The Baseball Cleat Tongue

February 26, 2010

Here’s a random question I can’t seem to find an answer to, but has been bugging me for years. A free Art of Catching Sticker to anyone who either knows the answer or makes up a really good story. The question is this…why do baseball cleats have extended tongues? What is their origin? What do they do/accomplish?

I honestly have no idea. I never cut them off my cleats like many players did because I just liked the way they looked. As Billy Crystal used to say, “It’s better to look good than to feel good darling.” Other than that, I can’t say they made a difference one way or the other.

Tony Gwynn's "5.5 Hole" cleats.

Tony Gwynn's "5.5 Hole" cleats.

I do remember a trend back in the 90’s where guys would get their numbers stitched on the tongue of the shoe. Guys like Wade Boggs and Eric Davis. I also vaguely remember some custom Nike’s that Tony Gwynn had that featured the number “5.5 Hole” on them. This was in tribute to the fact that 99% of Tony’s hits went through that hole between short and third. (On a scorecard the shortstop is “5″ and third baseman is “6″…a ball between the two is 5.5 hole.)

That's my boy.

That's my boy.

The funniest thing I ever saw on the tongue of a ball players cleats belonged to Jason Giambi. It took me a while to figure out what it meant (I’m not real smart). After he came up to bat for about the fifth time and I had a chance to get a close look, it finally dawned on me. What did it say? “G .” Translation…G spot. Very fitting for Jason in his heyday.

That’s all I know…get back to me with some answers and your free sticker.

15 Responses to “The Baseball Cleat Tongue”

  1. Tim says:

    I’d guess it’s for protection. The primary piece of the tongue is usually pretty soft..the extension is more often than not the same (more durable) material as the rest of the shoe. Maybe it’s there to offer a little extra protection in case some 250 pound guy runs right over the top of your foot?

  2. Kip Gross says:

    We actually talked about this YEARS ago and the only answer or close to an answer was because the tongue protected the laces. With almost any type of design I think you have to go back to the EARLY days of when things were 1st designed and why it was designed like that back then. I would have to guess that fields weren’t as well groomed as today and water might have been an issue which might be a reason to have longer tongues and then some might have made the tongues longer because of looks.

  3. Noah Lemas says:

    Hi Brent,

    My best educated guess is that the tongue covered the laces, which prevented players from getting the spikes on one cleat caught up in the laces of the other cleat.

    But that doesn’t properly explain why there are those slits in the cleat tongues that seem to suggest the laces be tied through them.

    Not sure whether I just contributed an answer or more confusion….

    NL

  4. Brent Mayne says:

    Thats kind of what I thought…to protect the laces and maybe to keep dirt out. But then I see pictures of older cleats like the ones on the opening page photo and some don’t have long tongues. Maybe my friend Rod K is right…the tongue is just there to protect your laces when pitchers try to spit on you.

  5. Gerry says:

    Don’t golf shoes often have the same feature?

  6. Brent Mayne says:

    Yep, I think golf shoes used to have the same feature back in the day but I haven’t seen them in a while. Maybe golfers stopped spitting on each other.

  7. Brent Mayne says:

    Hey Noah, I should probably know this since it’s my blog, but how’d you get your mug shot next to your comment?

  8. Steve Just says:

    My understanding has always been it is to protect the laces when sliding. When utilizing a pop-up slide, the leg that you naturally curl under your body is exposed to added wear and tear. For this reason, baseball pants often develop a hole on that leg’s knee. If the laces of a cleat were constantly breaking because of the friction when sliding, it would be a real inconvenience, so the extended tongue acts as protection against this.

  9. Ron says:

    It’s to provide extra protection for foul balls to the foot. Supposedly, the extra tounge and space between that the and the shoe help to deaden the ball and take the sting out, and prevent broken feet.

    I can’t prove it, and have not evidence to point to it, because I can’t find it. But that’s what it is, and that’s why baseball and golf shoes have them and other sports don’t.

    Where else do you get balls to the feet?

  10. Bart C says:

    Ron,
    I can’t say that I remember that last time Fuzzy Zoeller took one off the top of the spikes. I was feeling your point until you brought the golf shoes into the debate. I assume you don’t hit the Links very often.
    Respectfully,
    Bart C

  11. Gerry says:

    OK – just to add another sport to the mix, my son tells me that virtually ALL soccer cleats have lace covers too. But that makes sense from the standpoint of keeping the laces and lace knot from screwing up contact with the ball.

    I’m willing to go with strictly decorative as an explaination for the golf shoes. Maybe for baseball cleats too? I noticed that turf shoes as a rule don’t have extended tongues, just cleats.

  12. Brent Mayne says:

    I was wondering the same thing but was too confused to comment…a golf ball to the top of the shoe? Sounds like something only Mr. or Mrs. Havencamp from Caddyshack could do.

  13. Because, as Kip points out, it gives the players something to talk about. It’s a long season. For the golfers, it’s another sponsorship opportunity.

    Brent, to create an avatar that will follow you wherever you post a comment, etc., go to http://en.gravatar.com/.

  14. Brent Mayne says:

    Muchos gracias Brett.

  15. chris says:

    I asked my former high school coach about the tongues, and after telling me that they were degisned to protect the laces from damage during sliding, he asked me why I chose this question to ask him after not having contact with him since the mid ’90’s. For that question, I didn’t have an answer.

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