Glove Love Part II: Your Glove, Your Leather
Glove Love: A Multi-Part Series on Baseball Glove Appreciation, Purchase, and Care
Part II: Your Glove, Your Leather
By: Marty Winkler
Baseball gloves have come a long way since Charlie Waitt made gloves mainstream. Between different sizes, different web types, and even different types of leather, a baseball glove is a fully-customizable piece of equipment. While at its heart, a baseball glove is a simple tool to play a simple game, what goes into a glove is fairly complex. This series is designed to help you understand what goes into a glove and help make purchasing one fast, easy, and most of all, fun! After all, baseball is a game. And games are supposed to be fun.
Baseball gloves are primarily made of leather. But the strength and quality of the leather can very greatly from glove-to-glove. The type of leather used can have drastic effects on a glove: How it looks, how it feels, how hard it is to break-in, how much it costs, and how long it lasts.
Glove leather primarily falls into four groups: Full-Grain, Kipskin, Steerhide, and Cowhide.
Full-grain leather is a cowhide or steerhide that maintains the natural grain of the leather. Gloves that use full-grain tend to be stiffer and heavier, resulting in a longer break-in time. Full-grain leather also tends to be on the pricier side, resulting in a more expensive glove. However, this leather is known for its strength and durability so while you will be paying a higher price, you are getting a glove that is meant to last season after season.
Kipskin leather (often called ‘Kip' for short) is primarily found in high-end gloves and is one of the most popular leather-type among professional ballplayers that play infield positions. They are nearly as durable as top-grain leather gloves but are much lighter and smoother making for a much shorter break-in process.
This leather is taken from the back shoulder of full-grown steers, which makes this leather heavy and durable. Steerhide is also particularly tough, making for a lengthy break-in process. Though the hard work ends up being worth it, as steerhide is one of the toughest (and fairly priced) leathers around, making it a popular choice for pros and amateurs alike.
Cowhide is as basic as it comes when talking about baseball gloves. Cowhide is not as durable as steerhide but does have a shorter break-in time. If you are playing recreationally or have a young player just getting into the game, a cowhide glove is a great place to start.
While most ball gloves are made from these four leathers, gloves made of other types are not unheard of. Buffalo and kangaroo leather are becoming more common as they are both tough and lightweight. Some gloves even use synthetic materials, such as mesh. Synthetics are most commonly used in catcher's mitts as it greatly reduces the weight of the glove but maintains its flexibility and durability.
In the end, there really is no wrong answer to what your baseball glove should be made out of. It all comes down to how it feels to you. Because it's your glove, and your glove should be an extension of yourself. Journalist and baseball fanatic, Mike Barnicle once stated, "It's your glove, your baseball glove. It's got a soul, a memory all its own, and a future that never fades because it has never let go of the grasp the past has on you and so many others."
Whatever leather you choose, it's the correct choice. Why? Because it's your baseball glove, and no one else's.