Answer Man

Why ballplayers leave index finger out of glove

Former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser said he’s the one who invented the little flap on the outside of a pitcher’s glove.
Former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser said he’s the one who invented the little flap on the outside of a pitcher’s glove.

Q: Why do players keep their index finger outside their gloves? Why expose the index finger to potential injury?

David J. Busse, of Maryville

A: Those like me who never graduated beyond Wiffle ball rarely think about it. But consider: You’re Yadier Molina catching Cardinal fireballer Alex Reyes or shortstop Aledmys Diaz snaring DJ LeMahieu’s torrid grounder. Even protected by the plush leather and padding of an expensive glove, which finger is still most likely to take a pounding? It’s the index finger, because it is usually positioned behind where the ball slams into the glove.

In fact, a 2005 study published in the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery found that despite improvements in glove design, this repetitive trauma is causing irreversible damage — especially to index fingers. Rather than putting the finger at risk, many players say that placing their index finger in back of the glove actually offers more protection by adding another layer of padding and leather. Modern gloves often have an extra loop added on the back just to keep this errant finger in place.

In the study, Dr. Andrew Koman at Wake Forest University examined 36 pro players in the A-level Carolina League. More than a third reported pain, numbness, weakness or tingling. Most were catchers, but 17 percent of infielders and outfielders and 7 percent of pitchers also reported weakness in their gloved hand.

It used to be that the real threat — especially for catchers — was a blood clot in the artery in the palm. Not anymore. Koman saw index fingers that were significantly enlarged, which indicated chronic damage to circulation and nerves.

“What’s interesting — and what we don’t really have an answer to — is that many baseball players will place their index finger outside the glove,” Koman told HealthDay.com. “Is that causing the damage? It may have evolved to protect the index finger, but it might actually put it at risk.”

As he says, however, no study has been done on this positioning that arose, some think, in the early 1960s. Protection is not the only reason. Some say it not only makes a larger pocket but makes it easier for the other three fingers to snap the glove shut. (If they don’t like exposing their finger, some players use a variation by putting both the pinkie and fourth finger in the pinkie slot and then shifting the third and index fingers down one. This might be a favorite for outfielders, who may not want to expose the finger as they make a diving catch or slam into a wall.)

Then there’s the case of former Los Angeles Dodger ace Orel Hershiser.

“Do you see that little flap on the outside of the pitcher’s glove? I invented that,” Orel Hershiser told ESPN in 2012. “Sometimes, when I would throw a breaking ball, my (left) index finger (the one that he kept on the outside of his glove) would wiggle. And the hitter could see it, and would know a curveball was coming. So I had the glove company build a little flap on the outside of the glove so I could keep my finger outside my glove, but the hitter couldn’t see my finger.”

For a humorous take, see The Onion’s satiric report on the 47th annual MLB meeting on the benefit of placing the index finger outside the mitt. Go to www.theonion.com and search for “baseball index finger.”

Q: Why did politicians, at the end of their ads, start making the fairly obvious statement that they “approved this message”? When did this start?

Gary S., of Millstadt

A: Roughly 20 years ago, even politicians were becoming sick of the increasingly malicious attack ads being aired and printed during political campaigns.

Because many ads were anonymous, some felt that if they required candidates to link their name to their attacks, voters would be more inclined to punish them, thus discouraging negative campaigning and leading to more positive ads. When North Carolina saw some success by enacting such a law in 1999, Congress followed suit in 2002 with the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (also known as the McCain-Feingold Act).

Among the law’s many rules and regulations is what’s called the Stand by Your Ad provision. For example, it requires a candidate’s TV ads to include the candidate saying he approved the message along with a written message that identifies him and remains on the screen for at least four seconds. The rules also apply to interest groups and political parties that support or oppose a candidate.

Unfortunately (I’m sure many would say), a followup law, proposed by Democrats, that would have required the heads of “super PACs” and corporations to appear in their ads failed in the Senate. This came on the heels of the Supreme Court ruling that allows companies and unions limitless spending on advocacy ads. And the law does not apply to Internet advertising, which, has increasingly become the medium of choice of reaching voters anytime, anywhere.

Maybe after the current crop of depressing ads, they’ll revisit the issue. Or not.

Today’s trivia

What lifesaving innovation did Sweden’s Nils Bohlin devise to earn him induction into America’s National Inventors Hall of Fame?

Answer to Wednesday’s trivia: So how did anyone pick “gar” as the name of a fish? Apparently, the skeleton or even outward appearance of this long fish with its needlelike teeth reminded ancient anglers of a spear, which was called a “gar” in Old English. By the way, it’s the same story for the pike, an old weapon that means “pointed” in Middle English.

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer

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