The first use of shin guards in baseball is not as "cut and dried" as one would think (or hope). Catcher Roger Bresnahan is generally credited with being the first to introduce the protective equipment to the game, but this is simply not the case. The best account of the history of shin guards in baseball's early days is found in Peter Morris's invaluable book A Game of Inches, a must-read for anyone interested in baseball history. But, here I'd like to present what I believe is a new discovery: the earliest definitive use of shin guards in baseball.
Tucked away in their weekly "Notes and Comments" column, The Sporting Life of May 30, 1888, published the following observation:
International [League] umpire Jerry Sullivan wears leg-pads like a cricketer. Daniels originated the wrinkle.
This innovator named Daniels was none other than Charles F. Daniels, a veteran arbiter who first umpired in the major leagues in 1874. On July 15, 1876, when St. Louis pitcher George Bradley tossed the second no-hitter in major league history (and the first in the annals of the National League), Daniels was the man who called the balls and strikes ... and everything else. Remember, these were the days of just one umpire per game. He also umpired Johnny Ward's perfect game of June 17, 1880: the second such masterpiece ever tossed in the big leagues. Additionally, in 1886 Daniels was the manager of Hartford of the Eastern League when that club sold a young catcher named Cornelius McGillicuddy to Washington of the National League. Perhaps you've heard of this future Hall of Famer, more commonly known as "Connie Mack?" When Daniels passed away in 1932, his New York Times obituary led with the following statement:
The man who introduced Connie Mack to major league baseball died today.
Now, nearly 80 years since his passing, here's a new claim to fame for Charles Daniels. On April 25, 1888, the New York Giants held their home opener at the Polo Grounds, hosting the Philadelphia Phillies. The umpire for the game was our man Daniels. Photographer Joseph Hall captured the festive scene just prior to the start of the game. The wonderful photograph, showing the two clubs, their managers, and umpire Daniels, is part of the collection at the National Baseball Library. Here is a detail:
Collection of the National Baseball Library
Look closely at Daniels at far left:
Note that his right hand holds his umpire mask while his right leg is adorned with the above noted "leg guard." Why Daniels is wearing just one shin guard is a mystery. Maybe he had yet to affix the other one when it came time to take the photograph? Or perhaps for reasons unknown he only used one while umpiring? Who knows?
Still, the photo is clear evidence of the first definitive use of a shin guard in baseball, over 120 years ago. Who'd have guessed its debut was on the leg of an umpire?