The photo above was taken in 1939. Former Major League catcher Joe Gunson was donating the mitt he created in May of 1888 to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Gunson caught for the Kansas City Blues in the Western League and made the mitt after a foul tip split his finger. He told the Associated Press:
“We had a doubleheader scheduled the next day and Charlie Reynolds, who shared the catching with me, had sustained a similar injury…I got the idea to fashion some kind of glove to protect my hand.”
According to the United Press:
“(Gunson) improvised the mitt from a piece of leather, the belt from a Norfolk jacket, a bit of wire, sheepskin padding, and a buckskin covering.”
When Gunson died three years later the Associated Press and United Press called him the originator of the catcher’s mitt.
Over the years, other newspaper articles credited Albert John “Doc” Bushong with developing the catcher’s mitt. In 1915, The New York Times said:
“(Bushong) wore the largest glove he could find, an added pads until it looked like a pillow…Out of bushings idea grew the idea of the mitt.”
Bushong’s glove was also mentioned in The Brooklyn Eagle in October of 1887, seven months before Gunson said he made his.
Bushong died in 1908, Gunson lived until 1942—longevity gave him a decided advantage in the number of times he was given credit for the mitt in newspaper articles during the first half of the 20th Century.
Currently, baseball historians remain split over which catcher should get the credit.
The debate may never be resolved. The most likely answer is that catchers in the 19th Century, who like Gunson, according to The Sporting Life, “has hands which for knots and gnarls rival the famous battered-up paws of Silver Flint,” might well have independently and nearly simultaneously developed equipment to protect their livelihood.