They say it’s not the name on the back of the jersey, but the name on the front, that counts. Likewise, with softball gloves, the name on the embroidered label doesn’t matter as much as who’s wearing it. An all-star can make a pleather T-ball glove look great.
While that is partially true, quality leather gloves give players their best opportunities to succeed on the field. These gloves perform better because they respond in predictable ways that players adjust to over time, and they become better with age. So, which manufacturers are making the best gloves on the market today? Here are some of our favorites.
Best Quality: Nokona
The good folks in Nokona, Texas have been making Nokona gloves since 1934. They are all cut, stitched and laced by hand, one at a time. That commitment to quality separates Nokona gloves from the sea of mass-produced sporting goods.
Nokona is well-known for its use of Kangaroo hide, which is stronger, more pliable and longer-lasting than most other leathers, in its Buckaroo series. The company’s Stampede steerhide has also earned a reputation for playability and durability, while the Buffalo hide in the Alpha series makes up some of Nokona’s other exotic efforts.
Nokona gloves are an investment, but one that pays for itself in terms of longevity. They break in quickly, and they conform to the player and the style of play to become a one-of-a-kind piece of equipment.
Best Value: Mizuno
Mizuno is a major sporting goods manufacturer with its home in Osaka, Japan, and has been in business for more than a century. In softball circles, Mizuno gloves have a well-deserved reputation for quality and reasonable cost that few manufacturers can compete with.
Mizuno’s new Global Elite Series gloves may rival the handmade market in terms of cost, but it is in the midrange-cost gloves that the company truly shines. The MVP and MVP Prime series gloves provide incredible bang for the buck. The Biosoft pre-oiled leather requires little break-in, and will last and improve through multiple seasons of hard play.
Shoeless Joe – Shoeless Jane
Shoeless Joe is another producer of handmade gloves that feature fine leather and superior craftsmanship. The company modeled itself and its products after the classic gloves that baseball, and then softball, were built upon. For those who think they just don’t make them like they used to, there’s Shoeless Joe.
Thanks to the special, tobacco tanned leather, Shoeless Jane softball gloves are soft and pliable right off the shelf and can go directly into game play. Longevity is no issue with these gloves, but if one starts to lose its feel, the company offers reconditioning. For $25, any Shoeless Joe or Shoeless Jane glove can be reworked with tanning oil and brought back to nearly original condition — including the famous leather smell.
Wilson is one of the oldest sporting goods manufacturers in the world, dating back to 1910s Chicago. Wilson has long made great ball gloves, and that tradition continues with the company’s newest models. These are serious gloves for serious players.
Wilson’s A2000 series is a staple on softball and baseball fields around the country, and for good reason. Its use of synthetic Super Skin (polyurethane microfiber) and Pro Stock leather in those gloves light, strong and comfortable. For those who are priced out of the A2000s, the A800s and Onyx series are nice compromises.
Rawlings has a century-long history of producing some of the finest leather gloves and mitts to ever grace a diamond. Worth, another great name in softball gloves, came under the same umbrella company in 2003. Recently, Worth has ceased making gloves, though some of its popular models, such as the Liberty Advanced series, are now made with the Rawlings label.
Rawlings may not dominate the industry as it once did, but with gloves such as the Gamer and the more-affordable Shut Out series, it continues to have a strong presence. Rawlings uses top-notch materials in most of its softball gloves, and the higher-quality ones tend to last for years when cared for.
Easton was the brainchild of James Easton, and the company earned its proud reputation on the diamond mostly through its high-performance aluminum bats. The Easton family sold the Easton name in 2006, retaining only the archery division. Since that time, the mystique has gradually leaked from the name, at least as far as gloves are concerned.
Not that the Easton softball glove line is of poor quality — far from it. The new-for-2016 Stealth Pro series features quality materials and functional patterns. Those interested in heirloom quality may want to look elsewhere, however, and options within the product lines are limited. It almost seems as if, when a corporation takes over a family-run operation, it loses something intangible. Hmmm… They’re still quality gloves though.
If you’re looking for that heirloom glove, the one you’ll take out one day and use to tell glory stories to the next generation, Nokona is the way to go. The finest of materials couple with the finest of craftsmanship to create the type of product that the U.S. was once known for globally. If money is a factor, consider Mizuno. Its soft, durable, all-leather gloves can be had for reasonable prices, and even the most affordable gloves from the brand are worthy of high-level play.