19th Century Baseball
Catcher's Equipment

Excerpts Contributed by Robert H. Schaefer, Member of SABR

New York Clipper, Aug. 25, 1877:

INJURIES TO CATCHERS. - It is really surprising, in view of the serious injuries catchers, facing swift pitching close behind the bat, are subjected to, that the wire-mask - a perfect protection against such injuries - is not in more general use among professional catchers. The idea seems to prevail among a prejudiced few of the fraternity that it is not plucky or manly to wear the mask. It is nonsensical to run the risk of such severe injuries simply because a pack of foolish boys may ridicule you. Look at Clapp of the St. Louis nine, who now lies ill and disabled with a broken cheek-bone, due entirely to the fact of his not wearing a protective mask. We regard the Harvard collegian's invention as one of the best things out for saving a catcher from dangerous injuries. These masks, improved by substituting an elastic fastening for the strap, can be had at Peck & Snyders's. (See advertisement at right)


The Sporting News, Nov. 1, 1890

CHEST PROTECTORS. The Difficulty of Introducing This New Indisposable Article. The catcher's breast-protector, or the sheepskin, as it is often contemptuously referred to, is neither neat nor gaudy, but, like a trick mule in a kicking match, it gets there just the same. The Cincinnati Enquirer says on this point:

This most useful piece of base ball paraphernalia had a hard time getting a foothold. The catchers were slow in adopting it, and the spectators at first guyed it as baby-play. Clements, the great catcher of the Philadelphia League team was the first to wear a catcher's protector in a game before a Cincinnati crowd. He was then back-stopping Jersey Bakely with the Keystones Unions, of Philadelphia, in 1884. Considerable fun as made of the protector, and the writer distinctly remembers that it was made the subject of adverse newspaper comment by one of the best base ball authorities in America. Now it is different. A catcher's protector is of much importance to a back stop as are his mask and gloves. In other days a visitor to the dressing room of a ball team when the players were getting ready for a game did not need to ask who were the catchers. He could tell them by the black and blue spots that appeared on various parts of their anatomy, the result of hard thumps from unruly foul tips. The protector, mask and padded glove have made the life of a catcher a bed of roses to what it used to be.

Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, Oct. 15, 1914

A Woman's Gift to Baseball
Charles Bennett, famous as a catcher for the noted Detroit team of 1886-1887, delights in telling the story of how his wife made the first catcher's breast protector. it was a constant source of worry to Mrs. Bennett to watch her husband acting as a target for the speedy twirlers of 30 years ago and she determined to invent some sort of an armor to prevent the hot shots from the pitcher playing a tattoo on the ribs of her better half. After much planning, assisted by practical suggestions from her husband, she shaped a pad which answered the purpose and which bore some resemblance to the protector of the present day. In a private tryout it worked well and Charles, after permitting the ball to strike him repeatedly without feeling a jar, decided to use it in public. The innovation created almost as great a sensation as Bresnahan's shin guards, but it made a hit with the catchers and they were quite ready to follow Bennett's lead.

1886 cartoon mocking all of the protective gear that was being developed for catchers (left) and a sample of this body protection (right).

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