Baseball Firsts Archive – I
Fielders' Gloves
First Baseball Gloves
1870: Doug Allison, catcher for the Cincinnati Red Stockings, wore buckskin mittens to protect his hands from fastballs. He is the earliest known player to use a glove of some kind. About the same time, another catcher Frank Flint, used a thin leather glove padded with beefsteak. However, players who used any kind of glove were ridiculed by fans and other players. A first baseman, Charlie Waitt, took throws wearing an unpadded, fingerless glove with a hole in the back for ventilation. The contraption was flesh-colored in an unsuccessful attempt to conceal it.

In 1877, Albert Spalding used a black glove while playing first base. As a star player, Spalding could get away with the "sissy" aid. Within a few years, just about everyone (except pitchers) wore gloves of one kind or another. In the early 1880s, the first padded glove appeared quickly followed by the prototype of the modern catcher's mitt. Spalding founded a very successful sporting goods company that has produced gloves for well over a century. (It is now a division of Russell Corporation.)

PA Announcer

The first public address announcer worked at the Polo Grounds for the New York Giants on July 5, 1929. In 1993, the Giants, now in San Francisco, scored another first when they made Sherry Davis the first female PA announcer in MLB (and the first in any of the major American professional sports leagues). Then in 2002, Renel Brooks-Moon, who replaced Davis behind the mike when the club moved to Pac Bell Park (now AT&T Park), became the first woman PA announcer for a World Series game (and, in fact, the first to announce a championship game or series of any professional sport).

Resin Bag

The pitcher was allowed to use a resin bag for the first time in MLB in 1925. With the introduction of a more lively ball and the banning of the spitball, shine ball, and other doctored pitches in 1920, the resin bag was considered an attempt at achieving more balance in the pitcher-hitter competition. Use of resin would give pitchers a better grip on the ball. However, its use was by no means universally approved and added to the tension between MLB Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis, who approved the measure, and AL president Ban Johnson. The NL readily approved the measure, but the AL did not for fear the resin bag would reopen the door to "freak" pitches. The matter was referred to a joint Rules Committee, which approved use of the bag by majority vote. The umpire was to carry a small bag of resin which the pitcher could ask to use. However, living up to his name, Johnson banned the resin bag in his league, promising to suspend anyone who used it. Trying to forge a compromise that would not embarrass either of their bosses (Landis and Johnson), the AL owners voted to allow the umpires to carry a resin bag but asked all managers to instruct their pitchers not to request it!

Pitching Machine

The first pitching macine was demonstrated on December 15, 1896 by a Princeton University mathematics professor named Charles E. Hinton. He built it after seeing the college's pitchers get sore arms from pitching batting practice. After trying a catapult, which had no accuracy, he assembled a cannon-like mechanism that could be expanded or contracted to regulate the speed of the pitch. To pitch, the user pulled the trigger on a rifle loaded with blanks. After much trial and error, Hinton engineered his machine to throw curveballs. However, when the Princeton team tried the machine, the batters were nervous about being shot at. So Hinton rigged the machine to allow the batter to trigger the pitch using a button he depressed with his foot. On June 10, 1897, before a crowd that included Mrs. Grover Cleveland, the machine pitched for both sides in a three-inning intramural game at Princeton. It struck out eight batters, walked one, and allowed four hits. The biggest complaint was the long time required for reloading the machine after each pitch. Hinton's invention was featured in Scientific American. On August 13, 1900, it pitched to both sides in a Southern Association game between the hometown Memphis Chickasaws and the Nashville Volunteers. The gun struck out two and allowed no runs in two innings. Unfortunately, no teams wanted to buy the machine because of the fear it continued to instill in the hitters. Hinton died in 1907 at age 54 without ever seeing his invention in wide use.

Amateur Draft

The first Amateur Draft was held in 1965. Prior to that year, each club signed whatever amateur players it could get. The first player selected in the 1965 draft was OF Rick Monday of Arizona State University by the Kansas City Athletics. Rick played 19 seasons with the A's (in KC and Oakland), Cubs, and Dodgers. Other well-known players drafted in the first round included OF Billy Conigliaro by the Red Sox, C Ray Fosse by the Indians, 1B Jim Spencer by the Angels, and 3B/OF Bernie Carbo by the Reds.

Uniform Numbers

The New York Yankees were the first team to permanently place numbers on their uniform shirts and the first to do so on both their home and road uniforms. They did this starting with opening day of the 1929 season. However, since the Yankee opener was delayed by rain, the Cleveland Indians, who were merely experimenting, actually wore uniform numbers in a game for the first time. The Yankees assigned numbers to players based on their position in the batting order. So #1 was Earle Coombs, 2 Mark Koenig, 3 Babe Ruth, 4 Lou Gehrig, 5 Bob Meusel, 6 Tony Lazzeri, 7 Leo Durocher, 8 Johnny Grabowski. 9 was assigned to backup C Benny Bengough. Number 10 was young C Bill Dickey. The remaining numbers were given to the pitchers and utility players. To this day, it is almost unheard of for a pitcher to wear a number less than 10. The Washington Senators were the second team to regularly wear numbers on their back. Before the 1931 season, the American League voted to require all clubs to follow suit. However, the National League held out, citing two reasons. (a) The numbers depersonalized the players and (b) true fans recognized their favorites. However, the Senior Circuit relented in the middle of the 1932 season.


Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem is credited with several firsts. (a) First to wear a flexible "inside" chest protector. (b) First to use arm signals to indicate balls and strikes. His chest protector replaced the outside "balloon" protector and allowed him to lean closer over the catcher to call pitches. He also began looking through "the slot" just over the catcher's shoulder nearer the hitter. He persuaded the National League to mandate the inside protector for all its plate umpires. The American League continued to use the balloon protector until 1977. Since the balloon protector forced the ump to stand more straight up and look down over the C's head, the AL became known for a higher strike zone than the NL. Note: I have been unable to find a date for Klem's introduction of the inside chest protector.

Player Homering from Both Sides in a Game

The first player to hit a HR from both sides of the plate in a game was C Wally Schang of the Philadelphia A's on September 8, 1916, against the Yankees. Eddie Murray holds the lifetime mark of 11. Mickey Mantle did it 10 times. Ken Caminiti holds the MLB record for a season with 4 in 1996 with the Padres.


The first teams with pinstripes on their uniforms were the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies in 1911. The Yankees adopted their famous pinstripe design the next season, although they discarded the stripes in 1913 and 1914. They resumed them in 1915 and have worn them at home every season since.

Retired Number

The first Major League Baseball player to have his number retired was Lou Gehrig (#4). The occasion was the famous July 4, 1939, doubleheader when he gave his "Luckiest man on the face of the Earth" speech after being struck with ALS. The first person to have his number retired by two teams was Casey Stengel. The Yankees and the Mets retired #37 to honor his managerial careers with them (although his only distinction for the Mets was that he was their first skipper). For an extensive listing of retired numbers, click here.
Radio Play-by-Play
The first radio play-by-play of a major league game occurred on August 5, 1921 on KDKA in Pittsburgh. Harold Arlin, a Westinghouse employee, used a telephone to report the play-by-play of a game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Pittsburgh Pirates to a special three-station hookup of KDKA, WJZ in Newark NJ, and WBZ in East Springfield MA.
World Series Telecast
The first telecast of a World Series occurred in October 1947. NBC televised the games between the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers to New York, Washington, Philadelphia and Schenectady. The announcers were Bill Slater, Bob Stanton and Bob Edge. Gillette and Ford sponsored the telecasts.

Electronic Scoreboard

The first baseball park to have an electronic scoreboard was Yankee Stadium in 1959. Previously, all scoreboards were hand-operated.
Original Yankee Stadium Scoreboard 1922
Original Yankee Stadium scoreboard 1922
Steel/Concrete Stadium

The first entirely steel and concrete stadium was Shibe Park, home of the Philadelphia Athletics, in 1909. The park was named for Ben Shibe, 50% owner of the A's and partner in A. J. Reach & Company, manufacturers of baseball equipment. Baker Bowl, home of the Phillies only a few blocks away, had a concrete-and-steel grandstand but wooden bleachers. Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, another concrete/steel edifice, didn't open until eleven weeks after Shibe.

Personal note: While in Philadelphia in 2005, I walked from my hotel to the sites of Baker Bowl and Shibe Park. I had entered the street locations into MapQuest to determine the sites because today you'd never know a ballpark inhabited either location. The tenement houses behind RF of Shibe Park that caused a furor – like those outside Wrigley Field – by giving spectators a free view of the action, still stand.

Shibe Park Philadelphia in 1909
Shibe Park when it opened in 1909

Team Statistician

The first full-time statistician hired by a major league club was Alan Roth in 1947 by the Brooklyn Dodgers. Roth, a native of Montreal who had worked as a statistician for the Canadiens of the National Hockey League, approached Branch Rickey, Dodger president, with a proposition. Wouldn't it help a manager if he knew that a certain batter hit .220 against right-handed pitchers and .300 against left-handers?

Intrigued, Rickey hired Roth, who charted every pitch and did the calculations in his head or with a simple calculator throughout his career. He often worked from the broadcast booth, feeding pertinent data to Dodger announcers. He moved with the Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1958 and remained with the club until 1964, when he left to work with NBC and then ABC on their broadcasts.

Woman Owner

The first woman to own a major league team was Helene Britton of the St. Louis Cardinals from 1911 to 1917. She succeeded to the ownership when her uncle, Stanley Robison, died. He had in turn inherited the club from Helene's father Frank Robison upon his death in 1908. "Although she met resistance from most of the male owners, she proved to be a capable executive and oversaw the day-to-day operations of the club." (Baseball’s Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of the National Pastime’s Outrageous Offenders, Lucky Bounces, and Other Oddities” by Floyd Conner)
Helene Britton

Umpiring Staff

The first umpiring staff was assembled in 1879 by National League president William A. Hulbert. Teams could choose arbiters from a group of 20 men. Previously, the two captains agreed on an umpire, who invariably was from the local area. This created suspicions of bias in favor of the hosts and, in some cases, collusion with gamblers. The umpires, who were paid $5 a game starting in 1978, were also given authority to impose fines for misconduct.

Batting Doughnut

Yankees C Elston Howard
Elston Howard, long-time C for the Yankees, invented the batting doughnut, officially called "Elston Howard's On-Deck Bat Weight." The patent was issued in 1967, his 13th and second-to-last season as a ML player. The on-deck hitter places the metal ring around the barrel of the bat to add weight and make the bat feel lighter when he steps into the box. The first club to buy Howard's invention was the St. Louis Cardinals. The device quickly caught on and ended the habit of players swinging two and three bats in the on deck circle. Howard and his backers failed to make the expected windfall on their invention because the bat companies made their own, flooding the market. Howard and company didn't have the money to fight the patent infringement in court.
Numerals on the Front
The 1952 Brooklyn Dodgers were the first team to wear numerals on the front of the uniform. They did so only on the home uniform.
Dodgers Jersey 1952