It's always an intriguing thought to imagine everyday items being used in the past, especially in the case of sports. An 1881 reference in the Detroit Free Press once grabbed baseball historians with the statement:
"The Detroits put on their batting gloves yesterday and won another game."
Though it's fun to think that batters were using some form of a glove well over a century ago, this is most likely a reference to cricket rather than baseball. By 1890, it had become commonplace for cricketers to use gloves.
At that time, fielding gloves/mitts weren’t even used in baseball—so it would be pretty strange for batting gloves to be around.
While not commonly used at that time for baseball players, one can only imagine Victorian-era baseball players engaging some form of steampunk leather gauntlets to protect their hands while at bat. Certainly gives us something to ponder!
The Legend of Hawk Harrelson
Baseball would not see the use of batting gloves become popular until the 1970s, when players like Ken "Hawk" Harrelson began using them. Now, there's a lot of (mostly) good-natured debate about whether Ken Harrelson "invented" the baseball glove.
The story goes that he was golfing on the day of a baseball game (when he wasn't in the starting lineup) and later showed up at the ballpark with extremely blistered hands. He wore his golf gloves so he was able to bat, and the move immediately caught on with other players—at least, that's how the apocryphal story goes.
In reality, historians have found some references to batters wearing golf gloves as far back as the 1940s—and potentially even the 1930s!
So while Harrelson was definitely the first to popularize them, he likely wasn't the original inventor of batting gloves. Still, that's a major impact on the sport. And either way, it's one of those classic stories that will live on.
The Bottom Line
Regardless of the glove's exact origin, they have become an essential piece of batting equipment for most players. Modern batting gloves are constructed out of materials like rubber and leather, and provide extra grip and protection for the batter's hands.
These gloves also help to reduce blisters, as well as providing some cushioning from the sting of a hard-hit baseball. (In rare cases, batters will even wear multiple gloves for extra protection and comfort! We can't recommend this, but it certainly goes to show how far batting gloves have come from the days of bare hands and blisters.)
At this point, nearly every MLB player wears some form of batting glove when they step up to the plate. It's just one of those essential pieces of equipment that has become ubiquitous in the sport.
While several different styles are available on the market, all feature padding in the palm and wrist area, allowing for increased comfort when swinging the bat. The inner liner also provides a better grip on the bat and helps reduce vibration from the impact of the ball. However, custom batting gloves offer an even better quality and fit, and it’s common for pro players to opt for more personalized gear.
With more and more baseball players at all levels opting for custom batting gloves, we can say with certainty that they are here to stay.