April 1, 2013— -- My affection for a very old baseball glove I've owned since I was a kid was tinged with greed this spring and I set out to determine how old the glove is and what it might be worth. I fleetingly envisioned paying off my second child's college education. Buying a textbook is more like it.
It is, in the technical parlance of experts in the collection of vintage mitts, a "Charlie Brown" type of glove.
I've owned it since the fifth or sixth grade and as a kid I never liked the flat, floppy glove. But now I pull it out before opening day each year and marvel over its suppleness and how it responds so effortlessly to my hand.
To be exact, it is a Wilson Bob Elliott, model number A2140G. It is small and the fingers are not laced together. It is only a distant cousin to the oversized prosthetics being used by pro ball players today.
"The Wilson Bob Elliott is a very common old glove," Arthur Katsapis told me in an email. "It is a glove that almost every collector runs across in becoming a baseball glove collector."
Katsapis has been collecting vintage baseball memorabilia for 20 years and his website declares that he is tired of giving free assessments, but he will do so in exchange for a $15 contribution to one of several charities he lists. I chose the St. Francis Dining Hall, which feeds the hungry in Portland, Ore.
He found my glove listed in Wilson's 1952 catalog for $12.50, making it a mid-price range mitt for the time. The glove would fetch about $50 today, but he suggested it would be nice for display.
Before finding Katsapis, however, I came across numerous sites online offering to buy or sell vintage gloves, and found a web of collectors who have a love affair with old gloves, but they are contending with the digital age.
"The Internet has made getting gloves easier but many of us would agree that it's taken the personality out of the hobby," Katsapis said. "We used to have glove get-togethers, we used to talk on the phone, we used to trade boxes of gloves. Now it's eBay."
For vintage baseball glove collectors the value is more in the passion for the game and its history than the money. Katsapis rhapsodizes over seeing Mickey Mantle's glove, "The one he used to make 'the catch' in the '56 World Series to save Don Larsen's perfect game....It's amazing -- specially made for Mantle."
David Seideman, another collector who is also editor-in-chief of Audubon magazine, estimates there are probably a "few thousand hard-core collectors," and their ranks have been bolstered by aging baby boomers.
"Basically, they are collecting their memories," Seideman said.
The increased interest has produced a lot more of the common old gloves, like my Bob Elliott, pushing down their value. Most go for less than $100 with a few as high as $600.
But having people ransack their attics has also flushed out some valuable gems, like a Duck Web glove, the "holy grail for collectors," Seideman said, a model that was around briefly in the 1930s. Or a Tornado Palm glove. Those rarities can go for as much as $7,500, he said.
Seideman remembers his own first glove, a Mickey Mantle model, and how he tortured it with creams, wrapped it in a belt and put it under his mattress and slept on it to create that perfect pocket.
Interest is high enough in old style gloves that some companies are making replicas of the antique mitts for those who haven't the time, patience or luck to find the antique they are seeking.
The value of any collectible goes up if it comes with a good story. And my glove is enhanced by its history. As with any good baseball tale, it's a father-son thing.
My old man was the master of the tall tale and for years he convinced my brother and I that he used to pitch for the Yankees and could throw either hand depending on the batter. He would act it out while playing catch with us, switching the glove to his other hand and throwing lefty. "Oooh, there he goes, there he goes," he would tell us, mimicking the supposed Yankee Stadium crowd.
When we finally called him out on that whopper he conceded he exaggerated. It was a Yankee farm team. That satisfied us for a few more years.
He was intent on making my brother a pitcher and came home one evening with a gift, a glove he claimed once belonged to a Washington Senator. Not the political kind of senator, but the woeful defunct National League team that was still playing at the time. The guy didn't need the glove any more because he had a new one. It was a beautiful glove, nut brown, broken in, and the envy of the neighborhood.
That Christmas I got a catcher's mitt. My father was apparently creating a battery. And when I went out to play Christmas day, he cut out the web and sewed the thumb to the fat finger part of the glove. He was sure it would make me a better player by making it harder to catch the ball.
He made it impossible. I was left with a pillow that had a faint indentation of a baseball. When he saw how upset I was, he told me that's how Yogi Berra trained. The only time that glove got used was when we needed second base.
So when he came home one night and said he had a glove just like my brother's, I was thrilled. I ran out to the car to get it and was appalled to find this flat, old-timey thing. I ventured only once onto a diamond with that glove, but took such abuse it spent the next few years in the back of my closet.
I don't know what happened to the catcher's glove or the glove that I used for my high school career. But for some reason, I kept that old mitt that my father gave me. It conjures up all those ridiculous stories he would tell. Priceless.