Baseball’s Most Ridiculous Patented Equipment

Background – what does a patent get you?

Long ago, governments recognized that protecting inventors’ efforts was essential to encourage technological advancement but realized that limiting the time in which an inventor had the exclusive right to market their invention served the greater good by preventing the inventor from controlling a useful product forever.  Patents were first granted in Europe in the late 1400s and the patent system was first enacted in the United States in 1790.  To date, there have been thousands of baseball-related patents issued covering everything from game equipment to methods of compressing game broadcasts.

In the United States, a patent is an intellectual property right granted by the government to an inventor that “excludes others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.  Currently, a utility patent is enforceable for 20 years from the date on which the application was submitted, assuming that periodic maintenance fees are paid as scheduled.

What can be patented?

A utility patent will be granted for a machine, process, article of manufacture, composition of matter (or any improvement to an existing machine, process, article of manufacture, composition of matter) as long as it is “new, nonobvious and useful.”  There are certain things that cannot be patented, however, such as laws of nature, abstract ideas and inventions that are morally offensive or “not useful.”

The “non useful” component is somewhat interesting in that the patent examiner is charged only with making a decision whether an invention will function as expected and otherwise has a “useful purpose.”  As you will see below, “useful” does not always mean that the invention will be marketable.

So how did James Bennett hope to change baseball?

While it is not clear whether inventor James E. Bennett of Momence, Illinois is the same James Bennett who played for the Sharon Ironmongers in the 1895 Iron and Oil League, it seems clear that he did not exert any forethought as to whether his inventions would be practical when used under baseball game conditions.  Either that or he just really hated catching a ball with the existing baseball glove technology available at the turn of the 20th Century.

By the early 1900s, baseball gloves had undergone constant improvement.  Starting with George Rawlings in 1885, (Pat. No. 325,968) protective gloves were becoming more acceptable to protect fielders’ hands.  In 1891, Harry Decker added a thick pad to the front of the glove (Pat. No. 450,355) and Bob Reach added an inflatable chamber (Pat. No. 450,717).  By 1895 Elroy Rogers had designed the classic “pillow-style” catcher’s mitt (Pat. No. 528,343) that would be used with little change until Randy Hundley pioneered the one-handed catching technique in the 1960s using a hinged catcher’s mitt.

Regardless of the existence of the baseball glove technology in use at the time, James Bennett tried to think outside the box by eliminating the catcher’s mitt altogether and, instead, attaching that box to the catcher’s chest.  Here is 1904’s “Base Ball Catcher” in all of its ill-conceived glory:

Front View
Side View

Bennett apparently envisioned the catcher squatting behind home plate acting as a passive target for the pitcher’s offerings and designed this contraption to accept the pitched ball into the cage such that it would strike the padding and drop through a chute into the catcher’s hand so it could be returned to the mound.  As you can see, however, the device would have significant shortcomings should the catcher have to attempt to throw out a would-be base stealer, be required to catch the ball for a play at the plate, attempt to block a wild pitch or especially to field his position on a ball put in play in front of the plate.

But Bennett was not finished yet! In 1905, he patented a two-handed “Base Ball Glove” with an oversized pocket to trap the ball:
Front and Back View

Bennett claims that this poorly imagined glove is easy to use because the fingers on the player’s throwing hand were specially designed to “permit the easy and quick removal of that hand to grasp and throw the ball.”  Just as with the “Base Ball Catcher,” however, this design does not offer the player much in the way of a catching radius.

So what happened to James E. Bennett’s inventions?
As of 1918, he was still looking for investors, according to this advertisement he placed in the August and October issues of “Forest and Stream” magazine.



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I am a lawyer in Chicago and a long suffering Cubs fan. I like to research and write about legal cases involving baseball and have been amazed at the sheer number of legal battles that have shaped the game we know today. Check out Baseball Law Reporter to satisfy your baseball litigation needs.


6 Responses to “Baseball’s Most Ridiculous Patented Equipment”

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  1. Brandon Firstname says:

    These are horrifying. Imagine trying to make a diving grab to your left with the two-handed glove.

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  2. Eric Garcia says:

    “We’ve long assumed that taller and bulkier catchers have had an advantage behind the plate when it comes to balls and strikes because of the necessity for them to fit into a larger Base Ball Catcher. But until recently there has not been a lot of data driven research into the skill aspect of apparatus as frame maneuvering. We’ve developed a statistic called Reflex/1000 that measures how many would be balls have turned into strikes due to the often contortionist efforts of a catcher, aided by his Base Ball Catcher. We’ve found that Craig Biggio’s hall of fame level success as a catcher was not just due to his ability to steal bases at a modest 85% rate, but also his ability to use his nimble body frame to generate a positive Reflex/1000. As opposed to the ungainly Jose Molina, whose girth and large Base Ball Catcher should make for more called strikes, but whose lumbering upper body reflexes limit his capacity.” — Jeff Sullivan in an alternate universe

    +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Matty Brown says:

    More!

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  4. rustydude says:

    Haha, former patent examiner here. I remember applying the “useful” criteria to a lot of silly ideas. Good write up, John. I enjoyed.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. LaTroy Hawkins says:

    I’ll never have to use one of these…

    http://www.nuttybuddy.com

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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