Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Jim Oglesby's Glove

The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, today increased its membership to 295 with the election of Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven. While so much attention is rightly placed on these heroes of the diamond, it is sometimes easy to forget that the history of the game is populated by thousands of players whose careers were fairly ordinary and, in many instances, quite fleeting.

Today’s players—even the average ones—are generally very well paid, and many supremely so. But it wasn’t always that way; in fact, throughout most of baseball history there was a general commonality of modest compensation for most players. Indeed, even stars worked at offseason jobs.

Players of the past generation or two also have benefited from a wide range of endorsement opportunities. One area of modest endorsements, though, which extends back to the 1920s, is baseball gloves. And that is a story worth telling and a case study worth considering.
There was great competition among sporting goods manufacturers in the golden age of baseball. The idea of stamping a player’s facsimile autograph on a fielder’s glove, first baseman’s mitt or catcher’s mitt was to encourage youngsters to buy that glove.

At first, players were rewarded for providing their signatures by receiving a free glove! And since you might not know which players would become stars and lure customers, endorsement “deals” were often made with players whose visit to the major leagues was very brief.

One such player was Jim Oglesby, whose big league career was restricted to one week in mid- April 1936. The 30-year-old Missouri native came up, as they say, for a “cup of coffee” after toiling for eight minor league teams over ten years. Things finally looked promising for Oglesby as he was the starting first baseman for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics on opening day.

His “visit” lasted three games—from Tuesday, April 14 to Friday, April 17, when he was spiked. That was it. He did manage to bat eleven times, achieving two hits and a lowly .182 batting average. It was then back to the minors where he played for five more teams through 1942. After serving in World War II, he bounced around as a minor league manager before committing suicide in 1955.

A very limited major league career but he had an imprinted first baseman’s mitt courtesy of the Ken-Wel company, which produced gloves and other equipment in upstate New York from the 1920s until 1960. I know because I have one of those gloves, which is identified as model 617—whatever that means—and is advertised as “Genuine Cowhide.” Fortunately, this glove came after the era when asbestos padding was used.

You can see gloves and many other fascinating artifacts at the Hall of Fame. The museum and library provide visual insights into America and its popular culture from the mid-19th century. And it also makes us wonder about the icons such as Joe DiMaggio as well as the footnote players similar to Jim Oglesby.

The Baseball Hall of Fame can be investigated: http://www.baseballhall.org/.

Also see: The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR): http://www.sabr.org/

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