The Start of it All
America’s pastime has transformed and evolved in ways most modern baseball fans can scarcely imagine. In the game’s early days, bats didn’t have knobs on the end, infields were uneven – resulting in brutally unforgiving hops on a regular basis and players wore cumbersome, three-fingered gloves that made fielding more of a chore than an artform.
Thomas E. Wilson, who came to the United States as a young, scrappy railway worker, helped change all of that when he founded what is known today as Wilson Sporting Goods.
From the beginning, Wilson Sporting Goods has been synonymous with the greatest players in the game. Countless Hall of Famers relied on Wilson-made products during their careers – including the likes of Rogers Hornsby, Ted Williams, Al Kaline, Greg Maddux and Ivan ‘Pudge’ Rodriguez to name a few. That tradition continues to this day, with some of the biggest names in baseball – Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts and Clayton Kershaw all donning Wilson gloves during their historic careers.
Initially known as Schwartzchild & Sulzberger and then Ashland Manufacturing Company, Wilson & Co. was officially established in 1916. The firm became a force in the American meat-packing industry under the leadership of Wilson – and quickly formed an arm of the business dedicated to sporting goods products. By 1921, the Wilson Sporting Goods catalog showcased an array of products – including mitts, gloves, balls, wood bats and bat bags, catcher’s masks and protective gear, uniforms and even bases and plates. Everything a player would need to play the game.
In 1918, Hall of Famer Johnny Evers had his own ‘game model’ glove, designed with shorter finger stalls – a precursor to the iconic Pedroia Fit design made famous by Boston legend Dustin Pedroia in the 2000s.
Today, Wilson Game Model gloves are some of the most popular models in our baseball lineup, but the concept itself is something that’s been at the heart of Wilson ball gloves for over a century.
In the early 20th century, gloves were incredibly bulky and floppy. Catching a ball one-handed as players do today was near-impossible, especially for catchers. At this time, padding in the glove was seen as a critical safety feature for players. With such a heavy focus on this padding, the pockets were incredibly shallow – and, thus, players had to use two hands when making plays.
PLAYER DRIVEN DESIGNS
Since the beginning, Wilson glove designs have been guided by player feedback. In the early 1920s, professionals rarely endorsed products and companies rarely tied players to their equipment, but future Hall of Fame catcher Ray Schalk endorsed the Ray Schalk 507 Catcher’s Mitt, which was pictured with the endorsement of Shalk and seven other American League backstops.
By 1927, Rogers Hornsby – a Cooperstown-bound legend – showcased two gloves, a conventional five-finger model and a three-finger fielder’s glove called a ‘four-finger’. The specialization and design of gloves for players based on their position and preferences had begun.
In the 1940s, Wilson led the innovative charge to transform gloves from hard-to-wield, bulky models of yesteryear into defensive tools, developing new styles, patterns and manufacturing strategies. One of the most groundbreaking features in Wilson gloves at this time was the ‘Big Scoop’ – the early pre-cursor to what we know today as a pre-formed pocket.
Later that decade, youth players couldn’t get enough of Wilson’s three-fingered Ball Hawk, which offered a large web between the thumb and first finger. Learnings from this decade helped turn Wilson into what it is today – a powerhouse for ball gloves.
That player-focused presence came to a head in 1957 with the development and introduction of the A2000.
The A2000: The Glove That Changed It All
Throughout the 1950s, Wilson began to write the book on modern ball gloves. Prior to this time, gloves had shallow pockets, small webs and hard-to-maneuver padded designs. This meant players had to field the ball in front of with two hands – drastically cutting down the number of balls they could make a play on and helping lead to some outlandish offensive performances.
In the spring of 1957, members of the Wilson glove team traveled the nation, seeking feedback and guidance from players of all ages, including those attending Major League Baseball Spring Training, in hopes of revolutionizing how gloves were designed and used. That annual mecca is what we all know today as Glove Day.
Instead of designing gloves based on what they believed the masses needed, the Wilson glove team sat side-by-side with the best professional players in the game, asking questions and taking notes on what each type of player wanted most from a glove. These craftsmen brought their leather-working kits with them – cutting and redesigning gloves on the spot, building them specifically for each player’s game. They then took these designs back to the factory, combining notes and feedback. The end result? The A2000 – the iconic design from which all modern ball gloves stems.
With the A2000, Wilson took advantage of a patent on ‘curved, streamlined back fingers’ – allowing for a never-before-seen shape for a glove. The original A2000 featured many design aspects that have stood the test of time. The pocket moved from its previous location at mid-palm to the base of the web – which was widened.
Not only did the location of the pocket change, but it was lengthened and deepened, making one-handed catches not only possible, but routine. A ‘Snap Action’ feature allowed players to transfer the ball quickly from the pocket to their throwing hand and a reinforced thumb further helped transform gloves from shapeless masses to a more controllable, easy-to-use shape.
Additional features in the A2000 included a narrower heel and Finger Tip Lacing, keeping balls from breaking through the fingertips. A Hold-Tite Wrist Adjustment allowed players to make on-the-go changes with the fit of their glove. That same concept drove later innovations in the A2000 Fastpitch lineup, which debuted nearly a half-century later, allowing elite female athletes to have gloves that fit their game perfectly.
Almost instantly, the A2000 caught fire with players. Not only did it feature a never-before-seen design that made fielding the ball easier than ever, but it came with the backing of a baseball legend in future Hall of Famer Vernon “Lefty” Gomez.
Donning a Wilson glove, Gomez won more than 20 games four times in his 14-year career, spanning 1930 to 1943, leading the league in strikeouts three times. He was named to seven All-Star teams as a member of the New York Yankees, helping the club win five World Series titles. And when his playing days were done, he joined Wilson and led the team responsible for getting the A2000 on the hands of big league ballplayers and sharing their feedback to ensure Wilson gloves continued to meet player needs.
Aso Joins #TeamWilson
As the game evolved and players got bigger, faster and stronger, Wilson continued looking for ways to craft A2000 patterns in ways that would meet players’ ever-changing needs. This led to never-before-seen web styles and design facets that changed what people thought of when they heard the word ‘baseball glove’. Over the past half-century, the man who has led the team is Wilson Ball Glove Master Craftsman Shigeaki Aso.
Today, Aso-san is as much of an icon in the game as the glove he’s poured his life into. He started with Wilson back in 1974 – and has been at the center of every development during that time. One of his first creations? The most popular Wilson model ever – the A2000 1786 pattern, which features an H-Web and a shallow pocket that allows infielders to make plays faster than at any point in the game’s history.
After the Wilson glove team took the A2000 1786 to Spring Training for the first time in 1987, there was an immediate demand for a slightly longer and slightly shorter variation – which are known today at the 1787 and 1788.
In 1993, Wilson introduced and patented Dual Welting, two leather strips along each back finger that creates “a curvature for the fingers which permanently and perfectly shapes the pocket.” Dual Welting single-handedly advanced the game by allowing for one-handed catches, giving players more control than ever over their glove. This groundbreaking innovation paired perfectly with the Dial Fit System™ - which allowed each player to enjoy a customized fit with their glove. Both additions to the A2000 lineup gave players more control and laid the groundwork for some of the biggest innovations yet to come.
In 1997 baseball legend Barry Bonds was coming off his fifth consecutive All-Star campaign when he looked to take his defense to the next level. He wanted to find a way to make his glove lighter – without sacrificing pocket stability and performance.
Aso started with the material used to cover Wilson’s Evolution basketball – knowing it was durable and moisture-resistant. After some fine-tuning, he got the material to the point he felt it could replace leather portions of a baseball glove to help reduce weight. When he delivered the new glove design to Bonds himself and witnessed his reaction, he knew that he’d been successful. And, thus, SuperSkin was born.
By the Best – For the Best
In 2007, Wilson unveiled a new line of gloves – the A2K. These gloves were built on legendary A2000 patterns with finer materials and even finer attention to detail. Designed with Pro Stock Select Leather and a revolutionary Double Palm Construction for unprecedented pocket stability and comfort than ever before, this lineup quickly earned the reputation as the most premium and longest lasting gloves in baseball.
After dominating the baseball space for decades, the A2000 Fastpitch series was released in 2008. Using the same unrivaled materials and craftsmen, Aso and the team created patterns for the female athlete – with smaller hand and finger openings for a proper fit – allowing players to have more control over the ball itself while on the field. Pockets were designed specifically for a softball, rather than a baseball – giving Fastpitch players a glove truly designed for their game. Similar to how the A2000 was designed alongside the best baseball players in the world, these gloves were born from feedback from elite talent, including Team USA gold medalists Cat Osterman, Crystl Bustos, Caitlin Lowe and Lauren Lappin.
In 2009 a similar approach was taken with the first A2000 DP15 GM – the glove crafted with and for Dustin Pedroia who has smaller hands than many big-league players. That design eventually inspired an entire lineup of Pro Stock models designed for players with smaller hands – appropriately called Pedroia Fit™ - including younger players and fastpitch players or those who generally want a more snug fit.
Today, players demand significant control over the design of their glove. This builds on a trend that’s emerged in recent years – one spearheaded by the Wilson glove team: customization and personalization. Wilson launched its first custom glove site in 2011. The industry-leading WilsonCustomGloves.com is used by amateur and professional players alike. As of 2019, players can personalize over 80 A2K and A2000 patterns in two locations and customize every detail from the stitching to the laces and leather along with the fit and function.
Wilson took another revolutionary step and now offers SuperSkin in eight colors and released three colors of a second SuperSkin pattern, SuperSnakeSkin, in 2019. Pro Stock and Pro Stock Select Leather are available in a SnakeSkin style as well – adding even more pop to the A2000 or A2K model.
Are you ready to write your own chapter in the Wilson history?