50 Shades of Glove Gray

Roar of the Tigers
Paws approves of all grays, but Paws does not write the rule book.

Wins, losses, struggles at the plate, struggles on the mound, even vomiting players were not enough to break through the sheer amount of work I’ve had to do lately and inspire me to post, but THIS?! A controversy about COLORS? I am here.

Casey Mize, who started today’s game against the LAA Angels, was wearing Kyle Funkhouser’s glove. I had the game on but admittedly was only half paying attention; at one point I looked up and noticed the glove, with FUNKHOUSER prominently displayed down the side. I did the only obvious thing, which was to ask Twitter what was going on, and I was quickly informed of the GLOVE COLOR CONTROVERSY.

To give us all a basic understanding, here’s the actual MLB ruling on pitcher glove colors:

3.07 Pitcher’s Glove

(a) The pitcher’s glove may not, exclusive of piping, be white, gray, nor, in the judgment of an umpire, distracting in any manner. No fielder, regardless of position, may use a fielding glove that falls within a PANTONE® color set lighter than the current 14-series.

(b) No pitcher shall attach to his glove any foreign material of a color different from the glove.

(c) The umpire-in-chief shall cause a glove that violates Rules 3.07 (a) or (b) to be removed from the game, either on his own initiative, at the recommendation of another umpire or upon complaint of the opposing manager that the umpire-in-chief agrees has merit.

–official MLB rule book, 2019 edition

I vaguely recalled the rule about ‘distracting’ colors– I have memories of this being vigorously debated on baseball message boards in the early 2000s when a few Red Sox pitchers favored camo-patterned gloves– but I didn’t remember anything about gray being a Verboten Value. I would love to see the ‘Pantone 14-series’ that the rule book references. The idea of umpires comparing a glove to an official set of Pantone swatches in a special room with neutral walls and diffuse color-balanced lighting is now a cherished head-canon and I will not believe that it is otherwise.

Regardless, the idea seems to be to ban light-colored gloves specifically, since there is theoretically a range of colors that are apparently all ok so long as they are darker than the mysterious 14-series. If you believe that a white glove is an unfair distraction to a batter, as it can be used to hide the ball or can be flashed around like a semaphore flag or whatever the issue is, then I guess this makes a kind of sense.

(I assume the bit about ‘judgment of an umpire’ allows for the ad hoc banning of day-glo or safety orange gloves, or gloves with optical camo patterns, and so on, should anyone attempt to go that route.)

The issue with Casey Mize’s glove was not that it was light-gray-approaching-white, or that it had distracting patterns on it. In photos it looks anywhere from mostly black to a medium gray. To me it looks significantly less likely to distract anyone than the very common light brown or yellowish gloves that apparently are completely kosher (the Funkhouserian replacement that Mize was using today is light tan), and it’s certainly no more distracting than the medium-dark red or blue gloves that you see other pitchers using occasionally.

To complicate matters further, there was some question about what even counted as ‘gray’ for the purposes of the rule book. Per this MLive article:

In the rule book it says no gray gloves, and that’s any shade of gray apparently, because Casey’s is as dark a gray as you can get. Some people would call it off-black, but off-black looks gray. The umpire in Kansas City (Tumpane) deemed it to be gray. The league has reviewed it and they see it as a gray glove.

–AJ Hinch, philosopher of color.

Now, as some of you from the old crew remember, I am an Art Person who went to Art Skool and now works with Art People, and there are few things that make me happier than a good old-fashioned throwdown about the ontology of color. What even is gray? Here’s the value chart I show my students when we start to talk about shading drawings:

So the question becomes: what, in this scale, is gray? Is it literally everything between the single vertical line of pixels at far left (pure white) and the single vertical line of pixels at far right (pure black)? Or is there a subset of values somewhere in the middle, where we decide that everything to the left of this as-yet-undefined chunk is white (or off-white) and everything to the right of this chunk is black (or AJ Hinch’s off-black)? Where are the edges of the gray-chunk? Who decides? WHO IS THE ARBITER OF GRAY? Is it someone at Pantone? And if so, why does someone at Pantone have it in for Casey Mize specifically?

I don’t have answers to these questions. I don’t even know why gray is a Forbidden Color, when it comes to gloves– like I said, there are paler gloves in regular use throughout the league, so it shouldn’t be a distraction issue, and there are plenty of dark brown or black gloves also in use, which probably hide certain sticky substances better, if that was an issue affecting MLB’s color preferences. To my eyes– which, I will stress, are not umpire eyes or Official MLB Rule Writer eyes, but are eyes that have been certified by multiple degrees attesting to visual literacy– Casey Mize’s glove was a very boring, not-distracting, innocent, blameless shade of charcoal gray. It didn’t deserve to be cast off like some kind of neon green rule breaker.

Justice for the Gray Glove.

I look forward to any and all further developments in this incredibly important baseball story.

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