Metro

Get Smart

Check out these baseball-related patents from more than a century ago

Tommy McCarthy was sharp on and off the field: Here’s his cleat patent.
National Archives
Tommy McCarthy was sharp on and off the field: Here’s his cleat patent.

Baseball great Tommy McCarthy, who roamed the outfield for the Boston Braves and Boston Beaneaters more than a century ago, is credited with being a smart player, developing the hit-and-run play and pioneering trapping balls in the outfield to trick opposing base runners.

He changed baseball into “more of a thinking man’s game,” according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

He was “always a quick thinker, full of nerve and fast, with a wonderful arm. … I have never seen anyone who could think or act as quick as he could,” fellow Hall of Famer Hugh Duffy said, according to the Society for American Baseball Research.

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It turns out McCarthy was thinking off the field, too, the National Archives says.

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McCarthy received a patent in 1912 for a baseball cleat that attaches to the bottom of a player’s shoe, the Archives said.

The Archives on Monday released an image of the cover sheet for the patent and a diagram showing the roughly triangle-shaped cleat.

It’s a far cry from the futuristic designs of today’s cleats. But it also looks like it might just work.

McCarthy is not the only Boston Hall of Famer who was inventive off the field.

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Charles Augustus “Kid” Nichols played for the Beaneaters (who later became the Braves) winning 30 games in 1891 when the team won the National League pennant. In 1892, he won 35 games, winning two games in the league championship when the team beat Cy Young and the Cleveland Spiders.

Nichols submitted a patent for an “amusement apparatus” that was intended to display on a board the action in a game, using figures and lights, the Archives said in a statement.

The idea was, according to Nichols’s application, to “picture ... each individual play made in the game, together with temporary and recording parts, and means by which the standing of the opposing teams may be shown during the progress of the game,” the Archives said.

“About 1912 I invented an electric scoreboard. It showed the field with lights for the players in position, and running lights around the bases for the baser runners. I received my patent in 1913. My board was operated in Convention Hall and at the Kansas City Star to great success until Radio came in,” Nichols said in a handwritten document first published in Baseball: A Journal of the Early Game.

The archives released a diagram of the machine, which was patented in 1913. It’s enough to make you want to just check your phone for the latest scores.

National Archives
Kid Nichols’ ‘amusement’ apparatus was a way of keeping track of faraway games
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The Archives says it has a number of baseball-related patent records, including patents for the baseball, the bat, the batting glove, and catcher’s masks. (J.E. Bennett’s contraption for baseball catchers, a cage worn by the catcher on his chest that would trap the ball, obviating the need for a catcher’s mitt, is one of the most bizarre, the Archives said.)

National Archives
J.E. Bennett’s device would catch the ball for the catcher. It never caught on.

Archivist Bob Beebe of the Archives in Kansas City said in a statement that he looked at Hall of Famers and found that eight of them hold patents or have applied for them. Other Hall of Famer patents include patents for keeping the ball field dry, hip pads for players sliding, and an early patent for flip-up sunglasses.

Two of the more recent Hall of Famer patents include one issued to Houston Astros player Craig Biggio for a “Training Aid for Batter,” and one applied for by Cal Ripken Jr., titled a “System and Method for Objectively Measuring a Player’s Ability,” the Archives said.