Buying a baseball or softball glove can seem like a daunting task, but after answering a few simple questions, you can narrow the field down pretty quickly. Advancing technology has led to specialization in the equipment required for America’s Pastime, just as it has in every other sport in the world. As a result, it is impossible to find one glove that is useful in every situation. This doesn’t mean you will need four gloves to play four different positions, however. It just means you need to pick the right tool for the job.
By the end of this baseball glove buying guide, you will know exactly how to choose a baseball or softball glove.
A glove, be it for baseball or softball, has just a few main components. Let’s talk about what they are, and about how they should factor into your decision:
- Web. This is the “basket” of the glove, where the ball falls when you catch it. Sturdy web construction is an absolute necessity for a good glove since it sees the most violent action. Over the years, quite a few different designs have been developed for the construction of the web. We’ll take a look at the most common kinds later on to help you decide which is the right choice for you.
- Pocket. The pocket is just below the web, right in the center of the action. A comfortable pocket is important for a comfortable glove. You won’t find much padding in the pocket of an infielder’s glove or an outfielder’s glove, but you will find a ton in a first baseman’s mitt and a catcher’s mitt. Softball gloves tend to have a deeper pocket than baseball gloves, obviously to accommodate the larger ball. Infielders’ gloves have shallower pockets so the fielder can find the ball for a quicker transfer. Make sure a baseball or softball can fit in the pocket and that the glove can close securely around it. You won’t always catch the ball cleanly in the web, and if the pocket can’t handle the job of ball security, you might as well start shopping for a new glove.
- Heel. Just like the heel of your hand, this is at the base of the inside of the glove. A heel should be sturdy enough to protect the bones in the palm of your hand and wrist from balls that get the better of you out in the field. If you can get the glove on your hands, you should also take note of how the heel of your hand interacts with the heel of the glove, and make sure there aren’t any surfaces that will rub and cause irritation.
- Fingers. The fingers of the glove are where your fingers go. In infielder’s and outfielder’s gloves, there will be individual places for each of your fingers. In a catcher’s mitt and a first-baseman’s mitt, you will just have one space that all of your fingers fit into. It is not a coincidence that baseball gloves and mitts are defined exactly the same way as the gloves and mitts you would wear in cold weather. When evaluating a glove, make sure you have enough room in the glove for your fingers to fit. Don’t forget your batting glove, if you’re someone who prefers to wear one in the field. There’s no need to worry about how far up into the glove your fingers go, though. You are barely going to get them halfway in. Just make sure there’s enough space for them, and make sure the glove isn’t so big that it’s difficult for your fingers to control. The control if the glove comes down entirely to how easily your fingers and thumb can manipulate the leather. If your glove is too big, you’ll be able to tell by how your fingers feel inside the glove.
- Back. The back of the glove refers to the area around the knuckles. There are two main styles — open back and closed back. An open back will be secured by one strap of leather across your hand that secures to the side of the glove with Velcro. Adjusting this Velcro strap gives you complete control over the size of the opening for your hand, as well as the tightness of the fit over your hand once it’s in the glove. An open back will more easily accommodate bigger hand sizes. A closed back glove will have solid leather running up the fingers of the glove, with just one hole for your index finger in case you prefer to put it on the outside of the glove. Closed back gloves will also have an adjustable Velcro strap, but it will usually only adjust the snugness of the fit on your hand. A closed back glove will generally give you a tighter fit for your hand. If you have a smaller hand, this might be a good thing for you.
Glove manufacturers have introduced quite a few different web designs, all of which possess their own advantages. If you seek advice from multiple sources, you will learn different preferences that might even contradict each other. At the end of the day, however, the web design isn’t going to make or break the effectiveness of your glove — but it can be a good deciding factor when you have narrowed down everything else.
We’ll stick to the three main web styles:
- Open. An open web is as the name implies — open. You’ll actually be able to see through the webbing. Think of the old-school gloves from the 60s and 70s. Most infielders prefer open webs because the gloves tend to be more flexible. These infielders also find it easier to retrieve a ball from an open web glove. An open web construction goes by many names such as Single post, Dual post (or “H”), “I” Post, and basket.
- Closed. A closed web is going to be a solid piece of leather making up the entire web of the glove. Sometimes there are multiple pieces stitched together, but the effect is the same. Generally, outfielders prefer closed web gloves because it provides more support for catching the ball. Pitchers also like closed web gloves because it completely conceals the pitcher’s hand while they are selecting their grip. Additionally, some infielders find it easier to transfer the ball out of a closed web glove, so it really does come down to personal preference.
- Trapeze. We could technically group this under the closed web family of designs, but the differences are significant enough to warrant separate consideration. A trapeze web contains a solid strip of leather that is bound to the rest of the glove with many smaller pieces of leather, in a “trapeze” pattern. The outfielders that prefer this construction will argue that the extra leather surface area “grabs” the ball better, making it easier to catch a fly ball in the outfield. We won’t say they are wrong — we will just suggest that you keep an open mind and decide what works best for you.
There are a variety of materials used in glove construction. Here are some of them:
- Leather. Leather is the most popular choice for glove material, both as a matter of historical precedence and practicality. High-quality leather is a sturdier material than just about any synthetic out there. A good leather glove that is well cared for can last for decades. Leather can be quite flexible and comfortable if you have broken it in correctly and taken proper care of it. On the other hand, a leather glove is heavy, which might be a turnoff for some fielders. The most unique thing about a leather glove, though, is the smell. Leather gloves just smell better than their hybrid and mesh counterparts.
- Mesh. To reduce weight and increase flexibility, glove manufacturers have started to incorporate mesh fabric in the backs of their gloves. The web and pocket is usually either leather or a synthetic leather substitute. Mesh gloves breathe better and require less break-in time. Infielders might prefer them for their flexibility. Mesh isn’t used much in catcher’s and first baseman’s mitts because leather provides natural padding. To add the necessary padding for the extra abuse would negate many of the advantages mesh offers in the first place. Mesh gloves are also not as durable — or expensive — as leather, so they are a very popular option for a young ball player who is going to outgrow the glove in a few years anyway.
Glove manufacturers will also sometimes combine leather and mesh so their gloves can benefit from the advantages of both materials. We won’t suggest one style over the other, but it’s good for you to know what your priorities are when you consider which one to go with.
The biggest factor in choosing a glove is to understand how it will be used. Gloves and mitts are highly specialized these days. It would not be at all uncommon to see nine different glove styles out on a major league baseball field at a given time. Not only does each area of the field have its own requirements, but each player will have their own preferences as well:
- Infielders. Infielders generally prefer smaller gloves with shallower pockets for easier retrieval. Getting your glove on a ground ball does you no good if you can’t dig it out of your glove quickly. Middle infielders aren’t going to be receiving quite as many high-velocity bullets as the corner infielders will, so padding and size aren’t important. You want quick transfer to your throwing hand, which means you need a glove small enough that you won’t lose the ball.
- Outfielders. Outfielders use the largest gloves on the field. In the outfield, the priority is to catch anything even remotely within reach. A bigger glove will help you extend that reach, even if only by a few inches. Outfielder’s gloves have deeper pockets to give the glove as much interior volume as possible to swallow up the ball.
- Pitchers. Pitchers don’t have a specialized glove. If you are a pitcher, chances are you play another position on your off days, so you can just bring that glove to the mound with you. If you pitch in a competitive environment, a closed web is preferable so you can hide your grip from the hitter while the ball is still in the glove. If you are a full-time pitcher and you are searching for just one glove, you should look for a glove large enough to conceal your hand. In all likelihood, though, the glove you use in the field will be just fine on the mound.
- Catchers. Catchers don’t use a glove — they use a mitt. These mitts don’t have individual finger slots, but they do have a whole lot of extra padding. They are built to take a pounding all day long so your hand doesn’t have to. Catcher’s mitts are measured differently, so when you see figures that are three times larger than other categories, don’t think you’re shopping for a trash can lid to strap to your hand. More on sizes later.
- First baseman. A first baseman’s mitt is a hybrid between an outfielder’s glove and a catcher’s mitt. Fielding ground balls is important, but not nearly as important as catching a ball thrown across the infield from the player with the best arm on the team (often the shortstop). These mitts are longer to help you scoop low throws out of the dirt and flexible enough for you to be able to field ground balls easily. They also come with more padding than other fielder’s gloves.
What if you will be playing multiple positions?
If you are playing multiple positions, you will have to decide for yourself just how many gloves you can afford to carry around. If you are playing in a competitive environment, it is more important that you have the proper tools for the job, so you might want to have access to a first baseman’s mitt, and infielder’s glove and an outfielder’s glove.
However, if you are just playing in a recreational league, an outfielder’s glove should be versatile enough to handle infield and outfield duty. Consider a separate first baseman’s mitt if anyone on your team has a wicked arm. In fast pitch baseball and softball situations, the catcher will always want to use a catcher’s mitt.
Baseball Gloves vs. Softball Gloves
Up to this point, we haven’t been specifying whether this advice applies to baseball gloves or softball gloves. In general, the same principles apply to the glove choices for both sports. Outfielders will want larger gloves than infielders. Catchers need a lot of padding, and first baseman’s mitts are specialized.
For softball players, deep pockets are more important. Even catchers’ mitts are generally thinner than their baseball counterparts so they can cut out a deeper pocket to accommodate the larger ball. Sizing is similar, and you may find that softball gloves have smaller hand openings. In general, however, a glove is a glove, and you can shop for a softball glove in the same places you shop for a baseball glove.
The next step in the glove-buying process is determining how to know what size baseball glove to buy. A glove’s size is determined by measuring from the heel of the glove up to the tip of where the index finger slot meets the edge of the web, following the contour of the inside of the mitt. Visually, an outfielder’s mitt will be “longer” or “taller”, depending on how you look at it. Width usually corresponds to length as well.
For young ball players, the line that divides infielders’ gloves from outfielders’ gloves is 10 inches. Smaller gloves are considered infielders’ gloves, and anything larger will be an outfielder’s glove. As you step into the 10-13 age group, that line shifts up to 11 inches.
For adults, this line sits at 12 inches. Shortstops and second basemen generally use gloves anywhere in the 11-inch range, and outfielders will use gloves as big as 14 inches. Softball players probably won’t use any glove smaller than 12 inches. Anything smaller than that, and the glove will have trouble handling the softball.
It isn’t absolutely vital for you to know how to measure a baseball glove, though. The size of the glove should be stamped on the side of the glove, but a visual comparison is a simple way to tell whether you are looking at an infielder’s glove or an outfielder’s glove.
Catcher’s mitts aren’t measured in the same way. Instead, they are labeled by circumference. Whereas 13 inches is a large outfielder’s glove, 30 inches is small for a catcher’s mitt.
Note: Some sources will recommend measuring your hand to determine what glove side you need. We don’t feel that this step is necessary. Don’t get hung up on a rigid answer to “What size baseball glove should I buy?”
It is more important to get a glove that is the appropriate size for the position you will be playing. Don’t box yourself into a glove size just because that’s what a chart said you should get. When it comes to choosing a glove, size is less important than fit, feel, web style and personal factors like potential growth.
If you are buying a glove for a child, try to walk up the size chart as far as you can while still getting a glove that is comfortable today. By next season, they will likely have grown a couple inches, and you don’t want them to have outgrown a glove in perfectly good shape.
Also, each manufacturer has their own patterns for how a glove fits on a player’s hand. One company’s 11.25” glove might fit a lot more loosely than another’s. You may not like how a certain company’s gloves fit on your hand, no matter what size you aim for.
Take into consideration your own physiology as well. If you have extraordinarily large hands but you are playing shortstop, don’t jam your hand into a small glove just because it’s an “infielder’s glove”. It’s all relative. If you are playing shortstop and you can handle a 12-13” glove, that can only help extend your range. If the glove is comfortable for you, use it.
Additionally, you’ll want to consider if you wear a batting glove under your baseball glove. If so, you’ll want to take one along when you go to try on gloves, or at least factor that into your decision. This isn’t to say you’ll have to go a whole size up, but at the very least make sure the glove you are aiming for has adjustability so you can make it bigger or smaller as necessary.
How to Break in a Baseball Glove
Now, you’ve gone through all the steps and found your perfectly-fitting glove. However, that glove won’t do you much good if you don’t break it in first.
Keep it simple. Get a bottle of glove oil (glove conditioner) and use it as soon as you get home. A little bit goes a long way — we aren’t trying to shampoo a dog here. Rub it into the leather surfaces of the glove, concentrating on the parts that will do the flexing — the palm and the web. Make sure you cover the fingers and the back, too. Glove oil isn’t just about softening up the moving parts of the glove, but also about protecting the leather long term.
Squish the glove closed and find a way to keep it closed while the glove oil works itself into the leather. Some strong rubber bands are most common, but putting it under your mattress is another time-tested method. If you share a bed, just be courteous and keep it on your own side.
While the glove is shut tight, put a baseball in the web to begin to form it properly. If you end up with a flexible glove with a flat web, you’ll just have an expensive hunk of leather scraps that won’t help you one bit in the field.
Check on your glove once a day, and reapply the glove oil when the leather starts to feel dry again. You aren’t trying to change the texture or moisture level of the leather, but while you are in the glove oil stage of the break-in process, this is the best way to tell when the leather is ready for another application. You shouldn’t have to apply more than three or four rounds of glove oil in the beginning.
Once your glove can sit closed on its own, put it on your hand and start flexing it to loosen everything back up again. Not only is this a good workout for the glove, but it’s a good workout for the muscles in your catching hand and forearm. You’ll also want to spend a lot of time with your hand in the glove so the inside of the glove can begin to mold to your hand and the way it flexes and bends.
Don’t expect to buy a glove and use it in a game the next day. The break-in process is definitely going to take a week, and could take up to a month if you don’t work on it regularly.
Don’t look for a short cut, either, by using mechanical means for flexing the glove or by buying a “pre-broken-in” glove. The process of breaking in a new baseball glove is an important step in forming a bond with the most personal piece of sports equipment you’ll even own. Treat your glove well, and it’ll treat you well for years to come.
Your glove is broken in when you can open and close it just as easily as you open and close your hand — that’s when the glove becomes your hand’s extension.
The Fun Part
Now that we have laid out everything about how to choose a baseball glove, you are ready for the fun part: choosing a baseball glove. Take a look at our baseball and softball gloves, and start borrowing your friends’ gloves to get an idea of what you like and don’t like. If you’ve made it through this entire guide, you might be able to tell them more about their glove than they even know themselves.