The key equipment used in baseball are the bat, gloves, mask, and the ball itself. The evolution of this equipment can be traced from the 19th century itself, right from the conception of the game. However, in those times no helmets were used. Gloves gained popularity in the late 1880s, and the ball has retained the same dimensions, weight, and leather pattern since 1872.
The look and feel of the 19th century bats was very different from the present day's bats. The handles were heavier and thicker, and had more of a gradual taper to the barrel. Bats were made with or without knobs on the handle, and 'rings' were painted on various parts of the bat to reflect the team color.
The dimensions of the bat were finally agreed during the first baseball convention in 1857. The dimensions were described as round, not to be more than two and one-half inches around in its thickest part, and the length could be decided according to the suitability of the striker. However, during the 1868 season, it was decided that the bat could not be longer than 42 inches.
The Glove and Mask
The gloves in the 19th century started out as merely a leather work glove, with or without full fingers, and gradually padding was added to it. Though it is not possible to pinpoint the first player to wear a glove, but reports indicate that it was as early as 1860 when catchers wore them.
In 1885, Arthur Irwin, in order to protect his two broken fingers, added 'padding' to his buckskin glove. This is probably the first instance of a player introducing noticeable padding to a glove.
As the evolution of the glove progressed, the National League and American Association of Baseball Clubs instituted a rule in 1895, which stated, "The catcher and the first baseman are permitted to wear a glove or mitt of any size, shape or weight. All other players are restricted to the use of a glove or mitt weighing not over ten ounces, and measuring in circumference around the palm of the hand not over fourteen inches." This would be the rule for the rest of the 19th century.
The catcher's mask was first worn by Jim Tyng of the Harvard University Baseball Club in a 7-6 exhibition game loss against the Boston Red Stockings in May 1876. It is said that Tyng's roommate and team captain Fred Thayer invented the mask in 1875. Thayer modified a fencing mask, which enabled Tyng to move closer to home base and receive the ball without fear of being struck in the face. Tyng also wore a small padded glove in the game.
The Knickerbocker Baseball Club introduced the uniform on April 24, 1849. It consisted of long blue woolen pants, leather belts, white flannel shirts with a full collar, and straw hats. At the end of the 1850s, many teams adopted the flannel shirt with the button on shield style, which contained the team's emblem, name, or both. The full-length pantaloon pants were in fashion throughout the 1860s, but presented a problem, as the players would get their feet caught on the legs of the pants when running. Hence, players were forced to wrap them tight to their shins and use tape or a small belt to hold them. In 1868, Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first team to wear knickers. These pants were less restrictive, and as a result their stockings or socks, were now visible. The uniforms are probably the only aspect of the game that has evolved so drastically from the game's conception to the present era.
The ball itself was a very important part of the development of the early game of baseball. The hand-made ball allowed their makers to become identified as making a live, medium, or dead ball, and was the key factor used by the visiting team to decide their strategy. The size and weight of the baseball changed radically in 1857, and continued to change in the 1860s. The same type of ball is used today as in 1872.
The ball would contain some form of stuffing. The cover was a single piece cover, usually in the form of brown leather. The balls were hand-made by local merchants and players, and hence, had no standard size or weight. During the first baseball convention in 1857, the diameter of the ball was voted on to be between ten and ten and one-quarter inches in circumference, and weigh between six and six and one-quarter ounces.