Harry Decker, the Don Juan of Shaven Head

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Harry Decker, the Don Juan of Shaven Head

Postby mikesglove » October 14th, 2011, 2:05 am

This is the heading of a chapter from the book "Catcher" by Peter Morris. This is a well researched, informative and entertaining read on the history of the catcher position in baseball. The chapter mentioned is on Harry Decker, an exceptional athlete and brilliant inventor. He was charismatic and also deeply troubled with a self destructive streak a mile wide and just as deep. The heading of the chapter "Don Juan of Shaven Head" refers to Decker's persuasive way with women and also his ways of finding himself behind bars. Here is a link to the whole chapter and it is a real eye opener into the life and times of Earle Harry Decker.http://books.google.com/books?id=86P2pteOc40C&pg=PA189&lpg=PA189&dq=don+juan+of+shaven+head+decker&source=bl&ots=I7Pnd5f8If&sig=6Gjc30n2dd2uNNctaQJHAaRfu6o&hl=en&ei=0ZeXToOOKcfjiAKt36ziDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&sqi=2&ved=0CB8Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=don%20juan%20of%20shaven%20head%20decker&f=false

There are three patents by Decker that are like sign posts along the road of his troubled life.
His first and major patent in 1889 for a catchers mitt with finger guard was a simple and elegant improvement on the clunky wire reinforced glove designs presented by Joe Gunson and Ted Kennedy. Decker's design was so good that he was guaranteed success and wealth. Paul Buckley was Decker's partner for the patent and future manufacture of this mitt. Decker inexplicably lost interest in the project and could not even come up with the money for the patent application and in the end left the partnership. Buckley forged ahead and secured the patent but did not want to go it alone so he sold the patent to A.G. Spalding. The mitt of course was a huge success for Spalding but Decker saw very little if any money.

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Decker Patent mitt in a circa 1900 Spalding catalog
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Catcher wearing a Decker mitt
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The second patent in 1895 was filed by Anna Burns Decker. This was Harry Decker's wife. In 1885 while playing independent league ball in Keokuk Iowa, The 20 year old Harry Decker met and married 15 year old Anna Burns. It was quite the scandal in Keokuk at the time. Their marriage lasted till about 1896 when she filed for divorce for his philandering and erratic behavior. Harry's baseball career ended in 1891 because he had basically burned all his bridges and no one was going to let him back into the big leagues. So between 1891 and his divorce in 1896, Harry led a life of a pool hall shark , making money but also racking up debts, living on forged checks, subjecting himself to multiple arrest and convictions, spending time in jail and mental asylums. He could not use his real name so he invented aliases and in the case of his 1895 patent invention, Harry had his wife file the application to keep himself below the radar of debt collectors and prosecution.

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A stylish 1899 Brogan mitt with the 1895 patent features
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The third patent in 1906 is for a really odd catchers mitt with inflatable bladders and a detachable back panel for padding adjustment. The patent was for Harry Decker and George J. Stiteley of Joliet, IL. Stiteley was a guard at the prison in Joliet where Decker was incarcerated at the time. Decker was still very personable and likable and managed to talk the prison guard into filing the patent. Upon his release in 1911, Decker settled in Joliet for a time and did contract work as a cabinet maker and builder.

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Last edited by mikesglove on October 22nd, 2011, 1:45 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Don Juan of Shaven Head

Postby softball66 » October 14th, 2011, 7:47 am

Highly interesting post Mike! Thanks again for the illumination. Another window opened to us of early baseball gloves by Mike.
Often a thin line between genius and mental instability. In many fields.
Reminds me, in a way, of "Carbine" Williams who designed the WWII M1 Carbine while in prison. Made into a movie with Jimmy Stewart.
By the way, my mail server is out for some reason on glovecollector@mac.com in case anyone is trying to reach me.
:roll:
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Re: Harry Decker, the Don Juan of Shaven Head

Postby mikesglove » December 26th, 2019, 5:42 pm

I ran across this ad on ebay. It is rare. It's from 1889 just as The Decker mitt was patented. Harry Decker and Paul Buckley planned to manufacture this model but Decker backed out at the last minute. Buckley struggled with the manufacturing logistics and ended up selling the patent to Spalding.

Ad from 1889 from Buckley and Decker Manufacturers in Chicago.
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Spalding ad from 1891
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