Did Roger Bresnahan REALLY Invent the Shin Guard?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about baseball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the baseball urban legends featured so far.

BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: Roger Bresnahan invented the shin guard.

Although you may have never heard of him, Roger Bresnahan is in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.

Bresnahan was a fine catcher (he was versatile enough to have played all nine positions!) for many years (I believe 17 in total) and a good baseball player, just not one good enough to make the Hall of Fame typically.

He mostly made it because he was very popular among sportswriters and fans.

Heck, Ogden Nash even included him in his famous 1949 baseball poem, Lineup for Yesterday, for crying out loud!

B is for Bresnahan
Back of the plate;
The Cubs were his love,
and McGraw his hate.

It is surprising that Nash couldn’t find someone other than Bresnahan for B. To put it into context, A was for Grover Cleveland Alexander, C was for Ty Cobb, D was for Dizzy Dean and B is for Roger Bresnahan?!!?

How odd.

In any event, Bresnahan passed away in 1944 and was elected to the Hall of Fame the next year by the Veterans Committee (if you’re thinking sympathy vote, you’re most likely correct).

However, the one thing that I suppose you could think of for his Hall of Fame case is that he invented the shin guards that catchers wore to protect their, you know, shins.

But DID he?

Here’s a player from the 1950s, Johnny Romano, putting on his shin guards…

Bresnahan was mocked when he began wearing shin guards.

The New York Sun said:

The latest protection for catchers looks rather clumsy, besides delaying a game while the guards are strapped above the knee and around the ankle, and it is doubtful that the fad will ever become popular.

The New York Times said:

Roger Bresnahan makes an entrance, accompanied by a dresser, who does him and undoes him in his natty mattress and knee pads.

Bresnahan got the idea from cricket players.

However, while he certainly appeared to come up with the idea on his own, Bresnahan was NOT the first baseball player to use shin guards.

Nig Clarke of the Detroit Tigers was using them in 1905, a full two years before Bresnahan came up with the idea.

And Chappie Johnson was using them in the Negro Leagues a full three years before THAT!

Not only that, but it’s likely that a number of OTHER players were using them before Bresnahan, they just wore them UNDER their pants (well, some approximation of shin guards, at least). He, though, wore them prominently.

And years later, he was the one to get the credit.

Do note that Bresnahan never took credit for the idea. In fact, he would say he did NOT invent them, but he would often point out the cricket connection, not the other Major Leaguers with the idea.

The legend is…

STATUS: False

Thanks to Bill James’ Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame and David L. Fleitz’s Ghosts in the Gallery at Cooperstown: Sixteen Forgotten Members of the Hall of Fame for the information!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is [email protected]

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