona remained put, choosing to keep its entire operation at its Nocona, Texas-based factory.

"That's really what defined Nokona over the past couple of decades in that it was the only company that didn’t follow suit and go overseas and the reason for that is Bobby Storey, who is still the ambassador of the Nokona brand," says Nokona president Jeff Beraznik, whose Phoenix-based Cutters Gloves company became majority owner of Nokona a year ago. "He made the decision that he just did not want to take the production of ball gloves overseas. His comment was he would rather pack up shop and go fishing than follow everyone else and go overseas.”

Today, Nokona prides itself as the last U.S. maker of baseball gloves and one that caters to the high-end client. It competes with the Rawlings and Wilsons of the glove world and also against some of the more new-age glove makers, those who have gone outside of traditional leather to make more synthetic-based gloves for both the amateur and professional levels. Companies such as Mizuno, which has been around since 1913 but has been among the pioneers of both softer gloves and 3-D and 4-D technology used to better craft position-specific gloves.

New Jersey-based Akadema, too, has become a player in the glove game, with Hall of Fame players Ozzie Smith and Gary Carter lending their insight from the company’s inception in 1997. Akadema is producing more than 100,000 gloves a year, which contributes to the projected 2 percent increase in the sporting goods market for 2011.

While technology continues to shape the current and future state of baseball gloves, some things, it seems, have not changed throughout the years.

Take, for instance, the Chicago-based Horween Leather Company. In business since 1905, and in its current Bucktown location since 1920, Horween has been the official leather supplier for Rawlings since 1932. In an ever-changing glove industry, the leather tanning process has remained the same.

In the late 60s, early 70s, according to Horween President of Global Solutions John Culliton, production for Rawlings’ pro line took off for Horween when NBC had the Game of the Week with announcers Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek.

"They used to have a microphone on the field and you could hear (the glove) pop, and that was a key for NBC because they wanted that," Culliton says. "So they said it had to be played with the Heart of the Hide Rawlings catchers glove, which is our leather, and it kind of took off."

The leather tanning process begins on the ground floor of the 180,000 square foot building, where hundreds of hides are stacked in neat piles, hair and all, waiting to get skinned by a man wielding a very sharp butcher’s knife. The hides come from across the Midwest and Canada, from major meat packers such as Tyson and IVP. There are 650,000 skins that get killed every week. Horween gets 1 percent of that. In turn, the top 3 percent of its production goes into baseball gloves.

Once the hides are skinned, they're put in one of four cement mixers where the hair is burned off over a 24-hour process. Once the hair is removed, the hides go into wooden drums for tanning, which is a base chrome tannage that’s been used since the 30s. It's a three-step process: baiting, pickling and tanning. After it's tanned, the leather is a soft blue skin.

It's one man's job to determine, based on weight, quality and skin, which of four piles a skin ends up: boots, belts, gloves or footballs. For baseball gloves, it cannot have any imperfections and it must be 5 1/2 ounces thick.

"They used to say that this spot right here will make or break your tannery,” Culliton said, "because if they miss a selection you’re going to have product that ends up in the wrong spot. So it’s a super important place because it allows you to merchandise your product line and if you merchandise it properly you have a really good product."

If it's done well, as has been the case for the last several decades, you end up with leather Rawlings marketed as Heart of the Hide, which they’ve used in gloves dating back to Mickey Mantle’s playing days.

But maintaining its integrity of using the best quality of hides for ball glove leather hasn't come without its obstacles. Because cattle is taken to the market at a much younger age these days, oftentimes at 14 months old, the skin is being stretched, which makes for sloppy fibers in the hides, which means the quality and durability of the leather is not what it once was. Over the years, tanneries have also had to adhere to regulations changes in the dyes and oils used to treat the leather.

And while much of that remains out of a tannery’s control, new glove makers such as Carpenter Trade Company have seized control of what it can. For Carpenter, that has meant leaving leather out of the equation all together. And it’s why owner Scott Carpenter feels that the future of baseball gloves has already arrived.

Email Chris Silva at christopherbsilva@gmail.com.

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From modest and makeshift beginnings, the sport of BMX began in the late-1960s, and what it has evolved into today is something perhaps no one could have ever imagined.

While the assortment of disciplines in BMX -- an acronym meaning bicycle motocross -- draws bright lights, camera flashbulbs and thousands of screaming fans, it was by no means a streamlined process and took a lot of trial and error to create the gravity-defying tricks and breathtaking stunts we see in competitions and on TV.

The origins of this relatively young sport remain a bit murky, though.

"It's kind of a cloudy thing," says John Swarr, co-producer of "Joe Kid on a Sting-Ray," a 2005 documentary film chronicling the history of BMX. "There was some riding in other countries similar to BMX racing, but the real personality of the sport started in California. That's really where it started."

Along with co-producer Mark Eaton and Jesse James of West Coast Choppers fame, Swarr suggests in the film that Schwinn Bicycle Company's release of its 1963 Sting-Ray model (left in photo along with a retro-chic 2004 version) was a significant step in creating the initial stages of the sport. The bike's 20-inch wheels provided for more maneuverability in negotiating the crudely orchestrated racetracks.

According to a 2004 Chicago Tribune article, Schwinn sold 40,000 Sting-Rays in 1963 at approximately $50 a pop. The then-Chicago-based manufacturer apparently would have sold more of the model that year had it not run out of 20-inch tires. But by 1968, the Sting-Ray, as well as other brands' imitations of it, owned the market, accounting for 70 percent of all bikes purchased in the United States.

The release of a 1971 Academy Award nominated documentary, "On Any Sunday," about different types of motorcycling, but that featured an opening scene of kids riding their bikes to emulate motocross racers, is said to have been a large catalyst in popularizing the sport nationwide. From there, an entrepreneurial teenager and rider named Scot Breithaupt is credited with starting the first formalized races in Long Beach, Calif. The establishment of the sport's first official sanctioning body, the National Bicycling Association (NBA), in 1973 quickly followed and also helped spread this new and exciting sport for kids outside the confines of Southern California.

Just a year later, to promote their own 20-inch bike, Yamaha put up $100,000 and hosted a BMX racing series called the Gold Cup, with the final event taking place at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Around this same time, in an attempt to create even faster races, riskier downhill courses became the newest trend, but the bikes were not designed to withstand such wear and tear of racing and handling larger and larger jumps.

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With BMX's expansion, coupled with the growing necessity for higher-quality bikes and components, fathers had a new hobby -- fixing up and customizing their children's racers to make them stronger, faster and more agile.

"Generally, because when the sport started becoming popular, a lot of dads were making frames based on their knowledge," says Swarr, who like Eaton, grew up riding on the East Coast. "So you'd see regular triangular frames pop up here and there, and it never was a bike that was intended to be mass produced or anything else, but it was just someone's dad making a bike that would be similar to a motorcycle frame or something that was geometrically stronger than the Sting-Ray—more reinforcements."

Rick Twomey, team manager of the Rick's Bike Shop racing team based out of Santa Monica, Calif., put together an all-star group of racers and began experimenting with different bike frame designs. He used his team as guinea pigs and was one of the first to develop some of what we today think of as modern-day BMX frames, with straight, sturdier top and down tubes, both of which connect to the bike’s head tube.

Legitimate bike manufactures soon took notice, and began mass-producing what this new, previously non-existent customer base desired. But as the sport developed outside of the racetrack, technological limitations only allowed the sport to progress so quickly.

By the mid-'70s, BMX riders were already taking a page out of skateboarders' books, riding emptied out swimming pools in Beverly Hills. Soon, riders were infiltrating one of the first skateparks in SoCal, Skatercross in Reseda, and competitions, as well as increased fanfare, were right around the corner.

Bob Haro of Pasadena, Calif. would soon emerge from a summer racing team led by Breithaupt, and go on to become known as the recognized inventor of freestyle BMX after creating the initial "freestyle" bike under his brand, Haro Bikes. Up until that time, a freestyle bike was merely a customized racing bike -- often the popular “P.K. Ripper” model, named for accomplished racer Perry Kramer and produced by Breithhaupt and manufacturing partner Mike Devitt -- but Haro put together the first mass-produced design using these new
advancements.

Dennis McCoy of Kansas City, Mo., who still competes at age 44 and is known as one of the legends of freestyle BMX, suddenly came on the scene and became a sponsored rider for Haro. "DMC" began racing BMX in the early 1980s, but learned to perform what would eventually come to be known as freestyle tricks on his own on the side.

McCoy's early introduction to freestyle moves gave him a leg up on most of his contemporaries, as he would go on to win top-level amateur and then professional contests in consecutive years, 1985 and '86, respectively. And while everyone was looking for better, stronger bikes, McCoy had started out learning on what he terms "some cheapo Kmart bike" before eventually saddling up on a Haro. Meanwhile, somewhere in Oklahoma City, Okla., a young kid named Mat Hoffman traded motorcycle racing for the allure of the tricks he saw in BMX freestyle.

By 1984, freestyle BMX and new bike accessories became all the rage. New tricks and ways of riding freestyle seemed to be invented by the day. Bicycle makers took full advantage of this, creating a number of gimmicky additions.

"Almost every company that didn't get it was coming out with different bolt-on, clamp-on things that stick out of different parts of your bike so that you could find a different place to stand," McCoy says. "Balance tricks were sort of trendy in the early-to mid-'80s, where you would find a different way to lean your bike over and pose in different stances. A big steel extender arm to allow your feet to touch your handlebars so you can do one specific balance trick was unfortunately just a way to sell a little more product. A couple of the advancements really led to progression, but a lot of them were just marketing tools."

The ones that did work and help to progress the sport were Steve Potts' invention, The Potts Mod, which fed the front brake cable down through the stem bolt -- the component that connects the handlebars to frame's head tube -- and allowed the handlebars to spin freely without getting hung up. Later would come the rotor, or detangler, which had a design that provided a similar result for the back brake. Pegs, cylindrical extensions that allowed for both flatland tricks as well as rail and ramp grinds, that attached to the bike's axles were also of exceptional importance.

McCoy says although now a number of top pros ride with neither brakes nor pegs, the innovations allowed for a handful of the modern era's staple tricks, most notably tailwhips and barspins.

"Today, tons of people don't even ride pegs," he says. "And those brake modifications, tons of people don't even ride brakes, so those riders are thinking, 'Who cares about this stuff.' But had it not come out when it did, a lot of the stuff that's commonplace now without brakes wouldn't exist, or at least, wouldn't be as far along as it is."

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Walk into any weight room and you're bound to find a big, beefy guy sporting huge guns and a light-brown weight belt wrapped around his stomach. He's got the huge guns, so he must know what he's doing with the weight belt, right?

Not always, according to some trainers and scientists.

"I usually don't recommend weight belts," says Chris Frankel, head of human performance for TRX, a company that produces training products and exercise programs for athletes and the like.

The reason, Frankel says, is that core muscles are "the body's natural weight belt" and are often the weakest link in a human body. "These muscles need to develop and get stable, fit and strong naturally," Frankel explains, and a weight belt can get in the way of that natural strengthening.

Popular since the 1960s and the 70s when "bigger was better," weight belts are worn for two primary reasons: to reduce the risk of back injury and help lift heavier weights. Under certain conditions, wearing a belt can be beneficial in both endeavors, but not always.

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"Science shows that weight belts influence several mechanisms both for the worse and for the better," says Dr. Stuart McGill, a professor at the University of Waterloo whose research focuses on the mechanics of the spine.

McGill acknowledges that a belt increases the intra-abdominal pressure (IPA), which is a scientific way of saying it helps buttress the spine, but wonders if that's a good thing. If trying to test the maximum load your body can handle, then it is. However, for most normal workout regimens, more repetitions with lower weights are more beneficial than lifting maximum load. So where is the benefit to using a weight belt?

McGill says wearing a weight belt can cause other side effects like increased blood pressure. His research also reveals that wearing a belt may provide a false sense of security for some.

Frankel is a proponent of functional training where you learn to manage your body naturally. He believes in a philosophy that a stable and strong core is a prerequisite for maximizing the function, performance and durability of the extremities, ie. hands, hips etc.

As fitness strategies have evolved and more research has become available, use of weight belts has declined. Still, there are some situations where belts are recommended, namely when trying to lift extremely heavy weights.

For occupational use, McGill's research recommends that consultants should not prescribe belts until they have conducted a full ergonomic assessment of the individual’s job, or a very thorough analysis of their training/lifting technique and training program.

So the next time you see a familiar face in the gym wearing a weight belt, strike up a friendly conversation about why they are wearing it. Nudge them towards getting some professional advise on the usage of the belt. A mild dose of unsolicited advice never hurt anybody, especially if it's going to save them from hurting themselves.

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