This is a list of objects in no particular order that define baseball’s history. They will encompass the entire history of the game up until 1994(The year they took the game away) and will be chosen due to their importance to the game, the fans, and me. I hope you enjoy the ride.
#7- The 1st Catcher’s Mask
The story goes that because of the increasing use of the curveball, and the damage and difficulties that ensued for the catchers; the player/manager for the Harvard baseball team, Fred Thayer, commissioned a local tinsmith to make the 1st catcher’s mask, adapted from the design of the fencing mask. This was in the winter of 1876, and the lucky recipient of this new-fangled piece of equipment would be the new catcher for the Harvard nine, Alexander Tyng.
On April 12, 1877 Tyng donned the masked for the 1st time in a game against the Live Oaks team from Lynn, Massachusetts. Thayer received a patent for the mask in 1878, and it appeared in the 1878 Spalding catalog that same year, selling for $3.00.
In this picture of the Harvard team Alexander Tyng is the 2nd player from the right in the 2nd row. He is holding his new catcher’s mask with a feigned look of indifference, unaware of his place in baseball history. Sitting next to Tyng is Fred Thayer. He’s the one wearing the not so cool baseball derby/cap, arms crossed, with an Ivy League smug look that says, “I’m better than you.” (That might be my Ivy League bias showing through there.)
As per usual there is some dispute over who actually “invented” the mask. Tyng claims that he played a much bigger part in the design and construction of the mask than reported. Howard Thatcher, the Harvard catcher for the 1876 team claims that he built and used a mask in 1876. In the end Thayer gets the credit and the patent. Thayer graduated from Harvard with a law degree, and utilized his skills as an attorney to defend any claims against his patent. Just another example of a rich Ivy League lawyer, using his position in life, and the influence and backing of his elite aristocratic patrician buddies to step on the neck of the little guy. (Where does that anger come from?)
Either way, the catcher’s mask revolutionized the defensive game of baseball. The catcher was now able to play closer to the batter, and any trepidation he might have had was lessened as well. The glove, shin guards, and chest protector would slowly make their way into the catcher’s “tools of ignorance”, reducing injuries, and errors significantly. But the glove set the stage for all theses tools and deserves its spot in this 100 list.
A History of Baseball in 100 Objects:
#4- A SABR Lapel Pin