Major League Baseball enforces rules on the size of fielder’s gloves, size and color of pitcher’s gloves, and protective ear flaps on helmets. The league also permits the use of protective equipment for batters, such as ankle and elbow guards.
While the batter’s equipment does not require legislation since increasing size does not provide an unfair advantage, a new piece of protective equipment that offers a competitive edge has embedded itself in MLB. Enter: the base-stealing glove.
Over the last five years or so baserunners have increasingly used base-stealing gloves to protect their hand while sliding into bases. At first, Yankees’ outfielder Brett Gardner commissioned the construction of a fiberglass glove to prevent his fingers from being jammed or broken while stealing bases. The fiberglass glove didn’t last long since it shrunk on the speedster’s hand and was impossible to remove without the aid of scissors. In search of a less rigid material that offered increased flexibility without compromising protection, Gardner’s assistants modified a neoprene elbow sleeve with some old fashioned sewing. The neoprene base-stealing glove was born.
I’m all for protecting hands and fingers while sliding for one reason only: the equipment keeps the best players on the field. But now it’s time to restrict the size of these oven-sized mitts.
If the base-stealing glove was used primarily for protection, that’s one thing. But not very often will you see sluggish boppers like Albert Pujols or David Ortiz don the piece of equipment. Rather, you’ll often see speedsters like Rajai Davis, Brett Gardner, and Starling Marte using the base-stealing mitt. Inherently, the name of the equipment implies it has advantages beyond protection. Click on any of the links below and check out the size of this so-called “protective” equipment.
With the glove fit to their hand, these guys now possess arms anywhere from one to four inches longer. Sure, that may not seem like a lot. But in a game of inches, that’s a 90-foot advantage. I know there’s a lot more that goes into stealing a base, like timing the pitcher, getting a good jump, picking the right pitch to go on, not getting picked off, peeking in on the base path, and avoiding a tag with a good slide. But these guys are professionals and 90% of the time all of the aforementioned keys to success go as planned. Giving professional base stealers a four-inch advantage is astronomical and absurd.
It’s time to restrict the length of these base-stealing gloves to a size that does not provide baserunners with an unfair competitive advantage that cannot be countered by the defense. At most, one to two inches beyond the length of the hand is an appropriate size for the neoprene base-stealing gloves. In a game that’s so embattled with preventing the use of performance-enhancing drugs, doctoring baseball’s on the mound with pine-tarred gloves, or upholding unwritten rules against stealing signs, I’m almost shocked the league has not taken action to prevent baserunners from gaining such an advantage. The league must take action this offseason before players start to take matters into their own hands.