Gordon used first non-leather glove in MLB
Yankees starter one of few in pro ball to own a synthetic mitt
CHICAGO -- Between the time Brian Gordon was released from the Phillies organization last Tuesday to the moment he took the hill for the Yankees on Thursday, one man in Cooperstown, N.Y., did everything he could to contain his excitement.
Scott Carpenter might have been looking forward to Gordon's first career Major League start more than anyone in the Gordon family, all because of the lack of leather Gordon would carry to the Yankee Stadium mound.
That's because the 32-year-old Gordon's 5 1/3-inning debut marked what is believed to be the first use of a leather-free glove in a Major League game, as his black model was made entirely of synthetic materials.
And Carpenter, the founder of Carpenter Trade Company, is the primary reason for that.
"I was ecstatic," said Carpenter, who sat in the second tier on the third-base side Thursday with his girlfriend, brother and niece. "I had chills. I almost couldn't believe it. It's something I've been imagining and hoping for for a long time."
Carpenter's project had been in the works for 10 years, seeing spurts of success at the Minor League level but never on the big stage until Thursday.
Gordon came across the tool last summer with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where teammate Michael Schwimer took a lot of ribbing from the rest of the squad for his glove.
"With them having their fun with him, it raised a couple questions for me," Gordon said. "And I just kind of picked his brain about it, and he told me a brief story on how he got introduced to it. So I was intrigued by what it was about and it just kind of made sense to me.
"He gave me the number to Scott, and I contacted him and said, 'Hey, I don't know much about your product, but I got a chance to talk to one of your clients, and if you don't mind, I would love to try it.' He sent me a glove, and that was all she wrote. I've never been back to my old glove."
The gloves are custom-made for the players, who sit at a table and have their hand molded, about a 30-minute process. From there, they tell Carpenter how they like to squeeze their fingers.
The final product, which takes 20 hours to manufacture, is one that requires none of the traditional oiling or heating, as the glove is already broken in.
Gordon first used one of Carpenter's gloves in a game for Triple-A Lehigh Valley last August, immediately feeling the difference between his new glove and the traditional leather ones, which are five to 10 ounces heavier.
"I think the biggest change for me was getting used to the weight, but it didn't take that long at all," Gordon said. "The one thing that stood out to me was it just felt like it was with me -- there was no slipping, no nothing. It was just there. It's like some piece of equipment just locked in.
"The one thing that really made sense to me was the lighter weight. We're 60 feet away and there are some big boys that stand in that batter's box, and when that line drive comes at you, you want to be ready."
Born near St. Louis and raised in Chicago, the 39-year-old Carpenter studied art and design at Rhode Island School of Design, School of Visual Arts and Yale before moving to Cooperstown in September 2001. There, he had the greatest study and research facility of all in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
"I had experience from making sneakers beforehand about materials and design and other things," Carpenter said. "I had a firm belief early on that the future of baseball gloves would be in synthetic materials and I believed that I could be the one to break it to the Major Leagues by making the first non-leather glove used in a Major League game.
"It seemed preposterous to a lot of people, and I actually kept it to myself largely because there wasn't a lot of encouragement. There weren't a lot of people that thought it was a good idea."
Carpenter received a break when Noah Krol, currently with the Pirates' Double-A affiliate in Altoona, used one of his synthetic gloves throughout the 2007 season with the Tigers' short-season affiliate, then Oneonta.
That glove currently resides in the Hall of Fame, a place where Carpenter has seen the evolution of the game and its equipment up close, making a lifelong baseball fan such as himself unapologetic for breaking with tradition.
"It definitely strikes some people as rubbing them the wrong way," Carpenter said. "There's a lot of resistance to change, but on my side, there's a certain level of quality and performance that's undeniable, and for players that have used my glove who start out as skeptics, they're usually able to turn over once they use the gloves. So there's a lot of resistance out there still, but I'm slowly seeing opinions change on this."
Dennis Esken, a glove authenticator from Pittsburgh who collects dozens of Major League players' gloves, has been supportive of Carpenter's innovation. He said many traditionalists may have trouble accepting the authenticity of a glove that is not made of leather, but he has seen the evolution of the game and believes this is a step forward.
"The pros are pros," Esken said. "If you're a real ballplayer, you want the best tool for the trade. I agree with what Carpenter's doing -- make them lighter, make them better."
So when it looked all but certain that Gordon would be making his second trip to the Majors last week -- becoming the first of a half-dozen or so synthetic glove-using Minor Leaguers to get called up -- Carpenter became determined to see it live.
He called his brother, who lives in New York City and had access to tickets through his job.
And then he pondered the "million possibilities" that could ruin this moment for him: What if the Yankees made Gordon wear a different glove? What if Gordon got injured before pitching?
"You're never 100 percent certain until the event actually takes place," Carpenter said. "So in the same way baseball players are known to sometimes get very superstitious suddenly, I also just wanted to keep hoping and praying and wait for that moment."
At 1:08 p.m. ET on Thursday, that moment finally came. Gordon unleashed his first pitch, a 91-mph fastball, and the Rangers' Ian Kinsler hit it to center field, where it landed in the traditional glove of Curtis Granderson.
The moment was special to Gordon because it marked his return to the Majors after a 15-year Minor League career. But it also placed him in baseball history, something he was not aware of.
Gordon said none of his Yankees teammates asked him about the glove, which he will take to the mound on Tuesday night at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
His second start with the Yankees will be another chance for Gordon to prove he belongs in the big leagues, and it will be another opportunity for Carpenter to showcase his labor with the game's most storied franchise.
"The bottom line for me has always been to innovate and make the best glove possible," Carpenter said. "I believe that I have a lot of obstacles in front of me. One of them is the big money and endorsements that the big brands offer to players that I can't offer, and also because of misconceptions about synthetic materials.
"I need to make a glove that's not just as good or not just a little bit better, but that's a lot better than the other brands on the market if I'm going to convince anyone at that high of a level to turn down the big names and go with me."
Matt Fortuna is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.