In mid December of 1975 on the referral of a friend, my boss and I travelled some 70 miles to the tiny North Texas town of Nocona, Texas to call on a prospective new client, Nocona Athletic Goods Company, producer of the Nokona gloves which I had used in past days and was very familiar with. It was to prove, an eventful journey. We met the then president of the company, Jim Storey, son of the founder who had recently retired, Bob Storey. We also chatted with Jim’s brother Bobby, who later became one of several 50 year associates there. This, in a way, was a rather dark time for Nocona for imports had not only eroded but washed over similar glove companies like Stall & Dean, Dubow, Hutch. The biggies like Rawlings, Spalding, Wilson and MacGregor would begin half or almost full imports a short time later. Endorsements, which prior to 1960 had been a couple of gloves and a two pair of cleats, was now drastically changed. Ballplayers were not only making more money for their playing services but demanding endorsement money.
About all Nocona could do, since, in a way it was under the radar of competitors and was the second biggest employer in their town of some 3,00o plus in a stable if precarious position to make it through if their loyal store customers would stick with them and many of these did, appreciating the quality of Nokona gloves and the fairness and friendliness of the way the family-owned company operated. Good old boys. . . if you prefer.
But with the changing of the times, came a shortage of marketing ideas to keep the company afloat. Nocona was attempting to put its 1976 catalog out which consisted of a two-color cover and one-color illustrated products inside, not exactly state-of-the art at the time. They were attempting to print the catalog locally with a gentleman who had secured an SBA loan but evidently knew little about the business. We strolled into his “plant” past darkened offices, no one present to greet us, not even a secretary. We could spot a light in the back press room and headed back. There, on top of the press, scrambling around was the sole occupant. He hit us with, “do any of you guys know anything about running a press?”
We knew some help was needed, scurried back to Dallas during a mild dust storm and began our “road taken” with Nocona, that has led me to many pleasurable hours and days and years over the last three decades. Not a better bunch of folks to work with and friends and customers who were loyal to a fault. We developed an advertising plan, upgraded their catalog up to a more modern look and began some new approaches on a very limited budget.
Jim Storey was one of those typical baseball people who was full of anecdotes and many of these I have shared in my new book “75 Years Nocona Ball Gloves. . .A Texas Tradition. . . Major League players using Nocona gloves? Well, there was Crazy Joe Charbeneau, better known for eating glass among his skills. Endorsers none. . . that were still active. And I did get to attend my first National Sporting Goods show where I met Nocona’s noted supporter the fabled Bobby Bragan and got to amble down to the Rawlings booth were some guy named Ted Williams was giving batting pointers to Keith Hernandez. This could spoil a fellow. I began using a BM76 Nokona glove for my softball which was an improved design of Jay Rawlings, who had migrated to Nocona as its new designer after working with Rollie Lattina at the Rawlings plant (Jay was no relation to the Rawlings family).
One day while waltzing through the upper floor of Nocona’s plant with Jim Storey, he asked me, “any idea how we can sell these gloves? He pointed to hundreds of boxed Spalding gloves that Nocona has made for that company but were no longer needed. Jim and Bobby Storey told me that Spalding had approached them a few years earlier about producing some USA gloves now that Spalding’s agreement with Rawlings to make their gloves, was no longer in force. “We made them for two year and had, in a sort of gentleman’s agreement, made some in advance for this year. When we called them to deliver these, Spalding told us, “well that company officer is no longer with us.” And there these “Top Flite” Spaldings, based on Nocona’s BM76 designs sat in their boxes. (oh, by the way Spalding had ordered these primarily to sell into Japan where USA made gloves were popular). Over the next 12 months we helped sell these gloves off and they still appear on eBay on occasion.
This is the sort of tales I’ve entered in my new book. Anyone interested in ordering one of these unique glove company histories, may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Coming up next: The “Sports Illustrated” Explosion. . . you wouldn’t believe.