What Urinals, Jock Straps, Flip Shades and Eye Black Teach Us About Baseball
It's become a cliché to say everything has a story, but in baseball, you could make the argument that everything really does. Even the baseball itself is a story -- one of geography and symbolism -- an almost holy relic of American culture. Sportswriter Steve Rushin tells the story of these objects in his latest book, The 34-Ton Bat.
The ball, filled with an Indonesian cork, is wrapped in an outer core of Iberian rubber planted inside a mantle of New Zealand wool and American cotton thread.
The phrase "around the horn" references the dangerous voyage sailors used to make around Cape Horn.
The glove, born in the 1870s, which began in the hands of catchers, but slowly made its way to all parts of the field. Much to the horror of "purists," who memorialized their resistant machismo in questionable verse:
We wore no mattress on our hands,
No cage upon our face;
We stood right up and caught the ball,
With courage and with grace.
The flannel uniforms, which, like medieval torture devices, almost doubled in weight from a player's sweat. But these itchy outfits provided an ideal canvas for the beautiful angled scripts first worn in the professional leagues in 1902 by Oakland and San Francisco -- turned immortal by the Dodgers script in 1938.
The protective cup, which was marketed in the early 20th century by a guy who got speared in the groin during an opera only to start traveling the country encouraging buyers to kick him in the groin.
The batting helmets, which - in early renditions - were entirely inflatable.
The stadium seats, which were crafted by the same company who designed the seat Rosa Parks refused to give up on a bus in Montgomery in 1955.
And then there's the story of Gladys Gooding, organ player for the Brooklyn Dodgers, who pioneered stadium music through a blend of clever coded messages, inside jokes, and cutting jabs at umpires and opposing players.
- Steve Rushin - author, The 34-Ton Bat: The Story of Baseball as Told Through Bobbleheads, Cracker Jacks, Jockstraps, Eye Black, and 375 Other Strange and Unforgettable Objects. Rushin is a contributor to Sports Illustrated and the 2006 National Sportswriter of the Year.
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