Growing number of hitters ditching batting gloves
The proof is on Blake Swihart's hands. While the bumps, bruises, scrapes and scars show the signs of what it's like to be a Major League catcher, the calluses tell another story.
They are there because of a choice the Red Sox rookie catcher makes not to wear batting gloves.
"I've never worn them for as long as I can remember," Swihart said. "I have a lot of calluses. I don't get blisters anymore. My hands are used to it, so it's pretty easy. I have big, rough hands. I don't think I'll ever use them."
Video: [email protected]: Swihart puts Red Sox up early with single
Swihart isn't alone. Some of the most successful players in today's game choose to go au naturel, including All-Stars Prince Fielder and Stephen Vogt, Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter, Padres center fielder Wil Myers and Mariners shortstop Brad Miller, plus three members of the upstart Astros -- designated hitter Evan Gattis, right fielder Preston Tucker and center fielder Colby Rasmus.
While the wear and tear on players' hands comes with the territory, the benefits each feels not wearing batting gloves outweighs the side effects.
"I love the feel of not wearing them. I love everything about it," Vogt said. "I can feel the bat, I can feel the pine tar, I can feel the dirt. I can feel everything. I love the fact that my hands are dirty. I feel like I'm into the game more."
Video: [email protected]: Vogt clears Murphy and wall for two-run shot
"It's more of a comfort thing. I've never worn them before and I just feel like I have a lot more control of the bat without them," said Myers, the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year Award winner. "Hitting is all about feel, so it makes me feel better at the plate."
While most of these players have gone without batting gloves their entire careers, others, like Fielder, have recently chosen to go without.
Fielder is a convert who decided to go sans batting gloves with teammate Delino DeShields after struggling in the batting cage before a series against the Astros in early May. They are the only bare-handed hitters on the Rangers.
"I know that when I don't wear them that I feel my hands more and [use them more]," said Fielder, who had a decisive hit off Clayton Kershaw in Tuesday's All-Star Game presented by T-Mobile, won 6-3 by the AL. "The disadvantages are your hands get really raw at times. They are already terribly callused. The first few nights, I'd wake up in the middle of the night and my hands would be throbbing and sore."
Video: 2015 ASG: Fielder plates Trout with a single
The adjustment, however painful for Fielder, has paid dividends: He's hitting .339 and leads the AL with 114 hits, though he did don gloves for Monday's Gillette Home Run Derby presented by Head & Shoulders due to the rapid-fire nature of the pitching that could have proved damaging to his hands.
A few other non-wearers have also had their fair share of success this season. Miller was named AL Player of the Week on May 18 after hitting .429 with four home runs, three doubles and five RBIs over six games.
Vogt is sixth in the AL with 56 RBIs, while Carpenter is eighth in the National League with 21 doubles.
The achiness Fielder felt is expected, along with continual callusing. On occasion, players will wear gloves during batting practice to give their hands a break.
"You go through growing pains. It's sort of like playing the guitar," DeShields said. "The first few times, it is going to hurt pretty bad, but once your fingers callus, then it's easy. Once you get past that phase, it's fine."
Video: [email protected]: DeShields knocks an RBI double to take lead
Another result of not wearing batting gloves is the tendency for bats to slip out of players' hands, something that occurs with more regularity during wet weather.
Miller, who's the only player on the Mariners who doesn't wear them, had that exact thing happen to him in a game against the Blue Jays on May 23. In his first at-bat, his bat went sailing down the first-base line past the bag.
To make sure that occurs as little as possible, players use a slew of things to create the kind of grip one would get by using batting gloves. Pine tar, tape, rubs and rosin -- you name it, players have tried it.
"When you first start, you have tape in all of these random spots," said Vogt, who along with teammate Coco Crisp are the only non-wearers on the A's. "You'll have all these hot spots and have to tape them up. You have football finger tape trying to hit in a baseball game."
Gattis uses something he calls "rodeo rub," which allows him to have a more secure grip on the bat and gets his hands to callus faster.
Video: [email protected]: Astros strike early on Gattis' two-run homer
Myers, partial to tape, said he takes ribbings from teammates every time he puts it on his hands. He's the only player on the Padres who doesn't wear batting gloves.
"I hear it all the time in the training room if I go to put tape on [my hands], 'Why don't you just wear batting gloves?'," Myers said. "Well, if I put the piece of tape on, that's it. I don't have to take the tape off and put it back on like they do with gloves."
Video: [email protected]: Myers smashes solo homer into left field
Swihart said teammates come up to him often asking if certain things are more painful because he doesn't wear them.
"They ask if it hurts more if I get jammed. It doesn't hurt any more than if I had batting gloves on," Swihart said. "To me, it doesn't protect getting jammed and feeling that pain."
Chili Davis, Swihart's hitting coach with the Red Sox who once was a teammate of Jorge Posada, a perennial non-user of batting gloves, understands why certain players choose not to wear them.
"Guys that don't wear batting gloves like the feel of the wood and nothing in between. You respect them for it," Davis said.
"It is just old-school. Grab some dirt, spit in your hand, rub it up and you're good to go."
That perceived notion is something Fielder likes now that he's one of the guys who doesn't wear batting gloves.
"If you are getting hits with it, it looks pretty mean," Fielder quips. "That guy has strong hands. That's at least what I always thought."
Video: [email protected]: Fielder crushes a mammoth solo homer to right
One of the most superstitious players in baseball, Fielder has chosen to stick with it based on results.
Vogt, thoroughly frustrated during batting practice in 2010 while with Class A Stockton, ripped his batting gloves to the point where he couldn't wear them anymore. He took the rest of batting practice without gloves, didn't wear them later that night, and wound up hitting a home run and a double. He's gone without them ever since.
That simple choice can change the course of a player's season and even his career.
"Baseball is every day and just so hard, especially now. Whatever gets your mind right to get you past the difficulties of the game," DeShields said. "Whatever helps you be successful, you do what you gotta do."