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MADE IN THE USA | Continuing the Legacy of quality sporting goods since 1912

Willie Mays: A Glove, A Catch, and A Legacy

If you remember Major League Baseball in the early 1960s, a few great hitters come to mind: Killebrew, McCovey, Mantle, Berra, Clemente, Aaron, Robinson, Banks, and Mathews. But one player with the best chance at catching Babe Ruth's home run record was Willie Mays. Mays was arguably the best all-around player in history, excelling in hitting, running, and fielding. His dominance in center field set him above all.

He was one of the original Black players to advance to the major leagues after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. While his hitting and running were exceptional, his fielding brilliance shone brightest. Nothing exemplified his skill more than what is arguably the greatest catch in baseball history.

In the 1954 World Series, the New York Giants faced the Cleveland Indians. The Giants had won the National League Pennant with 97 wins. The Indians had an extraordinary season, winning a record 111 games, the highest winning percentage ever in the pre-162 game era (before the MLB season expanded to 162 games in 1961). Despite the Indians' dominance, no one picked the Giants to win. But in the first game, with the score tied in the eighth inning, Mays chased down Vic Wertz's 425-foot drive to deep center field, making an over-the-shoulder grab to save the go-ahead run. His extraordinary catch and throw back to the infield kept the two Indian runners from scoring, and the Giants eventually won the game in extra innings. The Indians never recovered and were swept in four games. Mays’ play marked the turning point of the series.

Mays was an immediate phenom, and his baseball excellence made him a superstar. At that time, he used the top-of-the-line Rawlings outfielder's glove. In 1953, Rawlings had developed the Harvey Haddix (HH) model, which Mays used in 1954. Mays positioned his hand low in the glove to extend its length. When he made his iconic catch, he had his throwing hand close to the glove for a quick throw back to the infield. According to Mays’ account, he was less concerned about the catch, which he knew was in the bag, and more concerned about getting the ball back to the infield to stop the advancement of the Indian runners, who were at first and second. The pivotal play has become iconic and forever part of baseball lore.

Rawlings dominated the baseball glove market in the 1950s, with major leaguers endorsing their products. Meanwhile, manufacturer, MacGregor Goldsmith, gambled and signed Black players to endorse their gloves, adding Henry Aaron, Eddie Mathews, and Willie Mays. The move paid off and kept the MacGregor Goldsmith brand relevant. Mays even influenced MacGregor's glove designs. The GC12 model, developed under Mays' advice, became a top outfielder's glove.

Mays grew up in the era of small gloves. For most of the history of glove design, the glove was more a pad only than a snaring implement. Fielding was about getting the ball to your throwing hand. Anyone who played baseball in the immediate decades after the Second World War were coached to catch with two hands. All that would change in the 1960s.

In the mid-1950s, Wilson revolutionized glove design with the A2000, featuring a break in the heel padding, allowing the glove to snap closed. This design mimicked the Rawlings Trapper "Claw" design, allowing fielders to grab balls with one hand. The Wilson A2000 was an immediate success. Rawlings responded with their Trap-eze six-finger gloves, popular until their factory closed in 2003.

At the same time, MacGregor Goldsmith, later absorbed by Brunswick Inc., continued to innovate with the GC12, which positioned the player's hand low inside. The GC12 was the largest glove on the market and a great outfielder's glove. However, by the late 1970s, USA-made gloves became less profitable, and MacGregor moved operations offshore. The USA-made MacGregor gloves from this period are some of the best ever made.

In 1997, Kent Collectibles commissioned me to make 660 replicas of Willie Mays' glove to match the number of his home runs. The glove recently sold for $1600 at auction! 

Mays’ great catch was so much more. Thank you, “Say Hey.”


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