Golf blister led to batting glove's birth
'Hawk' Harrelson credited with first use of modern staple
CHICAGO -- The Major League player given credit for first using batting gloves might never have had such a distinction if not for his love of golf and the modest baseball salaries at the time he suited up."Well, necessity is the mother of invention," said Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, when asked about the batting glove's inception back in 1963. Harrelson, who has been the colorful television voice of the Chicago White Sox for 18 years, was an equally charismatic first baseman/outfielder with the Kansas City Athletics when legend dictates the batting glove originated. The right-handed-hitting Harrelson was a platoon player at the time and didn't think he would be in the lineup that night against a right-handed starter. So, Harrelson and teammate Ted Bowsfield played golf in the afternoon against a twosome including former White Sox infielder Sammy Esposito. "In those days, the minimum salary was $6,000, and I was making more playing golf and pool than I was making playing baseball," Harrelson said. "When you are making $6,000 and spending $30,000, you have to supplement your income. "We went out and played and went right from the golf course to the ballpark. I get to the ballpark and look at the lineup card, and I'm in there, hitting third." According to Harrelson, the Yankees had switched from the scheduled right-handed starter to Whitey Ford, the left-handed Hall of Fame-bound hurler. Harrelson began to take batting practice when he noticed a blister forming on his left hand from the 27 holes of golf. Realizing the golf glove was in his pants pocket, Harrelson put it on to get some protection for the blister. Thus, the batting glove was unofficially born. "From that day on, I never hit again without one," Harrelson said. "That [glove] goes well with a blister, better than skin on bat, and then everyone started using them. "Then, guys started using them underneath their glove defensively as well, which I did. You always had one in your back pocket when you went out there. You had one for defense and one for offense. "I had a better feel because it took the pine tar well," Harrelson added. "Pretty soon, it got to where I wouldn't think about swinging a bat without one. "They felt great in your hand. It felt like you would open your hand up and the bat would stick to it. The grip was good." Franklin, a prominent glove manufacturing company, came to Harrelson and asked if he would endorse batting gloves as the first guy to use them. Harrelson said he was offered some money but didn't think it was enough and turned down the offer. "That was my mistake," Harrelson said. "I should have taken it and done something." On the day that Harrelson first used the golf glove to protect his blister, he slugged two home runs. By Harrelson's account, the Yankees' bench jockeys got on him something fierce for using the glove. But the Yankees had a chance to poke a little more direct fun at Harrelson the following day. "You can't believe some of the names they were calling me because nobody had done this before," said Harrelson with a laugh. "So, now the next day, the Yankees come out from the clubhouse and they go out on the field and all of them have red golf gloves on. "[Mickey] Mantle had the clubhouse guy go buy a couple of dozen red All-Star golf gloves because that was the color I was wearing the day before. They all had red golf gloves, and that's how the hitting glove got started."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.