In a sense, baseball players are a lot like other craftsmen.
They have tools they become comfortable with over the years, and it’s hard to make a change when a manufacturer discontinues or alters a product.
That’s sort of what has happened to Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy this season, although it was actually baseball’s umpires who led to a change in Hardy’s most treasured piece of equipment.
Since he broke into the majors in 2005, Hardy used a Rawlings Pro 200 4K 11-1/2 inch model glove. It’s made of “kipskin leather” and is a cream color. If you Google “Rawlings Pro 200 4K” you can quickly find the “J.J. Hardy Game Day Glove” for $329.99.
There’s just one problem. Hardy can’t really use it in a game. Or at least not now.
Apparently last year umpires began complaining that the cream color made it difficult for them to view the ball entering the glove — affecting calls such as short hops versus catching the ball in the air.
“Umpires didn’t want us using this color anymore because they have a hard time seeing the ball go in because it is kind of the same color as the ball — but not really,” said Hardy, who won his first Rawlings Gold Glove Award in 2012.
This spring, Rawlings told Hardy they would still make him his version of the glove, but they couldn’t guarantee that umpires would allow him to use it. They told the same thing to infielders, pitchers and outfielders that used the creamed color leather.
“So it’s not an official rule,” Hardy said. “But I don’t want to push it.”
So Hardy is now using a Rawlings Pro 200 4RT. It’s supposedly an exact replica, just a rust colored glove. And, yet, Hardy senses that it is different.
“It is the same glove; same leather, just a different color. And I just don’t like it as much,” Hardy said. “I don’t know why. I don’t know if it is the same. Just like everything else it is a feel thing. You have to feel good and comfortable.”
Baseball players are a superstitious group. So could the “difference” just be in his head?
“It could be,” he said with a smile. “Baseball people will tell you gloves are a feel thing. And it just doesn’t feel the same.”
There could be a silver lining to this off-color story, though. Hardy met with a Rawlings representative in Anaheim earlier this month and was told that Philadelphia’s Chase Utley and St. Louis’ David Freese still use a cream-colored glove.
The rep took a picture of Hardy’s, and they sent it to umpiring headquarters for a ruling. A hopeful Hardy has ordered a couple of his old models from the manufacturer, and he hopes to get an answer soon.
“I’m still using the other one. It’s broken in,” he said. “It’s all right. But I definitely like the old one better."