I can’t remember not playing baseball. It seems like I always have. I remember the day I first played on an organized team in Little League. I had been selected for the team. We arrived for our first practice. My dad was the coach.
We all stood in a circle waiting to take the field to practice. My dad asked everyone what positions they would like to play. I was on his left. We started going around the circle starting to his right. I would be last to say.
By the time it got around to me all the positions had really been spoken for several times. There was one position no one seemed to want. I said I would like to be the catcher. My dad said, “Great, then put on the tools of ignorance”. And with that we took the field.
My dad taught me how to catch. I loved it. Fast forward and guess what position my son wanted to play when he started baseball. Yup, he wanted to catch. And I taught him about the tools of ignorance.
The term, “the tools of ignorance”, was coined by Herold “Muddy” Ruel, a lawyer turned backstop who caught for greats like Walter Johnson with the Washington Senators in the 1920s.
So, if you were catching Al Spalding for the Braves (then know as the Boston Red Stockings) from 1872 to 1875, you might have wanted a mask. One didn’t initially exist though. It wasn’t until 1875 that one was “invented”. The founder of the Red Stockings had the catchers use a “mouth protector”. It was a “Harvard guy” (Fred Thayer) that actually invented the mask.
The first to use it was Alexander (Jim) Tying who was playing for the Harvard Nine. It was called a rat-trap. It made it to the Spalding catalog in 1878. Eventually Fred Thayer sued Al Spalding for infringement upon Thayer’s patent rights to the catching mask. Spalding would be forced to pay royalties to Thayer and Wright when the case was settled.
And so … fathers continue to teach their sons to use the “tools of ignorance”.