Wilmington News Journal - March 23, 1980
Instant gloves an instant spring sensation
By Hal Bodley, Sports Editor
CLEARWATER, Fla. – Pete Rose walked into the van a few minutes before 8 a.m., and stuck out his left hand. Methodically, an elderly Japanese man measured it and Rose left.
Shortly after 2 p.m., the Phillies' first baseman was presented a new glove, an outstanding piece of equipment that was made from scratch in the van that was parked near the Phillies' clubhouse.
"Best glove I ever had," Pete Rose said as he pounded his hand in the first baseman's mitt. 'The workmanship is superb."
Pete Rose is paid to say that. For nearly two years he has been affiliated with the Mizuno Corporation, the world's largest sporting goods corporation with headquarters in Osaka, Japan.
Equipment manufacturers are in and out of spring training as frequently as scouts and most of them go unnoticed.
Two springs ago, however, a large mobile home pulled up outside the clubhouse at Carpenter Field with the words MIZUNO plastered across its side. One of the players quipped, "What is it, an Italian fast-food chain?"
That was the beginning. Since then, the Mizuno van has become one of the most interesting off-the-field shows in spring training.
Armed with a staff of Japanese technicians and headed by Californian Jim Darby, the van visits each camp. A player can walk into the van in the morning, describe the type of glove he wants and six hours later it will be completed.
Getting major athletes to use certain manufacturers' products is a lucrative thing for both parties. Obviously, Mizuno is playing this game. But even if a player uses a Rawlings glove or a Wilson glove, these Mizuno technicians will perform repair work at no charge during their visits at each of the camps.
Last year, Larry Shenk, the Phillies' publicist, thought it would be educational to have his young son, Andy, watch a glove being made. Andy walked in, was measured, and several hours later had a personalized model.
Matsuji Tacliibana, who has been making baseball gloves for 38 years, starts the procedure by drawing the form of a hand on a piece of tanned leather. He then cuts out the shape of the hand with a, extremely sharp knife. The same procedure is repeated for the other side of the glove. The various logos and names are burned on, holes are punched, padding is put in and the long process of sewing the mitt starts.
"Matsuji is somewhat of a celebrity in Japan," said Darby, who was an assistant baseball coach at the University of California when he took his present position. "He has been making the glove for Sadaharu Oh for years."
More than 200 major-league players use Mizuno gloves, and many more in the minors. Professionals are given the gloves free, just so their name can be associated with them.
"Mizuno had been making equipment for the Japanese players for years," said Darby, who works for Curley-Bates, the U. S. marketing firm. "When they decided to sell gloves over here, they didn't know how to start. Once it was decided to start with the pros, we came up with the van idea.
"It has really helped. We can pull the van right up to the park and let the players come in and tell us what they want ln a glove. They can tell us how deep they want the pocket and how stiff they want it. They can walk out of the van that day with exactly what they want in a glove. That is what makes us unique."
Other companies merely unpack a suitcase on the clubhouse floor and finished products fall out. Before the Mizuno concept came along, few players had ever seen a glove being made.
While the labor is Japanese, the basic part of the glove comes from the United States – Texas hide.
The leather is sent overseas to go through a special tanning process, one of the steps that makes this glove so popular with the players.
"I would say this is the best glove I have ever seen, said Bud Harrelson, the veteran Phillies' infielder. "The leather is excellent. I don't know what they do to it, but it is so soft, so easy to break in.
"As a former baseball coach, I find this whole routine interesting and exciting," said Darby. "Sure, we're trying to improve our business, but the fact players can watch their gloves being made and the fact we will repair or replace any glove proves our sincerity.
"For me, it has been an education and I think a lot of the players feel the same way."
Unser’s role won’t differ for ’80 Phils
By Hal Bodley, Sports Editor
CLEARWATER, Fla. – Del Unser took a look at the Phillies' line-up card yesterday and smiled. "At least I am finally getting to play the outfield," he said.
"Well all I can say is you're a lot better off than you were this time last year," somebody standing close by offered.
"Hey, I'm not complaining," said Unser. "It's just that I'm supposed to be an outfielder and all I have played down here is first base. I'm happy."
As it turned out, Unser was in left field for half the game as the Phillies blanked Houston 3-0 at Jack Russell Stadium. Once Pete Rose called it a day, Del took over at first base.
"But that's not going to happen very often during the season, he said. "Pete. Rose wants to play every inning. He's that kind of a guy and besides, he's shooting for all those records."
A year ago, Del Unser was a man without a team. As an unsigned free agent, the Phillies invited him to camp, providing an opportunity to get in shape and hopefully make a deal.
"Paul Owens was honest with me when he let me come here," said Unser, who signed with the Phils just before the season opened. "He told me if they traded Richie Hebner there would be a spot on the roster for me. So, all during spring training I waited for that to happen.”
A few days after Hebner was dealt to the Mets on March 27 for pitcher Nino Espinosa, Unser was signed through 1980. He went on to set a major-league record when he slammed three consecutive pinch-hit home runs on June 30, July 5 and July 10. As a pinch hitter, he was 14-46, .304 with four homers and 14 RBI.
"The home runs were very unexpected and I am probably the most unlikely character to do something like that," Unser said. "But it can be done and I think all the work I did on my hitting paid off.
''The thing about last year that was so important was that I proved I could still play. I didn't get a whole lot of opportunity to play, but I think I proved I can be a valuable asset to this team."
Under new Manager Dallas Green it appears Unser will get more playing time, but he is not certain that will happen.
"I have no idea what it's going to be like," Unser said. "As I mentioned, Rose is not going to be out of the line-up at all. If I get to play any it probably will be in the outfield. That will give me a chance to get more games and more at-bats. If it's a close game, I don't think I am going to be playing until he seventh, eighth or ninth innings."
As Unser kept talking, he sounded like somebody who is frustrated, if not downright unhappy.
"No, but I don't think any manager would want somebody who is content to sit on the bench,'' he said. "It requires a lot more work on my part to stay ready, to stay in shape, to keep my stroke fluid and keep any semblance of timing. It can be done and I have worked hard on this. I can also go in an play if somebody gets hurt."
Unser, 35, is on his second tour with the Phillies. He was with them in 1973 and 1974 before being traded to the New York Mets in the Tug McGraw deal. His career went sour in New York and Montreal, he became a free agent, and now is back with the Phillies.
This spring, Unser is hitting .389, and people are saying his stroke is the best it has been in years. And although his future is not as uncertain as it was a year ago, Del still wonders what will happen after' 1980.
"I would like to sign a contract for a couple of more years. I'm set for; this year, but atter that... if they don't show me some interest by the middle of the season I'm just going to have to go free agent again whether or not I have a good year.
"I want some to try to get some security. It seems the older I get the smarter I get about hitting, staying in shape and a few other things.
EXTRA POINTS – Steve Carlton was outstanding again yesterday... He worked five innings, allowed just three hits and struck out four – all in a row… Carlton has now pitched nine scoreless innings in his last two performances... Scott Munninghoff and Ron Reed also pitched well... Mike Schmidt continued his torrid spring hitting with two singles in three at-bats... He's now hitting.692 The Phils travel to St. Petersburg today to face St. Louis, and tomorrow is an open date... Garry Maddox said yesterday that his agent, Jerry Kapstein, will confer over the phone with Phils' owner Ruly Carpenter today... Negotiations between the two parties were reopened Friday afternoon at Maddox' request... Injured pitcher Larry Christenson says he hopes to be able to start working out in a few days... He was hit by a line drive by the Tigers' Jason Thompson on Thursday... The Phils' first squad cut is due today.