MAR: THE BASEBALL GURU ARTICLE FROM
WILL THE REAL INVENTOR OF THE CATCHERS MASK PLEASE STAND UP
He was a dentist and he played major league ball and he happened to catch and gee whiz his fingers were getting all smashed up (NOBODY WORE GLOVES IN THE 1880s) and something had to be done. Well why not use a great big kind of glove and add some padding to it and so what if it looked like a pillow ..it protected his fingers kind of, and after his baseball career was over he could continue to practice dentistry.
His name was Albert Doc Bushong and he ended up with a decent Major League career. He was the first catcher in the Majors to catch 100 games for a season and also played in the equivalent of five post season exhibition-like World Series.
Was his padded glove the first ever catchers mitt? Its hard to tell. Like so many things from that period, the documentation is hazy and in many cases inaccurate. In a January 24, article printed in the New York Times of 1915 its stated that Bushong was the inventor and the first to use a catchers mitt. Before Bushong used his oversized glove catchers caught barehanded and after awhile began to use work gloves with the fingertips off the throwing hand. It resulted at best in alleviating the injuries catchers suffered in the past but still made throwing kind of imperfect. Not a good situation to be in.
Perhaps the fact that Bushong was a dentist and was very sensitive about the safety of his fingers and hand that enabled him to come up with the concept of the enlarged pillow-like glove. Perhaps.
But then there is Joe Gunson. Who? Joe Gunson the journeyman catcher of the 1880s. There are indications that it may have been Gunson who invented the catchers glove and not Bushong. Around 1888 Joe Gunson had a leather work glove that wasnt really working well with his catching duties. His fingers were a mess. He experimented with some wool padding, added a framework of wire, sewed the fingers together, and put everything into a sort of buckskin sleeve. A teammate learned how to do it and as he explained later on, after awhile everyone was doing it and he had never gotten a patent for it.
So who invented the Catchers mitt? History tells us that Bushong started using his invention one year before Gunson and that his prototype is closer to todays model than that of Gunsons
Experts at the Hall of Fame give the nod to Bushong. Some experts at SABR claim it was Gunson. The various Baseball encyclopedias that are around nowadays are just about evenly divided.
Take your pick.