From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

A Glove Story

New off the shelf, the baseball mitt cost all of eight dollars. Ten bucks tops if memory serves—the receipt has been long lost.

A “Glove Night” piece of vinyl stitched in Taiwan? Hardly. We’re talking about a first-rate first-baseman’s glove. A genuine “Major League Model,” no less. The best glove ever made, if you ask me.

It should be pointed out, however, that the mitt in study was originally purchased more than a half century ago—by my father when he was a young boy—when eight dollars was half a summer’s worth of mowed lawns.

To give you an idea, the glove—circa 1940—is twenty years older than I am. I hope I hold up so well. Shoot, it is not only older than Astroturf, it predates every National League ballpark sans Chicago’s Wrigley Field. To be sure, it’s a relic from an era when uniforms were baggy and high-fives were still low handshakes and ballplayers didn’t go on strike or charge fifteen dollars for an autograph.

A short while ago, I came upon the abandoned old mitt in the bottom of a dresser drawer in my old room in my parent’s house. It was battered and tattered and showing its years. Kind of like the Dodgers’ bullpen of late. But memories are worth hanging on to. So I shelled out $34.50 to rehabilitate the eight-dollar mitt.

It was a wonderful bargain.

The old friend came back in the mail from the shop as good as new. Better, really, because it was already broken in. You slide your hand inside and feel leather as soft as the hand of your first girlfriend.

It is beautiful. “You look m-a-a-a-h-v-v-elous,” Billy Crystal would say if he laid eyes upon the new old glove.

It smells marvelous, too. The intoxicating fragrance of leather took me back to those hot summer days when I was ten or twelve or eight.

Perhaps most marvelous of all, however, the refurbishing treatment made the once blackened writing stamped into the mitt legible: Frank McCormick. Major League Model.

In good light, tilted at just the right angle, you can now even make out the Preferred Model and the Horsehide Lining. It also has an Inner Processed Palm, whatever that is.

I doubt they make gloves with inner processed palms anymore, much less with soft horsehide linings. Today’s preferred models are made of cowhide. And made in Japan and Taiwan, not Gold Smith Made In USA.

Indeed, Gold Smith was long ago swallowed up by MacGregor; and fewer and fewer gloves are made in the United States anymore. And none are made from horsehide.

“There aren’t enough horses,” The Gloveman points out. “But back then, 90 percent of the gloves were made from horsehide. It was less coarse than cowhide and lasted as long. The only thing comparable today is kangaroo leather.”

No, they don’t make baseball gloves like this Frank McCormick first baseman’s mitt anymore. It doesn’t have fancy buckles or extra straps or Velcro. It looks like a boxing glove for a hundred-pound lobster. Like a catcher’s mitt to be sure. It’s got more padding than a queen-size mattress. You figure Yogi Berra learned to play with a mitt like this. In its heyday you could probably catch a cannonball without stinging your hand.

But that was before the pocket deteriorated into a spider web of knotted leather shoelaces (confiscated from my dad’s old hunting boots) and you didn’t dare catch the ball directly in front of your face for fear the ball would break through—and break your nose. Indeed, every catch looked like what Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully refers to as an “ice cream cone catch.”

All those years I played catch—and even some Little League ball at first base—with that hand-me-down-down-down (from my dad to my two older brothers to me) monster mitt, I never knew who Frank McCormick was—or much cared, to be frank.

I suppose it’s kind of like a kid today not knowing—or much caring—who Jack Kramer is, even though Big Jake’s name is on their hand-me-down-from-Dad’s first tennis racket.

After spending big bucks to have the glove refurbished, I decided it was time to find out who this McCormick fella was.

All he was, it turns out, was a National League MVP!

As luck would have it, a former major leaguer from the 1930s and ’40s lives near me in Ventura, California. And better yet Stanley “Frenchy” Bordagaray even played on the Reds with McCormick.

“Of course I remember Frank,” Frenchy—himself one of the all-time great pinch hitters for such teams as the St. Louis Cardinals’ famous Gas House Gang, Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers—told me when I inquired about his former Cincinnati teammate. “He was a great player.”

“I played with him in ’39,” Bordagaray recalled as easily as he might his wedding anniversary. “We won the pennant but lost to the Yankees in the World Series. Frank was our fourth hitter, the clean-up man. He didn’t swing hard, but—boy!—the ball sure carried a long way.”

McCormick blasts carried the outfield fence 129 times in his fourteen-year career in the bigs. I looked it up.

Interestingly, further inspection of the Baseball Encyclopedia shows that McCormick and Bordagaray both broke into the majors in 1934. Frenchy, a 5-foot 7H-inch outfielder, retired in 1945 with a .283 batting average. McCormick, 6-feet 4 inches and 205 pounds of muscle, quit in 1948 with a .299 career clip.

“Oh yes! Frank was a good fielder, too,” Frenchy replied when asked about McCormick’s glovemanship.

Bordagaray was with the Kansas City Blues in 1940 when “Mack” batted .309 with 127 RBIs, nineteen homers and a league-high forty-four doubles for the Reds to garner the National League MVP award. (McCormick’s 1939 numbers were actually even better: .332 average, 128 RBIs and eighteen “circuit clouts” as homers were called in that day.)

Nineteen-forty was indeed a banner year for Frank Andrew McCormick as he led the original Big Red Machine to the world title. Ironically, however, my glovesake made two errors in the field during the 1940 Fall Classic, but atoned for them with a key double in Game 7 against the Detroit Tigers to lead Cinci to its first championship in twenty-one years.

Like his model of mitt, the towering right-handed hitting and throwing first baseman was durable. During one stretch, McCormick played in 652 consecutive games, which ranks sixteenth on the all-time iron man list.

I don’t really need my “new” antique mitt to play catch in the backyard with my thirteen-year-old daughter or one-year-old son—but I use it anyway. Like I said, it was the best $34.50 I’ve spent in a long while.

Tucked away in my old dresser drawer with my Frank McCormick glove I also came across an autographed baseball. It’s probably worth a small fortune. A few of the signatures are faded and others are scuffed up a little, but you can clearly make out Ernie Lombardi, Whitey Moore, Bucky Walters, Jim Ripple, Morris Arnovich, Paul Deringer, Jimmie Wilson, Gene Thompson, Jim Turner, Lonnie Frey and Joe Beggs.

And Frank McCormick.

I don’t know too much about many of those names off that 1940 World Series championship team, except that McCormick fella who died in 1982 at age seventy-one. I know him like the back of my hand.

Make that like the back of the soft horsehide inner processed palm of my Frank McCormick Model first baseman’s mitt.

Woody Woodburn

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