Irving H. Franklin, a longtime sporting goods manufacturer who developed the first batting glove specifically designed for baseball with Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt in 1983, died Nov. 10 at 93.
Franklin, whose company, Franklin Sports, now custom fits 150 Major League Baseball players with gloves, also manufactures and imports fielders gloves, and professional and youth gear for soccer, football, hockey, and other sports. Franklin, billed as the official batting glove of MLB, is the only company authorized to place the MLB logo on its gloves.
According to company lore, Franklin worked with Schmidt during spring training in 1983 to develop a glove custom designed for baseball. The company was looking to get its name and brand on MLB baseball diamonds. At the time, few players wore gloves. ESPN cited a book saying that Lefty O’Doul of the Brooklyn Dodgers was the first MLB player to wear a glove in 1932.
A history of batting gloves on Wikipedia said Ted Williams was among the first players to popularize wearing a glove, after a golfing buddy gave him a glove to prevent blisters. Williams’ use of a glove made them popular, but no companies offered products designed for the needs of professional players.
Prior to the batting glove, in the late 1960s, Franklin signed New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath as a client and became the first sporting goods company to market “a complete line of products around an athlete.” Other athletes in Franklin’s stable over the years have included Terry Bradshaw, Dan Marino, Herschel Walker, Sugar Ray Leonard, David Robinson, Don Mattingly, Bo Jackson, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Barry Bonds.
Franklin was born in Brockton, Mass., and joined his grandfather in a scrap leather business, which he took over when his grandfather died. In partnership with his brother, Sydney, the company manufactured footballs, shoulder pads, other sports equipment. During the Korean War, the company produced gloves, trigger-finger mittens, and other products for the US Army. Franklin opened a factory in Puerto Rico in the 1950s, where he lived and made baseball gloves for Spaulding, Sears, and others. The company imported baseball gloves from Japan and other countries in the 1960s and later built a factory in Taiwan.
Franklin was a benefactor and developer of many Jewish organizations, including a UJA appeal in Puerto Rico in the 1950s, New England Sinai Hospital in Stoughton, Mass., Israel Bonds, Temple Beth Emunah in Brockton, and Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, where he established the Franklin Fellow Rabbinical School Scholarship Fund.
The news of Franklin’s death came just as there was confirmation from three Jewish former Major League Baseball players of their plans to help Israel develop and field a competitive team for the upcoming World Baseball Classic
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