Everything You Need to Know About Little League Gloves (But Didn't Know Who to Ask)
Jan 31, 2002 (Updated Jul 11, 2002)
Popular Products in Sport and OutdoorThe Bottom Line Size does matter!
The slap of baseball on glove leather is second only to the crack of the bat as a sound that means “baseball.” Hearing the sound instantly transports many of us back to our childhoods, playing catch with our fathers in backyards.
Now, you’re the parent, and your kid needs a ball glove. When you were a kid, there were essentially two choices: Rawlings youth model or Wilson youth model. So you are unprepared for what you find when you journey to your local sporting goods megastore and discover wave upon wave of "youth" models from six or seven different manufacturers. Now what?
Relax. I've been there, both often and recently. Here's what you need to know.
GLOVE OR MITT?
Although the terms are often used interchangeably by people at all levels of baseball, gloves and mitts are actually two different things. Gloves have fingers. Mitts don't. (Think "mittens.") Mitts are worn by catchers and first basemen; everyone else wears a glove.
Little League requires that all catchers wear a catcher's mitt. First basemen can wear either a first baseman's mitt or a glove.
Catcher's mitts and first baseman's mitts look similar but are actually designed quite differently. Catcher's mitts are designed for maximum protection, with extremely thick leather in the palm and thick padding all around the sides. Catcher's mitts have shallow pockets so a catcher can get rid of the ball quickly in case the runner steals, and they are rounded and wide to make it easier to block a ball in the dirt. First baseman's mitts offer more protection than a standard fielder's glove, but they are far less heavy than catcher's mitts. They are elongated to assist a standing first baseman in scooping low throws out of the dirt, and they have deep pockets to help keep the ball from popping out.
Gloves come in different styles as well, but they are far less specialized than mitts. For adults, smaller gloves with shallower pockets are used for infielders, with the smallest and shallowest usually being used by second basemen. Small gloves are easier to maneuver quickly, and shallow pockets make for quicker transfers to the throwing hand. Larger gloves with deeper pockets are generally used by outfielders. Pitchers and third basemen usually use an intermediate style. For Little Leaguers, though, glove size usually corresponds to the size of the kid, not the glove's intended use.
In addition, the webbing of the glove can be "open", meaning that it has areas you can see through, or "closed." Whether to choose one web style or the other at the Little League level is purely personal preference. At higher levels, pitchers usually choose "closed" web designs in order to prevent the batters from seeing their finger placement on the ball. Both infielders and outfielders use both types of webs at all levels.
Gloves also come in a variety of colors, ususally brown and black but sometimes blue and even red. Multi-colored patterns have increased in popularity in recent years. In any event, color is purely a matter of style. Keep in mind, though, that most baseball leagues prohibit the use of a multi-colored glove by the pitcher. Laces and brand emblems do not seem to be part of this rule. If you child is likely to pitch, stick with a glove that has leather that is all one color.
A glove's size is measured by the length of the glove along a line from the top of the index finger, through the pocket to the bottom edge of the glove. Most gloves have the size printed somewhere on the glove, often in the palm or along the back edge of the pinky finger. Little League Baseball prohibits the use of gloves larger than 12 inches. Your child's glove should be substantially smaller than this--12 inches is larger than the gloves used by most Major League infielders.
Little Leaguers should use smaller, not larger, gloves. Resist the temptation to let your child use that old, well broken-in glove you used in high school or for Slo-pitch. Larger gloves may seem easier to use when you are just playing catch, but in a game it is different. In games, everything happens much faster, and your kid will be trying to catch and field balls in all sorts of different positions. Smaller gloves are easier to maneuver and easier to dig a ball out of after the catch. That's why Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra uses an 11 1/4" glove; other major-league middle infielders use gloves as small as 10 ˝ inches.
You can figure that you'll need to buy your kid a new glove at least twice in a typical progression from Teeball to Major Division. Below is a chart of recommended glove sizes. If your child is particularly large or small for his or her age, adjust the sizes accordingly, but I recommend a maximum of 11 1/4" in Little League no matter how big the kid.
Level (age).............Glove size
Teeball (5-6)..........8 to 9 inches
Farm (6-8)..............9 to 9 ˝ inches
Jr. Minors (8-10).....9 ˝ to 10 inches
Sr. Minors (9-12)....10 to 11 inches
Majors (10-12)........10 to 11.25 inches; 11.5 for 1st basemen
Catchers' mitts are measured by circumference. However, for some reason, catchers' mitts often do not have their size printed on them. But it is particularly important that a young catcher have a glove that is small and light enough to maneuver easily. All the major manufacturers offer "youth" sized catchers' mitts; stick with these rather than an adult sized mitt. Youth-sized catchers' mitts are usually 31" or 32", while adult-sized catchers mitts range from 33" to 36".
First baseman's mitts are measured the same way as fielding gloves.
Manufacturers usually tout a glove's materials whenever they are made of something considered "premium" enough to provide a selling point. If a glove is made of full-grain leather or premium steerhide, the two top grades, the manufacturer will definitely print that fact prominently on the glove.
Top-quality leather makes the best gloves, but the reality is, for a kid's glove that will be outgrown and discarded after two years, premium materials are nice but not crucial. If you want to hand down gloves between siblings, though, buy the best glove you can find.
Leather tanning processes
The original and ancient method of turning animal skins into leather is known as "vegetable tanning," which means the skins are tanned with tree bark or tree-bark extracts containing tannin. Vegetable-tanned leather undergoes a lengthy tanning process that results in a leather that is flexible and has superior moldability. The other primary method of tanning, invented in the 1860's, is called "chrome tanning," in which the skins are tanned with mineral salts. Chrome tanning can be done in a fraction of the time of vegetable tanning, and results in a stronger, more abrasion-resistant leather. Almost all baseball gloves today are chrome tanned leather. "Oil tanning" is a specialized process that is rarely seen today; to my knowledge it is used exclusively in split leathers such as chamois and buckskin. Rawlings claims to use oil-tanned leather in some of their gloves; more likely the leather is chrome tanned and then oiled.
Leather grades and types
Buffalo skin. Buffalo skin is used by only one manufacturer: Nokona. Buffalo skin is said to be tougher and lighter than full grain steer hide, but breaks in just as easily. Most people aren't going to want to get a Little Leaguer a buffalo skin glove, but hey--if you want it, it's out there.
Full grain leather. "Full-grain leather" is steer hide or cow hide leather on which the entire natural grain remains. It will either be the original thickness of the skin, or the bottom grain (the meat side) will have been sanded off until the leather is the desired thickness. This grade is uncommon in youth gloves, but is readily available in premium adult gloves that come in sizes suitable for older Little Leaguers. Although in theory full grain leather can be any weight, in practice, gloves made of full grain leather tend to be stiffer and heavier than other types, and require longer break-in periods. These leathers are rarely pre-oiled, because the players who buy gloves of this quality usually want to apply their own particular break-in method. Once broken in, full grain leather gloves are superior in both performance and durability. Catchers' mitts are almost always made of full grain leather or premium steer hide.
Top grain leather. "Top grain leather" is a misnomer; it is usually leather in which the "top" grain (the fur side) is sanded off until the leather is a desired thickness, then the leather is filled or treated and an artificial grain is introduced, usually by pressing. Many gloves probably are top grain leather, but the manufacturers may not always use the phrase to describe the leather. Often they use a brand name instead. Nokona is the only manufacturer that says its gloves use "top grain leather." In Nokona's case, the leather is heavy weight and very durable. Wilson's "Quick-Stop" leather is also a top grain leather; it is medium weight and has average durability.
Premium steer hide. Steer hide, which comes from neutered bulls, is somewhat stronger than cow hide. Manufacturers are free to call any steer hide "premium," but in practice they reserve this designation for their better grades of heavy weight steer hide, usually top grain, occasionally full grain. Gloves made of this leather tend to be stiff and somewhat heavy, with longer break-in periods. These leathers are sometimes pre-oiled. Many manufacturers have gone away from premium steerhide both because the market now demands softer gloves, and to save money because few consumers know the difference.
Unlike the term "full grain," "premium steer hide" and "top grain leather" are terms that do not have standardized meanings, so examine the material and use your informed judgment.
Steer hide. Some manufacturers' have a grade of steer hide not designated as "premium" or with a brand name. Steerhide will invariably be heavy-weight and durable.
Leather or cow hide. "Leather" means cow hide, usually medium weight, but sometimes heavy weight. This category encompasses the greatest range of quality. Cow hide performs well but will break in faster and wear out faster than steer hide. Usually this grade will come "pre-oiled" or otherwise treated to "reduce break-in time." Cow hide is probably the best all-around choice for a youth glove once your child hits 10 years old. Leather glove bargains abound in the $25-$40 range.
Kangaroo skin. Kangaroo skin is stronger than steer hide of any grade, and weighs a fraction as much. It is new to the baseball glove market, though, and what grades are being used is anybody's guess. Some manufacturers use kangaroo only in premium gloves; others use it only in budget gloves. Early reports say it breaks in easily but doesn't hold its shape as well as the better cow hide or steer hide grades. Often gloves are made with steer hide or cow hide palms for durability, and kangaroo skin backs for light weight
Pigskin. Pigskin is far less durable than cowhide. However, it is more flexible and breaks in far more easily than cowhide, and costs less. Pigskin can be ideal for a youngster who wants a good-performing glove but who may grow out of it in a year. Ideal for Jr. Minors.
Man-made materials. The lowest-cost gloves consist of man-made materials. Try to get a glove with a palm and pocket that looks and feels like leather. Avoid slick, glossy plastic, which performs poorly and wears out quickly. Sometimes you can find good, inexpensive gloves that have leather palms and man-made backs; such designs are a good compromise. Also good bets are gloves that are engineered to make closure easier, such as the Mizuno V-Flex and Wilson Pro-Pleat. Acceptable in Teeball and Farm.
Laces. The only proper material to use in lacing baseball gloves is rawhide, the most durable and abrasion resistant material available. Some manufacturers use plain leather or even vinyl in the lacing of their budget gloves. Vinyl lacing should be avoided like the plague at any level above teeball. It won't last a full season.
The intent of this article is to give the reader a general guide to choosing a Little League glove or mitt, not to rate specific styles. However, I do have a few comments that may be useful. Below is my personal ranking of manufacturers based on my perception of overall quality throughout the lineup in youth sizes. As the manufacturers all make excellent top-quality gloves, this ends up being skewed towards the quality at at the lower ends of the lineups--where most youth purchases are made. Rankings notwithstanding, all the manufacturers make at least some high-quality gloves. For the record, I currently own a Wilson glove despite ranking Wilson 6th out of 7. (I also own a Mizuno catcher's mitt.) My kids also own Wilson gloves. At one time or another I have also owned or used gloves from Rawlings, SSK, Nokona, and Easton.
The only major glove manufacturer not discussed is Zett. For some reason, I just haven't run across a Zett glove in my 30+ years of playing and coaching.
Nokona is a premium glove manufacturer whose roots extend to the dawn of baseball. Nokona makes gloves out of top grain leather, cow hide, combinations of kangaroo and top grain or cow hide, and the ultimate in glove material: buffalo skin. Nokona's buffalo skin gloves, if you can find them, command prices over $225. Nokona's kangaroo-skin hybrid gloves are the next most expensive; they command a premium price over even the top grain models. Nokona "top grain leathers" are heavier and slightly more expensive than their "cow hide" gloves. Nevertheless, Nokona's cow hide gloves are heavy weight, and are generally considered equivalent in quality to other manufacturers' steer hide or even premium steer hide gloves.
Nokona's leathers are "vegetable-tanned." To my knowledge, no other manufacturer uses pure vegetable tanned leather. (Easton may be an exception with its "Walnut tanned" leathers.)
Nokona is unique among glove manufacturers in that you can order a particular glove pattern with a choice of open or closed web, and often with a choice of the leather as well. Nokona's style designations are consistent across its line, with the leather type designated in letters after the model style. Buffalo skin is designated BF. Top Grain leathers are designated ST ("Saddletan"), X ("Buckskin), and G ("Gusher"). Leather styles (all heavy-weight) are designated OW ("Banana Tan"), B ("Black"), and W ("Walnut"). Nokona also makes combination kangaroo-leather gloves designated K (kangaroo) and KB ("Black Kangaroo"). New for 2002, Nokona makes a pre-oiled leather it calls "Pebble-Milled" designated "EXP." Nokona also designates its gloves -CW for "closed web" and -OW for "open web."
If it's important to you, Nokona makes all its gloves in the USA. All other manufacturers except Mizuno assemble their gloves overseas. (Mizuno's better glove lines are made in the US.)
Nokona makes three glove patterns that are small enough for youth baseball players: AMG66, 10"; AMG125, 10 ˝"; and AMG100, 11". Nokona also makes two youth catchers' mitts, the CM55 and the CM88.
I highly recommend this manufacturer. Mizuno gloves are universally well made, even their bargain models. Mizuno's top leather is "Double-tanned steerhide." This is a full grain steer hide. It is probably both vegetable and chrome tanned, which is an expensive process.
Most of the rest of Mizuno's lineup is cow hide leather. Mizuno has several leathers, each with its own particular tanning process: "Retro Leather" and "full grain leather"are heavier weight and more durable; "Tsunami leather," "49er leather," "Select Leather," and "One-Touch Leather" are medium weight and break in quickly.
Mizuno youth models are generally found in their "Prospect" line of gloves, but gloves small enough for youths can be found in many of Mizuno's lines. My kids and I have owned several Mizuno gloves over the years with good results.
IMPORTANT: DON'T rely on Mizuno's sales literature when deciding whether a particular glove is right for your child! Mizuno's recommended glove sizes are TOO LARGE for the ages recommended!
Mizuno 9 inch gloves: Models MPR 901P (pigskin), MPR 901 ("Select" leather). Marketed for 7 and under, suitable for 8 and under.
Mizuno 10 inch gloves: Models MPR 1101P (pigskin), MPR 1101 ("Select" leather). Marketed for 7 and under, probably too large for most 7 year-olds and NOT SUITABLE for under 7. Good for ages 8-12. Bigger 11 and 12 year-olds may want something a little larger.
Mizuno 10 3/4 inch gloves: Model TG108P (pigskin). Marketed for kids 5-8, this glove is NOT SUITABLE for kids in this age range. Good for kids 9-12. Perfect size for 11 and 12-year old infielders.
Mizuno 11 inch gloves: Models MPR 1102 ("One-touch" leather), MPR 1100R ("Retro Leather"). Marketed for ages 5-8, NOT SUITABLE for kids in this age range! Best for kids 11-12.
Mizuno 11 1/2 inch gloves: Models MPR 116P ("Select" leather), MRX 115 ("Select" leather), MPR 1152 ("One-touch" leather"), MPR 1150R ("Retro Leather"). Marketed for kids 8-up, in my opinion, these gloves are too large for Little Leaguers of ANY age, except perhaps a 12 year-old playing 1st base or outfield. Definitely NOT SUITABLE for players under age 11.
Mizuno also makes a full range of "adult gloves", the smallest of which are 11". These gloves are suitable for bigger 12 year-old players.
SSK makes many different models out of various grades of "premium steer hide," as well as budget-priced "steer hide" and pigskin gloves. SSK's top grade is "Sasaki" premium steer hide. SSK gloves are well-made but I generally find that they don't form a consistent pocket.
SSK 9 ˝ inch gloves: LCS-950 "Roberto Alomar" (pigskin with synthetic lining)
SSK 10 inch gloves: LCS-101 10" (pigskin with synthetic lining); SSA-34 "Roberto Alomar" (steerhide)
SSK 10 ˝ inch gloves: LCS-150 "Mike Mussina" (pigskin with synthetic lining); SSJ-1051 10 ˝" (steerhide); SSA-36 "Nomar Garciaparra"(steerhide); SSA-31 "Mike Mussina" (steerhide)
SSK 11 inch gloves: LCS-170 "Mike Mussina" (pigskin with synthetic lining); PX-540 (premium steerhide)
SSK 11 1/4 inch gloves: MPS-4 (steerhide); MAX-05 (premium steerhide); PX-541 (premium steerhide); PRO-ALMT and ALMC "Roberto Alomar" ("Select" premium steerhide); PRO-NMR "Nomar Garciaparra" ("Select" premium steerhide); PRO-KNY 11 1/4" "Allan Kennedy" ("Select" premium steerhide); GT-240 ("Sasaki" premium steerhide)
SSK youth catchers' mitts: CM-9100 31" (steerhide); SSA-32 32" (steerhide)
Easton, traditionally a bat manufacturer, is new to the ball glove market but has quickly established itself as a top glove manufacturer. Easton's best grade of leather is called "Gladiator" steerhide. Easton makes a very popular "Natural" series of gloves using pre-oiled "Walnut tanned" leather. It is difficult to tell from Easton's press releases, but the "Walnut tanned" leather may be a vegetable tanned leather.
Easton 8 inch gloves: SL8 (synthetic)
Easton 9 inch gloves: SL9 (synthetic); BPK9 (kangaroo/cow hide leather)
Easton 10 inch gloves: BPK10 (kangaroo/cow hide leather); NAT1 ("Salz Walnut-tanned" leather)
Easton 10 1/2 inch gloves: BPK105 (kangaroo/cow hide leather); NAT4 ("Salz Walnut-tanned" leather)
Easton 10 3/4 inch gloves: USA40 ("Gladiator" Steer hide)
Easton 11" gloves: BMX11 11" (leather); NAT3 ("Salz Walnut-tanned" leather); USA50 ("Gladiator" Steer hide), EPS 41 ("Gladiator" Steer hide)
Easton 11 1/4 inch gloves: USA60 ("Gladiator" Steer hide)
Easton youth catchers' mitts: NAT5 Youth Catcher's mitt (probably 31") ("Salz Walnut-tanned" leather); NAT22 Catcher's Mitt (probably 32 or 33", for larger 12 year olds and up) ("Salz Walnut-tanned" leather)
5. LOUISVILLE SLUGGER/TPX
Loiusville Slugger's top brands are designated "TPX." TPX's top grade of leather is called "Maruhashi." I can't be certain, but I believe it is roughly comparable to "premium steer hide."
Louisville 9 inch gloves: LS900 (leather palm, synthetic back)
Louisville 9 ˝ inch gloves: LS950 (leather palm, synthetic back)
Louisville 10 ˝ inch gloves: LS1050 (leather palm, synthetic back); TPX 1050S (pre-oiled steerhide); TPX Pro6 and Pro6G 10 ˝", (Maruhashi)
Louisville 11 inch gloves: OPX 1100 (pre-oiled leather)
Louisville 11 1/4" gloves: LS1125 (leather palm, synthetic back)
Louisville Youth Catchers' Mitts: LF 212 31"(premium steer hide)
I got a Wilson A2000 in when I was 15, my first year of American Legion ball, and I knew I had made the big time. That glove is still in use today, having made it through high school ball, years of disuse, 15 years of Slo-Pitch, where I used it as an infielder's glove, and 4 years of coaching Little League. It is made of full-grain steerhide. Wilson doesn't make them like that any more.
My son had long wanted an A2000 because I had one, so I got him a 10 3/4" A2000 infielder 's glove in "Quick-Stop" leather for his 12-year old season in Little League majors. Quick-stop is a top grain leather. It broke in fairly easily and performed beautifully, but after only one season it is already starting to wear out. There are definitely better premium gloves to be had out there than the A2000 Quick-Stop range, notably anything from Nokona, Wilson's own A-2000 "Pro-Stock" models, and the top half of Mizuno's, Rawlings, and SSK's ranges.
Wilson's top grade of leather is called "Pro-Stock." It is heavy-weight full grain steer hide. Wilson has a variety of other leather brand-names, each with its own tanning process, but the bottom line is all other Wilson brands are cow hide leather.
Most Wilson youth models are found in its Advisory Staff and EZ Catch model ranges, but Wilson makes gloves small enough for youths all the way up to the A2000 models. The EZ Catch models are youth-size gloves with extra-large, pre-broken-in pockets. I recommend the leather versions. Avoid the vinyl versions.
Wilson gloves usually have the size printed on the glove.
Wilson 9 inch gloves: A2291 and 2293 (vinyl); A1801 and 1803 (leather)
Wilson 9 ˝ inch gloves: A2260 and 2262 "EZ Catch" (vinyl); A2740 and 2742 "EZ Catch" (leather)
Wilson 10 inch gloves: A2175 and 2177 "Advisory Staff" (vinyl); A2741 and A2743 "EZ Catch" (leather); A1805 and 1807 "Pro" (leather)
Wilson 10 ˝ inch gloves: A2275 and 2277 "Advisory Staff" (vinyl); A2180 and 2182 "Advisory Staff" (vinyl); A2744 and 2746 "EZ Catch" (leather); A1811 and A1813 "Pro" (leather); A1810 and 1812 "Pro" (top grain steer hide (!))
Wilson 10 3/4" gloves: A1410 VBT "A1000 ("Vortex" leather); A2000X1QSR "Quickstop" ("Quickstop" leather); A2000 H-1 "Pro-Stock" ("Pro-stock" leather (steer hide))
Wilson 11" gloves: A2134 and 2136 "Advisory Staff" (vinyl); A2144 and 2146 "Advisory Staff (leather palm and web, synthetic back); A1825 and 1827 "Pro" (leather); A1821 and A1823 ("Aztec" leather); A1505 and A1507 "Staff" ("Canyon" leather); A1721 "Pro 1000 " ("Rustic" leather); A1420 VBT "A1000" ("Vortex" leather); A2000GQS2R "Quickstop" ("Quickstop" leather); A2000X2 "Prostock" ("Pro-Stock" leather (steer hide));
Wilson 11 1/4 inch gloves: A2000 1788QS ("Quickstop" leather); A2000 OSI ("Pro-Stock" leather (steer hide)); A2000 1788BG ("Pro-Stock" leather (steer hide))
Wilson youth catchers' mitts: A1860 and A1862 "Pudge" 32" ("Aztec" leather); A1861 AZ 32 3/4" ("Aztec" leather)
Rawlings, like Nokona, is another venerable glove maker. Unlike Nokona, Rawlings offers a range of gloves priced from budget to premium, and uses a variety of materials, ranging from very good to outright junk. I have owned a number of Rawlings gloves over the years, without a bad experience with any of them. Sometimes it's hard to get them to form a good pocket, though. Also, I have never owned any of Rawlings' cheaper models, which I find to be substandard.
Rawlings' top grade is called "Heart of the Hide." It is heavy-weight full grain steer hide that has been "oil-tanned" to greatly reduce break-in time. (As noted above, it is unlikely that the gloves are really "oil-tanned." Probably they are simply pre-oiled.) These gloves are popular with major leaguers.
Rawlings' cheapest models are vinyl; they should be avoided.
Rawlings 9 inch gloves: RBG158 "Derek Jeter" (vinyl); RBG9P "Ken Griffey Jr." (pigskin)
Rawlings 10 inch gloves: RBG106 "Kevin Brown" (synthetic); RBG10P "Derek Jeter" (pigskin)
Rawlings 10 ˝ inch gloves: RBG 119 "Tony Gwynn" (synthetic); RBG 105P "Alex Rodriguez" (pigskin)
Rawlings 10 3/4 inch gloves: GG017C "Gold Glove" (oil-tanned leather); PRO071G ("Heart of the Hide" steer hide)
Rawlings 11 inch gloves: RBG129 "Alex Rodriguez" (synthetic); RBG110BF "Derek Jeter" (leather palm, synthetic back); RBG224 "Ken Griffey Jr. (leather); MMSO7BF "Millenium" (nubuck suede); GG10BF "Gold Glove" (oil-tanned leather); XPG110BCS "Heritage" (heavyweight oil-tanned leather); PRO15B "Gold Glove" ("Heart of the Hide" steer hide)
Rawlings 11 1/4 inch gloves: PROS12IC "Pro Preferred" ("Heart of the Hide" steer hide)
Rawlings youth catchers' mitts: RCM30 "Mike Piazza" (probably 31") (leather); RCM45 "Mike Piazza (probably 32") (leather). NOTE: Model RCM30BT, black with blaze orange padding, is a 34" adult-sized model.
Other Baseball Equipment reviews by alamedasims:
Worth 3DX: Powerful and Expensive
The Easton Triple 7: A Hot Bat (While It Lasts)
Wilson A2000 Baseball Glove: Still Worthy of Its Reputation?
Choosing a Youth Baseball Bat