This is the seventeenth in a series of examinations of baseball-related legends and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of all the previous baseball legends.
This installment is a re-format edition, 2/3 of these legends have already been posted on this site, just not in this format.
BASEBALL LEGEND: Ken “Hawk” Harrelson invented the batting glove.
Before becoming the extremely popular (in Chicago, at least) announcer for the Chicago White Sox for most of the past three decades (and ALL of the past two), Ken “Hawk” Harrelson was a good baseball player for many years for a few different teams.
Whatever his successes ON the field (which included coming in third in the 1968 MVP balloting) and in the radio booth, for years he has been credited for something that is perhaps more notable than all of those things – the invention of the batting glove, now a staple in Major League Baseball.
Here‘s a site making the claim.
As the story goes, Harrelson was golfing one day when he wasn’t in the staring lineup (Harrelson WAS an avid golfer) and when he showed up at the ballpark his hands were blistered like mad. However, he ended up having to bat that day, so he figured that wearing his golf gloves would help protect his blistered hands and, voila – the batting glove was born!
Now, even if you believe that story (and I don’t know if I do, as that particular story has really gained momentum in the years since Harrelson has been an announcer – in the past he said stuff like “I was in a slump and I thought it might help” when it came to why he began wearing golf gloves, even “they looked cool”), it does not mean that he invented batting gloves.
As a point of fact, he most certainly did NOT.
Ballplayers were using golf gloves for decades before Harrelson, with Bobby Thomson of the New York Giants probably being the most famous example (Larry Doby, the first African-American player in the American League, also wore golf gloves).
These players, though, did not wear their gloves during official baseball games.
There ARE some players close to the beginning of the 20th Century who did occasionally wear gloves during games to protect their hands.
Paul Lukas, of the great UniWatch column, detailed a few of them here, as he decidedly debunked the whole “Hawk Harrelson invented the batting glove” myth.
What IS true is that Harrelson POPULARIZED the use of the batting glove in the early 1970s, and as more and more stars got involved, the movement got the point where it is today – where basically all baseball players use batting gloves.
So Harrelson has something to be proud of when to comes to batting gloves – just not inventing them.
Thanks to Paul Lukas for his tireless uniform-related research! You’re the tops, Paul!
BASEBALL LEGEND: A newly-signed baseball free agent requested that he not be paid his first month’s salary because of his poor performance.
It is difficult today to truly grasp the way that free agency was treated in baseball after it made its debut in the mid-to-late 1970s.
Beginning in 1977, Baseball began what was called a “re-entry draft” during each offseason. Every player with at least six years professional experience was eligible for the draft. That six years is a SIGNIFICANT difference between current free agency and the free agency of the past. Nowadays, it is six years in the MAJORS before a player can become a free agent. Back in the late 1970s, however, it was six years PERIOD, including minor league experience, so basically every notable player in the majors was eligible for the draft after every season.
Up to twelve teams were allowed to “draft” any one particular player. These teams, along with the player’s current team, would then be allowed to bid against each other for his services. The team that lost the player would be given draft picks to “make up” for their lost player.
As you might imagine, under this system, basically all of baseball’s star players were up for grabs every year, and some major names changed teams during this time, including Reggie Jackson, Pete Rose, Dave Winfield and Nolan Ryan.
One of the more notable names was Lyman Bostock, who became a free agent after only three years in the major leagues.
In his first year in the big leagues for the Minnesota Twins, 1975, Bostock hit .286.
The following year, Bostock came in FOURTH in the American League in Batting Average, at .323.
In 1977, his last year with the Twins, Bostock came in second in the American League in Batting Average to his teammate Rod Carew (who also finished one spot ahead of him in 1976) with a .336 Batting Average.
In 1978, free-spending California Angels’ owner Gene Autry, who had used the first re-entry draft to nab star players Don Baylor, Joe Rudi and Bobby Grich, used the Angels’ draft pick on Bostock, and gave him one of the most expensive contracts of the era, a five-year deal worth $2.25 million.
The first thing Bostock did upon receiving his contract was to donate $10,000 to help rebuild a church in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.
Bostock got off to a cold start for the Angels, hitting a meek .150 in the first month of the season.
Again, the attention ballplayers get for their free agent contracts NOWADAYS, when they make millions and millions of dollars a season pales in comparison to the early days of free agency, when a player like Bostock was under tremendous scrutiny for making a “shocking” $450,000.
At the time, Bostock said:
I was very close to signing with the Yankees. But with all that controversy, I thought I might wind up being a vegetable. I’m not a flashy guy; I’m not a Joe Namath or Clyde Frazier. People ask me all the time how I could get the money when Willie Mays and Babe Ruth and all the other guys didn’t get this kind of money. I tell them, ‘Don’t ask me if I’m a better base stealer than Maury Wills. I have to say no. Don’t ask me if I’m a better base stealer than Lou Brock. I have to say no. Am I a better outfielder than Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle? Again, I have to say no. But if you ask me if I was in the right place at the right time, I have to say yes.’
So Bostock did an amazing thing that forever earned himself a place in the hearts of Angels fans – he actually called up Angels’ owner Gene Autry and offered to give him the money back.
I just can’t make that kind of money and not produce. I don’t feel that I’ve done enough for this month.
Autry turned him down, of course, so Bostock then gave the money away to charity.
By the end of the season, Bostock had rebounded, and was hitting .296 going into the last week of the season (the highest average on the team).
However, a shocking tragedy struck with just a week remaining in the season. After a game against the Chicago White Sox (Bostock got a hit in his last at-bat, going 2-4), Bostock did what he would often do when visiting Chicago – he went to visit his Uncle in nearby Gary, Indiana.
While there, he and his uncle visited a woman who was a friend of theirs. They agreed to give a female friend of HERs a ride home. Bostock’s uncle drove while Bostock rode in the back with the two women. Unbeknown to Bostock, the estranged husband of the woman was watching them, and presumed that Bostock was seeing his wife. He pulled up alongside their car and fired a shotgun into the car, ostensibly to kill his wife – however, he missed her and instead shot Bostock in the head, killing him.
The killer actually ended up pleading temporary insanity due to his wife’s infidelities, and actually got off on the murder charges, instead serving only twenty-one months in a mental facility until he was deemed sane again.
And Lyman Bostock, who made one of the more notable offers of selflessness, was dead at the age of 27.
BASEBALL LEGEND: At least two players of the Washington Nationals wore jerseys with the team name spelled incorrectly
The Washington Nationals are a baseball team that play in Washington DC. They are in the Eastern Division of the National League.
This is what their jerseys are supposed to look like…
And here is what they looked like on star players Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman in an April 17, 2009 loss to the Florida Marlins…
And no, the “O” is not hidden under the buttons…
On April 23, 2009 the Majestic Athletic company apologized to the Nationals for the error, according to ESPN.com…
“All of us at Majestic Athletic want to apologize to both the Washington Nationals and Major League Baseball for accidentally omitting the ‘o’ in two Nationals jerseys,” Majestic Athletic president Jim Pisani said in a statement distributed at Nationals Park on Tuesday.
“We take 100 percent responsibility for this event and we regret any embarrassment for the Nationals organization, players and fans,” the statement continued.
The normally weak-hitting Nationals (third from last in the National League in runs in 2008) actually did better on offense in 2009 (ending up JUST below the National League average), so that takes away the jokes from Washington fans who would like to say, “So THAT’s where the ‘O’ went!”
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Tags: Adam Dunn, batting gloves, Bobby Grich, Bobby Thomson, California Angels, Chicao White Sox, Dave Winfield, Don Baylor, Gene Autry, Hawk Harrelson, Joe Rudi, Ken Harrelson, Larry Doby, Lyman Bostock, Majestic Sporting Goods, Minnesota Twins, New York Giants, New York Yankees, Nolan Ryan, Paul Lukas, Pete Rose, Reggie Jackson, Rod Carew, Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals