March 16, 2006
Tools of the Trade
Baseball is a game of bats and balls. There's also a ton of gloves, shoes, jerseys and some pretty cool sunglasses. It's someone's job to take care of these loads and piles of stuff. We get the inside scoop.
The Indians use over twenty thousand baseballs over the course of a single regular season.
Baseball is a game that requires a lot of stuff. So much stuff that Major League teams must employ one individual whose sole job it is to keep track of all the stuff.
With the Cleveland Indians, that person is Tony Amato, the team's clubhouse and equipment manager.
If an Indians player wears it, throws it, swings it, catches it, breaks it, loses it, gives it away, and/or just simply wears it out, chances are Amato can clean it, repair it, or order a new one.
Amato is the go-to guy for Indians players when they need more stuff.
And baseball is a game that requires a lot of stuff.
For example ...
Amato's equipment budget calls for about $170,000 per year just for baseballs.
"We use about 1,800-dozen balls during a full season," he says.
For those scoring at home, that translates to 21,600 baseballs.
And that doesn't count the 13,200 baseballs Amato orders for Spring Training.
Oh, yeah, Amato knows bats. In fact, on any given day, in the Indians' storage room adjacent to the home clubhouse at Jacobs Field, there are between 1,000 and 1,500 bats.
And that doesn't count the bats Amato already has on order to replace the ones recently broken.
"During a full season," he says, "an average player will go through five- to six-dozen bats."
That doesn't count Tribe second baseman Ronnie Belliard, who is the king of the broken bat.
"He probably broke 70 to 80 bats last year by himself,'' says Amato. "Ronnie goes through eight- or nine-dozen bats per year."
Baseball bats get broken. Baseball gloves get broken in.
Both pieces of equipment, however, follow the same career paths, although the bats have a much shorter shelf life than the gloves. According to Amato, players typically go through two to four baseball gloves per season.
On a typical Indians road trip, Amato will pack two baseball gloves and 12 bats for each player.
In the case of both bats and gloves, a player has a "gamer" which is the one, obviously, he uses only in games. The player also has a second glove, a newer glove, he uses only during pre-game drills, to break the glove in, which will eventually replace his gamer.
It can take up to a year to break in a new baseball glove to the liking of its owner - and even then that glove may not be elevated to "gamer" status.
"Some guys will use the same glove year after year,'' says Amato.
Likewise, a player's game bat is never used during batting practice. He uses his batting practice bat. Game bats are typically used until they break. Sometimes, though, a player mired in a slump will change bats frequently.
Indians third baseman Aaron Boone is notorious for frequently changing bats during a bad stretch. Boone is also very meticulous about the weight of his bats.
"He will only use bats that weigh between 31.2 ounces and 31.5 ounces,'' says Amato.
"Sometimes the players can be real fussy about them,'' he says. "They'll get an order of 12 bats in, look at them, but only use six of them. They'll give away the other six, because they don't feel right, even though they are all the same length and weight requested by the player."
Major League players have virtually every piece of equipment provided for them, either by the ball club or by equipment companies, which most players have contracts with.
Most players have shoe, bat, and glove contracts, meaning the individual companies will provide the players with as many of those items during a season as the player needs.
On average, a player will go through three to four pairs of baseball shoes each season. Each player has eight different uniforms: the Indians have four different styles, and each player has two uniforms for each style. Each player also will, on average, go through five baseball caps per season.
And not all of those caps are discarded because they are worn out.
"I had a player once who complained that the Chief Wahoo on his cap was not straight,'' says Amato. "He went through a whole box of a dozen caps, looking for one that he thought the Chief Wahoo was straight. But they all looked straight to me."
Amato says pitchers go through more caps than position players, because pitchers tend to sweat more during games.
"C.C. (Sabathia) uses a lot of caps," says Amato. "On really hot days he'll ask me to have an extra cap for him that he can change to during the game."
Players can be very superstitious about their uniform pants.
"Some of them will keep wearing the same pants, even if they tear a hole in them, because they feel comfortable," says Amato. "We'll keep patching over holes and patching over holes. Sometimes we're actually happy when the player blows out the pants completely, because then he has to start using a new pair, because we can't patch them anymore."
There are actually guidelines for the wearing of uniforms that players must adhere to, or else Amato will get a "violation" letter of warning from Major League Baseball.
"They have a lot of rules," he says. "For example, you're only allowed two logos on your batting gloves. The number on wrist bands must be a certain size, and they don't like pants that are excessively baggy or worn too low."
Some players wear their uniform pant legs so far down over their shoe tops that they will cut a hole in the pants to tie their shoelaces through.
"That isn't allowed," says Amato. "We'll get violation letters for that, too."
The Indians have two home uniforms, white tops and white vest tops, plus two away uniforms: gray tops and blue tops.
For a time, the starting pitcher on a given day decided which uniforms were to be worn that day, but now that decision is made by the Indians' marketing department.
Batting gloves are also considered tools of the trade. Virtually every Indians player uses batting gloves, except for Coco Crisp.
"Coco just likes the way the bat feels in his hands,'' says Amato.
Batting gloves are the most perishable of all baseball stuff.
"Most players will use a new pair every other day,'' says Amato.
Then there are the more exotic pieces of equipment, such as the sunglasses, which have evolved from the old-fashioned flip-down glasses to a newer model, which is worn either over the eyes, or on top of the bill of the cap, for easy access should they be needed on short notice.
There is even one model of sunglasses that has a mechanism in them that allows a player to download his favorite music into a computer chip contained within the glasses, which also include tiny earpieces, allowing the player to listen to the music while wearing the glasses during batting practice.
Indeed, the evolution of baseball equipment, both necessary and those considered luxuries, is seemingly unending.
"The weirdest request I ever got," says Amato, "was from our bullpen catcher, who is left-handed. He wanted a bigger catcher's mitt. So we tried to order a knuckleball catcher's glove (which is oversized). But if you think it's hard to find a knuckleball catcher's glove, it's really hard to find a left-handed knuckleball catcher's glove."
Indeed, an equipment manager's job is never done. Not even when the game is over.
While fans and players are driving home from Jacobs Field, Amato and his staff are loading all the laundry used by the players during that game into the five giant washing machines down the hall from the clubhouse.
The laundry is washed and dried, and then, in the wee hours of the morning, one of Amato's assistants hangs them all up in each player's locker for use in the next day's game.
Even uniforms with impossible stains in them are no match for Amato's staff.
Tommy Foster, Amato's assistant, has concocted a secret detergent designed specifically for the toughest stains.
"He won't tell me what's in it," says Amato. "But he mixed a bunch of chemicals together and came up with this stuff that really works well."
When uniforms, or any other type of equipment are too worn for use by the Indians, they are shipped to one of the Indians' Minor League teams or put aside for use by Cleveland Indians Charities.
By that time, of course, Amato has already ordered more of whatever it is that has worn out.
"My biggest challenge," he says, "is to never get caught short."
And that's not easy.
Because baseball is a game that requires a lot of stuff.