When I began my research for my lone World War II vintage U.S. Navy service glove, I inadvertently discovered an obituary for a man who passed away in 2002. In quickly reading the article, I noticed that he had a moniker, “the Glove Doctor” and I was interested in learning more about him as he was also mentioned as the glove designer for the Rawlings Sporting Goods Company, a role (along with the moniker) he inherited from his father, Harry Latina. In my article about Elmer Riddle and his signature glove, I focused on the aspect that though the pitcher never served in the armed forces, gloves bearing his name saw service across the globe throughout both theaters of combat operations.
To most non-ballplayers and non-collectors, a baseball glove is nothing more than a functional tool constructed of animal skin that is intended to assist the baseball player in receiving the (seemingly) rock-hard baseball from its flight having been batted or thrown. The soft leather and padding provide the fielder with more surface area for sure-handed catches and insulation to reduce pain from the impact of the fast-moving orb into their hand. It is purely a fundamentally functional object. However, to the ball player and collector, the glove has vastly more significance.
In the book, For the Love of Baseball: A Celebration of the Game That Connects Us All, Stefan Fatsis wrote in his essay, My Glove: A Biography,“ that he had wanted to “write about my glove for years. Not only is it the single most personal object that I own – the one thing that I would be devastated to lose – it is my last, best connection to the baseball that defined my life as a kid. Not just playing the game incessantly, but being a crazy fan of it, too. My glove is a reminder that the innocence and thrill that made baseball so great and so important still exist in this thirty-year-old hunk of leather.” The glove is the long-lasting personal interface between the individual and the game. One might argue that the same could be said of other equipment; bats, uniforms, spikes or even the ball itself; all of these items are either subject to wear or obsolescence during a season or even within a single game. A ballplayer’s glove will last for an entire career. In holding my own glove (that I have used since I was an adolescent) or my WWII vintage Elmer Riddle, I never once thought of the person who invested his time and expertise into the design or the significance of the imprinted patent numbers that can be found on many of them.
With minimal research effort, one can easily see how Harry B. Latina had an incredible impact on the game beginning with his work immediately following World War I. According to The Fascinating History Of The Baseball Glove, “Rawlings came to the forefront of glove manufacturing in 1919, when St. Louis (Cardinals) pitcher Bill Doak went to the company with the idea of putting a web between the thumb and index finger. Known as the Bill Doak glove, it transformed the way a baseball glove was viewed: no longer as a means of protection, but as a tool.” The primary person at Rawlings who worked with Doak was Harry “The Glove Doctor” Latina who would be on the forefront of countless innovations and patents that would vault Rawlings to the forefront of glove manufacturers over the course of the Twentieth Century.
Aside from the many advancements in baseball glove design, perhaps Harry’s greatest contribution to baseball originated within his family. Harry and his wife, Florence had three children: Harry B. Jr., Roland and Carol Lee “Mimi.” In the 1940 federal census, Harry Jr is listed as an assemblyman with an electric motor manufacturer, heading in a different direction from his father as did Carol Lee. Roland, however took an interest in his father’s profession joining him at Rawlings a few years following the end of World War II (in 1947).
“What does all of this have to do with the military?” you might ask. I could stretch out the idea that Rollie worked with ballplayers returning to the major leagues from the war (he did) but that isn’t it. I could refer to Rollie’s father’s innovations appearing on the makeshift ballfields in the war theaters, but that isn’t it, either. No, Harry’s middle child contributed to the war effort of his own accord, enlisting to serve in the United States Navy soon after graduating from high school in East St. Louis, IL in 1942. In researching Rollie’s service, the Gunners’ Mate spent his time serving in the Pacific theater aboard a few ships as well as an amphibious landing group aboard a Landing Craft Tank (LCT).
Latina’s earlier ships, the Anthedon and Clytie were both part of the Navy’s auxiliary Forces – submarine tenders (essentially, sea-going submarine repair, refit and refueling facilities) before he made his way to the front lines. Serving aboard landing craft – vessels that deliver U.S. Marines and SeaBees to enemy-held beaches while under fire could be considerably hazardous duty during the island-hopping allied offensive in the Pacific Theater. With further research, one might be able to determine more specifically the battles and engagements his units may have participated in. Prior to his LCT service, GM3/c Latina detached from the Clytie and was assigned to serve under the Commander Seventh Amphibious Force, Rear Admiral Daniel Barbey for a few months before reporting aboard USS LST 881.
During the next two years following Latina’s service during the war, he joined his father at Rawlings working alongside Harry as he learned the art of glove-making while listening to professional ballplayers to continue the advancement of designs. When Harry Latina retired, Rollie took over the role and soon became known by the same “glove doctor” moniker that was with his father for more than 40 years. Rollie would retire from Rawlings in 1986 having developed many of his own patented designs:
A Sampling of Rollie “The Glove Doctor” Latina’s Patents:
- Wrist strap construction for a baseball glove
- Ball glove having a concave backstop
- Baseball glove construction
As a collector of baseball militaria, I am constantly researching and educating myself about the men and the equipment, ephemera, documents and uniforms they used in and surrounding the game in association with military service. The more that I educate myself I discover that there is considerably more to learn and this mindset holds true with WWII gloves and their makers. Part of my education process is to capture and document as much information regarding gloves that were used by service members, focused primarily upon the WWII time-frame. I am hopeful that the result of this effort would be some form of a visual database that collectors can refer to when they acquire a military glove.
- Sports Illustrated: Glove Story
- Baseball’s Glove Man – Bob Clevenhagen
- For the Love of Baseball: A Celebration of the Game that Connects Us All
- Good Glove photos are tough to find – Harry/Rollie Latina Photos
- Rawlings’ Patents
- Rawlings Sporting Goods Co., Inc. History
- Rawlings’ ‘Glove Doctor’ dies
- Roland Latina’s Findagrave Memorial