Baseball 101 is an ongoing series from The Good Phight’s Allie Foster that breaks down some of the multifaceted aspects of baseball for those fans who might not be as familiar with the ins and outs of the game. In this eighth edition, she explains some of the differences and changes in the equipment players wear with a focus on gloves, catchers equipment and face guards. You can read other entries here.
At lower levels like little leagues and high school teams, equipment standards are still very basic: When it comes down to it, all you need is a glove and a bat. But as the sport of baseball has changed over the years, so has the equipment needs for higher levels of play.
Without a glove, it’s impossible to play the sport of baseball. There are many different types of gloves and deciding which one to use comes down to the requirements of the position.
Infielders’ gloves are generally the smallest and lightest of all the styles. This is so that infielders can move quickly and transfer the ball from their glove to their hand more efficiently. Shortstops and third basemen typically have longer gloves than second basemen to increase their fielding range, and third basemen have slightly deeper pockets to help catch hard-hit balls at the hot corner.
Pitchers gloves are very similar in size and shape to infield gloves, since most of their duties are similar. However, pitchers generally opt for closed webbing that helps hide the ball from the batter as long as possible.
First base gloves are larger than the other infielders and are curved to help scoop balls that have been thrown in the dirt. They also don’t have finger holes like infield gloves.
Outfielders have the longest gloves on the field to help them increase their defensive range. They also have deep pockets that help keep the balls they catch in the glove.
Catchers’ mitts are the most different from all the other gloves on the field. Because catchers repeatedly have to catch balls coming at them at 90+ mph, their mitts have much more padding than others. This helps protect their hand from injury. Their mitts are also larger in size, which gives the pitcher a bigger target to throw to.
In the most dangerous position on the field, catchers gear has changed the most within the sport. From simple padding once created by a concerned wife to specially-engineered, lightweight polyfoam, companies have improved player performance while also enhancing player safety at the catcher position. Catchers masks have seen the most change, from simple designs to more complex cages. And the introduction of knee savers has, especially at the youth level, become a precaution that many players take to protect themselves from injuries.
You can read more about the specifics of the evolution of catcher’s equipment here.
A relatively new improvement to player equipment is the face guard, added to a batting helmet. Its technical name is the C-Flap and it attaches to the helmet at the ear and extends over the cheek and jaw. It was designed by a retired plastic surgeon, Dr. Robert Crow, who served as the Atlanta Braves’ team physician from 1972 to 1999. It protects players from facial injuries while at the plate. It’s not approved for use in college, high school or youth baseball and has only started to appear in the majors in the past few years. Giancarlo Stanton was an early adopter in 2016 after a pitch to the face ended his season in 2014. Rhys Hoskins, Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera are also popular hitters in the majors who have started wearing them.
Some, like Hoskins and Stanton, started using them after a facial injury. Hoskins missed a week-and-a-half of play last season after fouling a pitch off of his jaw and breaking it. For a while he wore C-Flaps on both sides of his helmet while the fracture was healing, leading to his famous Magneto-esque look. Despite not getting injured like Hoskins, many other players are starting to use face guards to prevent those types of injuries from occurring at all. The company that produces C-Flaps is currently trying to find a way to become certified by NOCSAE (National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment) so that the protective equipment can be used in the lower levels.
I want to clarify some wording that was incorrect in this original article. NOCSAE does not certify equipment, it sets performance and test standards. Therefore, the sentence bolded above, “ the company that produces C-Flaps is currently trying to find a way to become certified by NOCSAE” should instead say that the company is trying to find a way to meet NOCSAE’s standards.
Special thanks to the NOCSAE representative who reached out to me to clarify this. While the wording may not seem like a big change, it is important and I always want to make sure that I am putting forward the most accurate information.
The reason the C-Flap does not meet those standards is because face guards must cover the whole face, not just the cheek. You can read NOCSAE’s fact sheet on cheek flaps here.