Since 1919, there have been two key innovations in the baseball glove industry. Bill Doak and Rawlings put a web between the thumb and index finger in 1919, and then in 1957, Wilson contributed the hinged heel and deep web that is now the standard. With these revolutionary changes, baseball gloves became less a means of protecting the player’s hand, and more of a tool, an implement specifically designed for catching fly balls, snaring line drives, and scooping ground balls.
The baseball glove looks, and more importantly functions, about the same today as it did many decades ago. Companies have experimented with man-made materials (think Wilson’s Superskin), hoping to shave an ounce or two from the glove or increase its durability, but even this is a largely cosmetic innovation. So too are the overwhelming customization options available today. Yes, everybody’s glove is a “1 of 1” these days, but when the ball hits the pocket, that rainbow snakeskin glove, with a bible verse and three flags sewn in, catches the baseball the same as it would have in 1957.
CARPENTER’S SYNTHETIC SHIFT
Enter Scott Carpenter. Scott got his start in the footwear industry, but pivoted to baseball gloves in the early 2000’s. Scott began making gloves entirely out of synthetic materials. In addition to the advantages provided by a lighter, more durable synthetic glove, Scott also custom-fit each glove to the hand of the player to wear it. You can read more about Scott’s backstory as well as the technology he and Marucci build into each glove here and here.
I reached out to Scott a little over a year ago after reading about Carpenter Trade and found in him a kindred spirit. As a professional ballplayer, I appreciate a good glove, but I fell in love with gloves when I began taking them apart, repairing them, and putting them back together. I didn’t really understand how and why baseball gloves worked until I had one sitting in complete disarray before me, with nothing but a needle and some lace to guide me home. Scott opened my eyes to the higher order considerations of baseball gloves – stress points, wear patterns, ergonomics of the palm and fingertips – and how the conventional baseball glove fails to address, or optimize, some of these concerns. MarketWatch’s recent article goes more into this, and What Pros Wear’s previous article provide some context and imagery for how Scott has engineered a lighter, more personalized, and more responsive glove and how he and Marucci are scaling these improvements to a wider audience.
Scott and Eric Walbridge, VP of soft goods for Marucci, were kind enough to send me one of the first production C-MOD gloves – these add a second level of customization to the glove building process, meaning customers can order any model or size glove, design their preferred exterior, and then specify the sizing of the interior. From a production standpoint, Scott and Marucci realized that it would be impossible to take a mold of every customer’s hand and then build a glove around that, but that by offering a range of stock sizes, they could get nearly the same level of custom fit.
What follows is my experience with the C-MOD, a glove that, with a few small bits of leather (and other stuff) may have a Bill Doak-sized impact on the glove industry.
MY IMPRESSIONS OF THE MARUCCI C-MOD
Out of the box, the C-MOD looked like any other beautiful, well-made, premium baseball glove. The only apparent differences are the lack of thumb and pinky loops poking through the shell, no stamping on the palm, and the paracord holding the wrist strap closed. All of these, I later learned, are both functional and aesthetic choices. Thumb and pinky loops are redundant given the improved fit, and the palm is left clean to preserve the supple, spongy qualities of the leather that are lost if heat and pressure are applied to stamp a logo on it. Finally, leather lace tends to stretch out, so by using paracord, Scott has ensured a snug fit on the wrist even as the glove breaks in and sustains heavy wear. The black paracord also pays homage to the original Carpenter Trade gloves, which were laced entirely with this material.
In my initial conversations with Scott, the way he described the removal of dead space in the glove and the use of synthetics made me think that slipping a C-MOD on was going to feel a lot like slipping your thumb into the padded thumb sleeve popularized by Wilson. For the record, I felt that this type of thumb sleeve restricted my thumb such that I couldn’t squeeze the glove in the way that felt most natural to me. There’s no denying that it feels comfortable, but I never found it to be practical. As it relates to the C-MOD, I was pretty spot on, but also quite a bit off base. The ring, middle, and index fingers slide comfortably into finger stalls that do indeed feel like the Wilson thumb sleeve. The stalls hug these three fingers. The fit is snug – tight enough to keep the fingers from wiggling around, but loose enough to remain comfortable. The thumb and pinky finger stalls are where you can feel the technology inside the glove shell. Scott has engineered finger inserts that sit inside these finger stalls and lock the thumb and pinky into position within the glove. These two stalls are tighter than the other three finger stalls because these two fingers do the brunt of the work when articulating the glove. The last joint of the thumb and the pinky rest on these inserts, and the end result is a tremendous amount of leverage when opening and closing the glove.
It’s worth noting that I squeeze the glove thumb to ring finger, so I use a fair bit of both thumb and pinky to close a glove, whereas a player with a shallower break-in might use less pinky and thus will benefit more from the snug ring, middle, and index finger stalls in controlling the glove. A typical outfield break-in pattern, thumb to pinky, will benefit the most it seems from the increased control provided by the inserts. I have to imagine that players who wear their gloves shifted, with both pinky and ring finger in the pinky stall, will experience a similar degree of leverage and will be more comfortable doing so, given that Scott has designed a finger shift insert that contours to both fingers in the pinky stall. Finger shift will be an option on itself in C-MOD gloves, so no longer will players be forced to squeeze two fingers into a stall designed for one.
For whatever it’s worth, this is how I break in, wear, and close my gloves: I prefer to catch the ball just about on the base knuckle of the index finger (red) and wrap the thumb and pinky around the ball. As a result, my thumb and pinky sit closer to the binding of the glove, further from the web (teal). I mention this only because I felt that the C-MOD’s pinky insert forced my pinky more towards the center of the stall than it would be in a traditional glove (yellow). It’s not uncomfortable and I only really noticed it when I put on a brand new Rawlings and tried to close it. My fingers naturally gravitate towards the bottom of the stalls to generate the most leverage in squeezing the thumb to the pinky. This may be a nearly imperceptible difference when you consider how dramatically different the C-MOD’s interior already is, but it speaks to the fact that the C-MOD tells you where to put your fingers far more than a traditional glove.
Perhaps as a result of the much more locked-in fit of the glove, in the two weeks I’ve spent breaking the glove in, I can feel the palm liner taking on the topography of my hand. In a more traditional glove with more space in the palm and finger stalls, the hand and fingers can wander. The glove won’t sit on your hand the same way each time you put it on. With the C-MOD, all that dead space has been eliminated, so once you establish where your hand likes to rest within the glove, that’s where it will be every single time you put it on. Remember the paracord wrist closure? That helps keep the heel of the hand from sliding around in the glove, as does the microfiber material that lines much of the C-MOD’s interior.
You can see here the extent to which this microfiber material is built into the C-MOD’s hand opening, as well as the wear pattern on the faux shearling (Rawlings uses a synthetic material called BOA that imitates the properties of a shearling wrist strap). Rawlings’s BOA material inevitably absorbs sweat and flattens out, taking on the contour of the hand but allowing for more wiggle room in doing so. The C-MOD microfiber wicks sweat and maintains its spongy properties, providing gentle pressure on the back of the hand, thus keeping it pressed into the heel of the glove.
The C-MOD is notably lighter than a Rawlings Pro Preferred, which is what I have on hand for comparison purposes. It’s not so light as to feel like a toy and not so much that you’d immediately notice it, but if you had two gloves of the same model to compare, you’d likely choose the C-MOD as the lighter of the two. This reduction in weight is at least in part due to the thinner, or nonexistent, plastic finger stays in the C-MOD. In traditional gloves, these plastic stays run nearly the full length of the thumb and pinky in order to provide rigidity and control all along the finger. The custom-engineered thumb and pinky inserts in the C-MOD eliminate the need for these plastic stays and the weight they add. Consequently, the thumb and pinky of a C-MOD are much easier to bend than those of a traditional glove. I can bend the tip of the thumb to near perpendicular to the base of the thumb with ease on the C-MOD. I need two hands and some leverage to do the same to a Pro Preferred.
As is the case with almost any design choice, this is a tradeoff that Scott and Marucci decided was worth it, and perhaps moot, given the added finger control provided by the snug fit and finger inserts. I prefer a slight flare to both the thumb and pinky, which both the C-MOD and a traditional glove shape to and hold just fine. It will be interesting to see how the C-MOD accepts more aggressive break-in patterns, particularly on outfield models that demand rigidity and control at the tips of longer fingers.
Every glove has its golden age, where it’s been broken in just right and affords the player total control over his tool, but has not yet gone floppy. I foresee the C-MOD extending this phase of each glove’s life. When a glove goes, it generally all goes at once. A new set of laces can restore some of the original form to the glove, but there is a delicate balance to matching brand new leather laces with a glove that has hundreds of games worth of wear on it. You might change the way the glove feels if the skeleton is brand new but the flesh is too supple. All this is to say that with the addition of the finger inserts and streamlined finger stalls, the C-MOD has a backbone that is likely to last longer than that of a conventional glove.
My thought here is that giving a fielder more control of the glove at the fingertips increases the likelihood that he’ll be able to hold onto that snow cone catch in deep left center or corral that vicious one hopper. If the ball goes inside the glove, it should stay inside the glove. Time will tell if this is truly the case with the C-MOD, but it is clear that this glove was engineered to the specifications pertinent to the catching of baseballs, not die-cut according to a pattern and assembled the same way gloves have always been made.
In a game that is increasingly infatuated with player development, with challenging the status quo, innovation in equipment has been remarkably sparse. The baseball bat got an axe handle because someone looked at the bat as a tool for hitting a baseball and decided it could be made more ergonomic. Scott Carpenter looked at the baseball glove and thought the same thing. We don’t blame the third baseman who dives to his right for a ball down the line that glances off his glove, and we don’t blame the glove. But why not? Why can’t the glove be lighter? Why can’t it open and close more efficiently? Why can’t something that is supposed to be an extension of the hand actually function that way?