Competitors Moved Offshore, But Nokona Still Makes Its Baseball Gloves in America

Jeffrey Bonior

Jeffrey Bonior Researcher/Writer, AAM

It’s the changing of the seasons as summer has eased into autumn. The kids are back in school. Darkness has begun to encompass more hours of the day.

Sports fans feel the changes, too. Football is back in earnest. The hockey season has returned.

And it’s time for October baseball!

Major League Baseball (MLB) begins its postseason series play on Thursday with the beginning of divisional series matchups. Eight of 30 MLB teams remain left in the hunt, hoping to become World Series Champions.

Americans have long had a love affair with baseball. Although the sport has deep roots in the United States — it is our National Pastime, after all — in recent years many foreign countries have had success in the business of baseball.

A lot of the baseball equipment sold in stores today is made by people living in countries where the average worker earns less money in one week than it costs to purchase a ticket to see one New York Yankees game. In the baseball glove market, popular brands like Wilson, Spalding and Mizuno are mostly manufactured offshore and imported into the United States.

But baseball is going to stay as American as a hot dog if Rob Storey has anything to say about it.

Storey is the executive vice president and fourth-generation family member to oversee Nokona baseball gloves, the only remaining major league player to produce its leather mitts in America.

To be sure, Nokona is an MVP when it comes to manufacturing baseball gloves. Its name is just not that widely known as other brands because the Texas company does not spend millions of dollars signing endorsement deals with baseball’s top players.

But the company is highly ranked when comparing the baseball gloves of today, and individual mitts sell from $250 to as high as $650 each.

While it is only fitting that a top-quality baseball glove be Made in America, the production of keeping it Made in America has weathered some tough times.

“It’s been a family business from the start,” Storey said. “We made our first baseball gloves in 1934. Sometimes, I think in America people assume stuffs spits out of a machine in China somewhere and it ends up on your table or you’re playing on a ballfield with it.

“Here, there’s up to 45 different labor operations that go into making one glove.”

Today’s gloves are made in a 20,000-square-foot building in Nocona, Texas. Yes, Nocona spelled with a ‘c’ instead of with a ‘k,’ as in the company’s name. Storey’s grandfather tried to trademark “Nocona” for the name of his baseball glove company but was denied, so he used the ‘k’.

Years later, the Storey family discovered that Nokona was an accepted spelling for one of the five tribes of the Comanche Indians, a connection now incorporated into the company's branding.

Storey estimates there are about 6.5 million leather baseball gloves manufactured around the globe each year. Approximately 40,000 of those are produced by Nokona in Nocona, a town of about 3,000 residents located north of Dallas about 10 miles from the Oklahoma border.

While the steers and cows for the leather are typically raised in Texas and surrounding states, the hides are shipped to tanneries in Chicago and Milwaukee, which is where Nokona gets it supply of leather.

“Production offshore really didn’t hit our industry until the early 1960s,” said 57-year-old Storey. “There were some small companies around 1960 or 1961 that moved to Okinawa, Japan, but they were making gloves in huts and houses, not in the large factories like today.

“A large part of it moved offshore quickly but it probably took another 25 years for everything — with the exception of us — to transfer over there.”

Hall of Fame pitcher and Texas native Nolan Ryan’s first baseball glove was a Nokona. Even though the legendary player is not directly involved with the company, he’s been fond of his home-state gloves.

“When Ryan was head of the Texas Rangers, they had a couple of good seasons, so Nolan decided to buy 320 gloves for his employees,” Storey said. “But a large part of our business now is customization, where the customer actually goes to the website and builds a completely custom glove. I’m talking about the aesthetics of it – the colored leathers, the different types of leathers, the laces, the embroidery and things like that.”

Storey understands his business model makes it more difficult to compete with the Wilson and Rawlings that are manufactured overseas, but he is committed to the words of his grandfather Big Bob Storey: “If I have to import gloves and tell my employees we’re closing up and they don’t have jobs anymore, I might as well grab a bucket of worms and go fishing.”

***

Reposted from AAM

Posted In: Allied Approaches, From Alliance for American Manufacturing

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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