Why Do Baseball Players Wear Mittens? (Answered)

Michael Claunch

The type of equipment that baseball players wear largely depends on the position they play since the requirements and risks can be quite different depending on the location on the field and the current role in the game. For example, the gloves or mittens used by each player depend on his duties on the field. Since their activities on the field are primarily oriented on advancing to the next base, runners wear different types of gloves than defenders who need to field the ball or batters who need to grip the bat very tightly.

With so many different items used for playing baseball, it’s very easy for young players or inexperienced fans to confuse them. To avoid this peril, we will explain what there is to know about the mitt baserunners wear and how it’s distinct from a more widely known catching glove.

Why do baseball players wear gloves and mittens while playing?

In general, all equipment used in baseball serves one of two primary purposes – to improve safety or to boost performance. If we are talking about gloves, it can be argued they contribute to both of those goals at once. Players’ hands often come in contact with hard surfaces or fast-moving balls, and having a protective layer can prevent numerous injuries. In fact, several types of gloves are present in the game, made specifically to the requirements of certain roles on the field.

baseball mitt glove

In particular, base runners often slide head-first while reaching out with their hands, potentially exposing their fingers to mechanical impact upon reaching the plastic marker of the base. This is why the sliding glove for baseball was introduced, as it can keep hands and fingers out of harm’s way. Before mittens were adopted, many players were gripping a bit of dirt or their batting glove in one hand to prevent instinctual reaching for the base. Of course, this wasn’t very practical (or hygienic) and could still lead to injuries in case a defensive player stepped on the slider’s hand.

Players reaching for the base can now do so without any fear of injury thanks to the robust protection provided by the mitten, which provides an obvious advantage when trying to steal the base or win a contested closeout. This combination of health-protecting properties and tangible in-game benefits explains why some baseball players wear mittens every time when they are on base. Since different gloves are used while batting, it is usually the responsibility of one of the coaches to pass a mitt to a player who successfully gets to the first base.

What are the differences between baseball gloves and mittens?

As we previously mentioned, mittens and gloves are worn for different reasons, and their overall design reflects the intended type of use. Baseball gloves that are most widely associated with the sport are designed to make catching flying balls easier, which is why they are larger and have a gap for the ball to fall into. Meanwhile, mittens look much different, which is logical when you take into account what are the mittens designed for.

The runner’s mitten looks similar to an oven mitt, featuring a thick layer of fabric on the outside. It can be strapped firmly to the hand with wrist-supporting straps, so it stays in place while the player is moving at full speed.  The mitt is usually worn on one hand only, depending on the dexterity of the player and his tendencies when sliding. The exact size of the mitt can vary, and there are no limits proscribed by the MLB, even though the umpire has the option to disqualify any mitt that is deemed so large as to constitute an unfair advantage.

When did mittens become a standard part of MLB equipment?

The widespread adoption of a baseball running glove to prevent hand injuries is a relatively new phenomenon, and it hasn’t been embraced by all players. There is no mandate in the MLB to wear this piece of equipment while on the base paths, but mitts are gradually becoming regarded as essential. The first player to start wearing them regularly was outfielder Scott Podsednik, who did this in 2008 to protect a previously injured hand. Seeing the benefits of the mitten firsthand, he continued to wear it even when his hand healed.

mlb runner mitt

Due to the fact that Podsednik was a high-profile player famous for his ability to steal bases, the rest of the league took notice, and many of his peers decided to follow his example. Some of the notable early adopters were stars like Mookie Betts, Bryce Harper, and Brett Gardner. This certainly helped to popularize the MLB runner mitt among the younger players, who adopted this practice and continued it as they reached the big leagues. As a result, little more than a decade later, this type of glove is commonplace on baseball fields regardless of the level of competition.

What are the runner’s mittens made of?

If you understand why baserunners wear mittens, you won’t be surprised to learn that mitts are made from hard and durable materials. There is a wide variety of models available, and the composition of each mitt could be different, but in an average case, the primary material is an elastic polymer, with hard lining included for support. Some of the best commercially available sliding mittens are made of neoprene or polyester, so they can last a long time without losing any of their properties.

Many models also have hard plates on either side of the mitt, helping to absorb contact with the ground or the base. The compression straps are typically made of velcro and provide additional stability for the wrist when they are tightly wrapped. Mittens often feature a thumb hole to give the player a choice whether to keep his thumb inside or have it move freely. Those seemingly small differences can impact comfort, safety, and performance, so it’s wise to compare several models before choosing the one to wear in a game.

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