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Irving Franklin dies at 93: batting glove pioneer, sporting goods king

David Brown
Big League Stew

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Irving Franklin, innovator of the modern batting glove and co-founder of Franklin Sports, died in his sleep Thursday at the age of 93. Franklin's legacy continues through the fans and players who use the equipment his company manufactures.

Ken "Hawk" Harrelson is credited in the 1960s with being the first player to consistently use a batting glove in major league games. An avid golfer, Harrelson simply used golf gloves when batting because there was no alternative. A few players followed Harrelson — notably Mike Hargrove, who was known as "The Human Rain Delay" because of the obsessive fidgeting he did with his gloves (and everything else) at home plate. (Famously, Nomar Garciaparra later took up Hargrove's OCD mantel in the 1990s.)

But widespread use of batting gloves didn't happen until Franklin met with Philadelphia Phillies slugger Mike Schmidt during spring training in 1983. When he visited camp at Clearwater, Fla., Franklin had two goals in mind: One, to work with Schmidt in order to design a batting glove that wasn't simply a derivative of the gloves golfers use. Two: to get the Franklin name on the field at major league ballparks.

Schmidt not only helped Franklin create a batting glove that brought the innovation to the masses and whose "tri-curve" design remains the basic template for batting gloves today, but he solved the second issue, too: Schmidt suggested that Franklin put its name on the back of the glove. Franklin and his company did the rest; today, more than 150 major leaguers — Josh Hamilton, Joey Votto, Jose Bautista and Miguel Cabrera are among them — use Franklin batting gloves.

One of Franklin's sons, Larry Franklin, gives more details of the company's origins in this video with a Boston Fox-TV station at Franklin headquarters in Stoughton, Mass.: {YSP:MORE}

Franklin also was an innovator in the world of celebrity athlete endorsements, with Schmidt and, earlier, Joe Namath — who was the first to get his name marketed with a complete line of sports equipment.

Franklin's beginnings were much humbler; he worked in a shoe factory in Brockton, Mass., and later joined his grandfather in the scrap leather business. He started Franklin Sports with his brother Sydney in 1946, but when the Korean War began, Franklin obtained government contracts to make gloves and trigger-finger mittens. Franklin started making baseball gloves and mitts in Puerto Rico for Sears in the early '50s, and by the early '60s they were importing them from Asia.

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Franklin, by the way, also provides the official athletic supporter for MLB. But it's the batting glove that really brought the company into prominence. Irving Franklin — a self-described "leather man" — lives on whenever one of the ballplayers wearing one of his gloves takes a swing.

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