...from the first crack to the 'clank'
by Bernie Mussill
edited by Steve Orinick
Come travel with me many years back into history and let us study "The Evolution of the Baseball Bat". I am sure that each of us at one time or another has had the urge to skip a stone across a lake or to pitch, catch, throw or bat some type of ball. In Europe, Nicholas Grudich played Lupka with other boys by using a five inch round pointed stick that was set at an angle on the ground and hit with a flat bat. From these types of activities came groups of boys playing Rounders, Flyball, Townball and Caddy.
Townball was a game involving twenty to thirty boys in a field attempting to catch a ball hit by a tosser. The tosser used a four inch flit bat with a tapered handle so his hands could grip it firmly for control and leverage. Even though history is sketchy at this time, I believe that it is safe to say that from this idea came the modern day baseball bat that is used in every game to thrill fans all over the world.
BYOB (Bring Your Own BAT)
Numerous changes were made in all aspects of the game of baseball during the first six years. At this time, each player was responsible for selecting baseball bats for themselves, and there were no restrictions as to length, size or width. Bill Deane, Senior Research Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York has on record a well documented account of a baseball game played on June 19,1846 at Elysian Field in Hoboken, New Jersey. This game was the first played under the Alexander Cartwright rules, which included a 9 inning game, 9 players on each team and 3 outs per side. However baseball players made their own bats and as a result, many different sizes and shapes were used.
During this particular time in history, players experimented with different kinds of wood for their bats in order to improve their hitting ability. They soon realized that wagon tongue wood was the best for making baseball bats. While the transition to wagon tongue wood was taking place, players also realized they could hit a ball much more solidly with a round bat. While some players continued to make their own bats, others had their bats made by a wood maker. Within the next four to five years, the round bat became very popular. All ball players were using a round wagon tongue bat and the only flat surface bat on any team was used strictly for bunting. The round bat had definitely taken over.
As we arrive in the year 1852, there are still no restrictions on bats. Although the type of wood used for bats and their shape were uniform, players could use any size bat they could adequately handle. Knowing that bats with a larger barrel have a better hitting surface, players continued to have their bats made larger and of any length. This continued until the batter had the definite advantage and was prevalent through 1858.
The Early Restrictions
In 1859, The Professional National Association of Baseball Players Governing Committee voted in favor of the first limitation on bat size. The limitation specified that bats may be no larger than 2 1/2 inches in diameter and that they may be of any length. As we shall see, several more changes evolved from this limitation in the forthcoming years.
With the 2 1/2 inch barrel rule, players began to have woodworkers reshape their bats. For example, the taper of the handle was made larger for a better hitting surface. Woodworkers were also now aware that the best grain for baseball bats was found only in quality wood.
Approaching the Civil War years, 1861 to 1865, some players had a difficult time gripping the large bat handle. In order to avoid this problem, they wrapped cord or string around the handle. The result was better control. Other players recognized the benefits of the wrapping effect and the idea became very popular.
Before the year 1869, there were no existing limitations on the length of the baseball bat. Then in 1869, the rule governing bat length was adopted and stated "Length limit on bats, maximum 42 inches long." Surprisingly, this particular rule has not changed. It is in today's rule book under Division 1.00, Rule 1.10A, "The bat shall be...not more than 42 inches in length".
While players had the chance to digest the new bat rules, the woodworkers were trying to manufacture the most popular bat. In 1879, after considerable experimenting with various styles, it was said that "long and slender is the common style of bats". In addition, the handle had a carved knob for better control.
Hillerich to the Rescue
An important event happened in 1884, which is now frozen in history. This event involved a broken bat and a young woodworker. During the 1884 baseball season, John Hillerich, a woodworker for his father and a good amateur ballplayer, was in the stands watching 'The Louisville Eclipse' of The Professional American Association play. During this game, Pete "The Gladiator" Browning, star outfielder, broke his favorite bat and became very frustrated. After the game, young Hillerich invited Pete to his Dads' woodworking shop. He claimed that he could create a new bat for Pete. After Browning and Hillerich selected a piece of white ash, Hillerich began to "shape the new bat" according to Browning's directions. With Browning looking over his shoulder and periodically taking practice swings, Hillerich worked through the night. Finally, Browning announced that the bat was just right.
The next day, Browning used the Hillerich bat and hit three for three. Soon after, not only did Brownings' teammates begin to order bats from the Hillerich woodworking shop, but so did players from other teams. Yes, the 17 year old youngster made his first custom-made bat for Pete Browning, who virtually put the Hillerich family in the bat business. As we progress to the year 1887, we find John "Bud" Hillerich and his father J. Frederick continuing to sell as many bats as they can make for the Major Leagues. Although small independent companies were also making bats, they lacked the proper skills and techniques and were unable to compete with the Hillerich business. Their bats were made based on the preferences of the individual players. "Bud" Hillerich and his workers knew the weight, length, style and selection of wood. For example, there were many different types of woods used for making bats, including the wood used for making ax handles. However, only top quality wagon tongue, white ash and hickory were considered the best. Later, it was determined that hickory was too heavy. Also, the Louisville Slugger trademark on each bat was now recognized by all players.
In 1893, the Baseball Rules Committee added two important improvements to the game. First, it was no longer permissible to use bats sawed off at the end or flat bats for bunting. Secondly, the pitching mound was moved from 50 feet to 60 feet 6 inches from home plate. In addition, in 1895, the diameter of bats was increased to 2 3/4 inches, from 2 1/2 inches. The length of the bats remained the same at 42 inches.
Whose Bat Do You Use?
The Louisville Slugger trademark on each bat led to the branding of player signatures on the barrel of the bats. Until then, players carved their initials or in some other way marked the knob or barrel of their bats. Baseball players using Louisville slugger bats before the turn of the century included Willie Keeler, Hugh Duffy, Pete Browning, John McGraw, Hugh Jennings, Honus Wagner and the Delaney brothers, just to name a few. "Bud" Hillerich earned a partnership in his father's business in 1897 and the name of the company was then changed to "J.F. Hillerich and Son". At the turn of the century, A.G. Spalding and brothers, being in the sporting goods business, were advertising and selling their very popular Mushroom and Gold Seal bats. Wright and Ditson were also selling their Nap Lajole bats, featuring the new and unique double ring handle. A.J. Reach baseball bats also added to the highly competitive business of manufacturing bats.
Spalding stamped the word Mushroom above their small trademark. They emphasized quality, balance and the knob arrangement at the end of the bat. This combination enabled the batter to get a better distribution of weight over the entire length of the bat. This advantage was not possible to achieve under the old construction. Spalding felt as though the Mushroom bat with the round knob was the perfect bat. The Mushroom Model M, plain or special finish, and Model MT, taped handle, each sold for $1.
The Spalding Gold Medal Bat, according to their advertisements, was made of the best quality white ash. When purchased, this bat was inspected and registered with the model, weight, length and timber. It was available with gold or plain finish, taped and carried a diamond-shaped guarantee card. If any part of the bat proved defective during the season in which it was purchased, it could be returned with the guarantee card to any retailer or dealer that carried Spalding bats. Spalding also sold bats that were plain, gold finish or taped with a white wax finish. This particular model sold for $1 and the same bat for boys sold for 50 cents.
One Bat Two Handles
Wright and Ditson, located in Boston, Massachusetts, featured a special Nap with a double ring handle. The second ring on the handle was called the shoulder. Wright and Ditson advertised that batters had a much better grip and better bat control when they hit with their hands apart and the shoulder between their hands. If a player was to grasp the bat up on the handle (choke up), he could use the shoulder in place of the knob and again enhance his grip and control.
Nap Lajoie bats were available in light, medium or heavy weight. The bats were made from the best quality ash and came in four styles: length, 33 1/2 inches, shoulder 3 inches from end; length 34 inches, shoulder 3 inches; length, 35 inches, shoulder, 5 inches; and length 35 inches, shoulder, 1 3/4 inches. Also, the name Lajoie was branded on the barrel of each bat. Regular style Lajoie bats featured the taped handle and did not have the shoulder. The bats of Napoleon "Nap" Lajoie, star second baseman for the National and American Leagues, sold for $1.25.
Harvest the Field Or Hit the Ball
Now, let us focus on a rather unique bat that resembled a hand-held sickle. The inventor, Emile Kinst, applied for and had his bat patented in 1906. His bat featured useful improvements that enabled the batter to strike the ball in various directions. The handle resembled that of a regular bat up to the trademark. However, beyond the trade mark, there were small longitudinal grooves as well as a somewhat flat concave curve that continued along the hitting surface to the end of the bat. The longitudinal grooves on the handle continued along both sides of the hitting surface. The face or concave part of the hitting surface had three larger grooves. The center groove was straight and the two outer grooves bowed outward. These aided in preventing a fly or foul tip by engaging the surface of the ball when hit. By hitting the ball at certain points of the bat, the ball could be driven to left, center or right field.
It is true that the Emile Kinst bat exhibited several innovative ideas that gave the batter an extra dimension. I am sure that this bat was used by players at the amateur level and helped to improve their hitting. However, by 1893, the Major League rule on bats was very explicit. The rule, in part, stated that the bat shall be a smooth, round stick not more than 2 3/4 inches in diameter. For this reason, The Major League Rules Committee rejected the use of the Emile Kinst bat.
Pay for an Autograph
As the years progressed, J.F. Hillerich and Son introduced still another innovative idea involving their bats and Honus Wagner. In 1905, Wagner, the shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates, became the first player ever to sign a contract with Hillerich to have his autograph burned into the wood of the barrel of his Louisville Slugger. Tyrus Cobb, centerfielder for the Detroit Tigers, was another player who also began his illustrious reign in baseball with a Louisville Slugger in his hand. Often called "The Georgia Peach", Cobb was one of baseballs' greatest players. He was a fierce competitor with a lifetime batting average of .367. Honus Wagner, one of the greatest all-around players, broke into the Majors hitting .344. Called "The Flying Dutchman", Wagner was considered the best shortstop ever to play that position. Did you know that these two great players used the same style bat? Both bats had a large barrel with tapered, thick handle. Cobb was one of the last players to use the once popular split-handed grip. He also taught this special technique to Tris Speaker and to Heinie Manush of the Detroit Tigers..
Frank Baker, another advocate of the Louisville Slugger, played third base for Connie Mack in his $100,000 infield. Bakers' 2 home runs in the 1911 World Series were game winners and led to his nickname "Home Run" Baker. Frank was The Home Run King in the American League for four consecutive years. He topped his career with 12 in 1913. Jack McGrath, off Hillerich and Bradsby, evaluated Bakers' bat by commenting, "Baker used a bat antiquated even in his time". The handle was almost the size of the barrel. It was short but almost like a piece of lead because it weighed fifty-two ounces. There was no flex. It really was a ‘wagon tongue’..
J . F. Hillerich and Son are busy again with still another of their now famous innovations. This time, they developed the new cork grip handle for their bats. This feature was patented on September 15, 1914. I currently have in my possession J. F. Hillerich and Son Louisville Slugger Model 40K, autographed by Joe Jackson. This bat was given to my father because he hit a home run to win a very important game.
Now let us travel back into history as I grip the thick cork handle of the 33 inch, 38 ounce 40K Slugger. Let us imagine major league players such as Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth in the on deck circle, preparing to approach home plate and settle into their stance.
The firm hired Frank Bradsby and for his outstanding contributions in sales he was awarded a partnership. In 1916, the firm's name was changed to The Hillerich and Bradsby Company.
Edd Roush used a Hillerich and Bradsby Slugger weighing 48 ounces with a large barrel and a thick tapered handle. He won the batting crown in the National League with a .341 average in 1917. Edd Roush died in 1988 at the age of 94. He was the last surviving Federal League participant as well as the last living player of the 1919 World Series. Before entering the era of the Roaring 20's, we add yet another page to the history of baseball. It is time to retire the funny stick-like bats, the Mushroom, no knob, the ball knob, the small knob and the rejected curved bat to days gone by. When a batter steps into the batters' box, he normally takes a comfortable athletic stance with his feet apart. However, the stance of the right-handed Heinie Zimmer of the New York Giants, was decidedly different. As he stepped into the batters box, he crossed his left foot over his right and stood in that position until the pitcher delivered the ball. He held his Hillerich and Bradsby bat halfway back before stepping into the pitch. Upon entering the year 1920 we are able to see Heinie Grohs' special bottle bat, Babe Ruths' homeruns and Rube Foster forming the Negro National League. In addition, we are introduced to Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseballs' first commissioner and we witness the scandal involving the Chicago White Sox.
Heinie's Bottle Bat & 1920's Baseball
Heinie Grohs' unusual bottle bat was the largest made. The barrel was 2 3/4 inches beyond the trademark and tapered sharply to the handle. In 1919, Groh was playing for the Cincinnati Reds. This was the year that he, along with his famous bottle bat, finished fourth in batting in the National League. His average was .310.
Also in 1919, the thunder from pitcher Babe Ruth's' bat could be heard when he hit 29 home runs for the Boston Red Sox to lead the American League. He was purchased by the New York Yankees from Boston before the 1920 season for $125,000. Ruth, now playing the outfield, used a Louisville Slugger Model R-43 with a medium barrel, 36 inches in length and weighing 42 ounces. Babe Ruth, often called "Bambino", hit 54 home runs in 1920 and 59 in 1921.
Babe Ruth, the "Sultan of Swat", brought fans back to the game of baseball by the thousands. The Babe launched an amazing home run career, including belting 60 home runs in 1927. One of Ruth's bats with 21 notches around the trademark is on display at the Hillerich and Bradsby plant. Ruth would carve one notch for each homer hit. It is easy to picture Babe Ruth stepping up to home plate, taking his stance and, with a slight wave of the bat, ready to hit. What was it like pitching to him? Like looking into the jaws of a lion!
In the year 1920, we were introduced to "The Father of Black Baseball", Rube Foster. He created the first organized Black Major League known as The Negro National League. Before becoming the best manager in the Negro National League, Rube had been black baseballs' best pitcher for nearly a decade. His personal force and finances were the key to better parks, better attendance and bigger incomes for the once wandering black teams.
While researching, I spoke with my friend Charles "Red" House who played third base for the Homestead Grays and the Detroit Stars. Charles had a good, strong arm and was a fine fielder as well as a real power hitter. During our conversation, House mentioned that most players during his playing career used Louisville Sluggers. He stressed that bats were very important to each player and that they were cared for separately. House also said that U. Wilkinson, owner of the Kansas City Monarchs, was responsible for many innovations. One of these innovations featured an ingenious portable lighting system that consisted of placing light poles on the back of trucks. The motivation behind this idea was to draw crowds to games early into the depression years.
The Hanna Manufacturing Company originated in Athens, Georgia in 1911. They were known for making handles for shovels, hand tools and farm implements. In 1926, Hanna started making toy bats for department stores and a short time later the company was making bats for sporting goods stores, colleges and the Major Leagues. They manufactured bats until going out of business in 1976.
Hanna originally used Southern ash for their baseball bats and hickory for their softball bats. Problems developed with uneven grain in the wood caused by the inconsistent spring seasons of the South. To solve this problem, Hanna decided to purchase acreage in Pennsylvania and New York and then proceeded to build two processing factories. When the dowels were received at the Athens factory, they had to be graded, sorted and stacked to dry. Once the bats were turned, sanded and completely finished, they were branded Hanna or Batrite, depending on the quality. The top grade of bat was called Batrite or WTA and the next grade was called Hanna TA. In 1933 Hanna patented the Batrite non-chipping treatment used on all bats. In 1935, the Flox "hold fast" grip was introduced and was especially advantageous to those ball players who perspired greatly. A cork grip was marketed in 1936 and, in 1941 the cupped bat came along. This type of bat removed the excess weight from the end of the bat and gave the bat a new center of balance as well as a smoother, more accurate swing.
Many college coaches had accepted each of the six above mentioned styles. Hanna manufactured other styles of bats that were exclusively shipped to department stores.
Hanna was responsible for one more important innovation. It was the fiberglass sleeve, which was incorporated into the bat handle. The purpose of this sleeve was to reduce the number of broken bats.
Another aspect of the Hanna Manufacturing Company involved the making of Batrite custom bats with a registered balance. When ordering a duplicate, it was necessary to send only the serial number to the factory. Some of the notable Major League players who visited the factory were Babe Ruth, Johnny Mize and Luke Appling. Some of the bat styles in the 1936 Hanna catalogs were Ruth, Hornsby, Gehrig, Foxx, Ott, Terry and Cronin. These bats sold for $2.50 each. The same bat in 1974-75 sold for $7.10 each.
Simmons' Long Bat and Wee Willie's Bat
"He'll never be a hitter" voiced the critics of Al Simmons, referring to his "foot in-the-bucket" stance. Little did the critics know how wrong they were. Al Simmons hit over .300 in eleven consecutive seasons and had 100 RBIs twelve times. He bit .390 in 1931 and averaged .329 in four World Series. He used a Hillerich and Bradsby bat that was the longest bat that Louisville ever made. It was 38 inches in length and weighed 46 ounces. Tommy Henrich of the New York Yankees said, "Al hated pitchers with a vengeance and showed it." Simmons played most of his career with the Philadelphia A's and Washington Senators from 1924 to 1944, and with four other teams.
Willie Keeler's motto was "Hit them where they ain't". He used the shortest bat ever made by Hillerich and Bradsby. It was 30 1/2 inches long. Willie was 5 feet 4 1/2 inches tall, weighing only 140 pounds. He played for the Orioles and four other teams and became one of baseballs' greatest place hitters as well as an outstanding bunter. The large barrel of his short bat gave him great bat control. In 1898, Willie hit a record 200 singles out of a total of 214 hits. This record still remains today
Stripes for Goose
The word special can be appropriately applied to the Leon "Goose"" Goslinn stripped Louisville baseball bat. While playing left field for the St. Louis Browns, Goose came up with a phenomenal idea. Before the 1932 baseball season, Willis Johnson, the secretary of the Browns, developed this idea and devised the "War Club". As I recall, most of the bats at that time had a natural finish and were of one color.. Goslin's bats had twelve green longitudinal stripes that started at the knob and widened along the face and over the barrel end. His bats were always 34 inches long and weighed at least 37 ounces.
The "Striped Bat" of Goose Goslin was Banned from the Majors
Goslin created quite a disturbance during the April 12, 1932 Opening Day game against the Chicago White Sox. He approached the plate with his zebra looking bat, only to have it thrown out by the umpires. On April 13,1932, William Harridge, President of the American League, ruled out the camouflage or zebra looking bat because it created a distraction. I knew Leon when he played for the Detroit Tigers and I also played for him in the Minor Leagues, and not once did I hear of this bat. Only through The Hall of Fame was I eventually made aware of its existence.
Just as the camouflage bat was prohibited from use, so were white webbing in the pitchers' gloves, the slitting of pitchers' sleeves and the hidden ball trick. All were eliminated from Major League Baseball.
Fred Haney, the manager of the St. Louis Browns, said, "Hank Greenberg puts more thought, effort and conscientiousness into his work than any other player in the league and, to my mind, he is the best competitor in the league." These words most accurately express the true spirit of Hank Greenberg. Greenberg'' overwhelming statistics are the result of the combination of his talents and his 35 inch, 34 ounce Louisville Slugger. During' overwhelming statistics are the result of the combination of his talents and his 35 inch, 34 ounce Louisville Slugger. During Greenberg'' abbreviated career that began with the Detroit Tigers, he had 1,628 hits, 331 home runs and a batting average of .313. Due to a wrist injury suffered during the 1936 season, Greenberg played in only twelve games. Hank hit 58 home runs in 1938, two short of Babe Ruth's record.' abbreviated career that began with the Detroit Tigers, he had 1,628 hits, 331 home runs and a batting average of .313. Due to a wrist injury suffered during the 1936 season, Greenberg played in only twelve games. Hank hit 58 home runs in 1938, two short of Babe Ruth's record.
Greenberg was one of the first big leaguers to enter the military service. He left Detroit nineteen games into the 1941 campaign and did not return until July 1, 1945. Greenberg, the first $100,000 player, closed out his career in Pittsburgh shooting at Forbes Field's "Greenberg Gardens". Hank Greenberg was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956.
Lou Gehrig, a monumental ball player was a product of Columbia University and left his mark on baseball as well as his name on a dreadful disease. How could this 6 foot 1 inch, 215 pound first baseman for the Yankees have contracted such a serious illness? During his fifteen year career, Gehrig used a Hillerich and Bradsby Louisville Slugger bat, Model GE 69 with a 2 1/2 to 2 5/8 inch barrel, 34 inches in length and weighing 38 ounces.
Gehrig's stats simply boggle the mind. He averaged 141 RBI's and 134 runs scored for fourteen years. He hit 493 home runs with a career batting average of .340. Lou Gehrig, often called "Iron Horse" for his 2,130 consecutive games, was also known as a "run producing machine". Gehrig and Ruth formed the greatest one-two punch in the history of baseball.
As captain of the Yankees in 1936, Lou's skills showed signs of eroding. While in Detroit, he decided to take himself out of the line-up. In May of 1939, doctors discovered that Gehrig was dying of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a form of Infantile Paralysis. The Yankees then announced that July 4, 1939 would be Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day. On that day 63,000 fans honored "The Pride of the Yankees". Lou addressed the crowd and said in part, "I may have been given a bad break but I have an awful lot to live for. I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth." After the 1939 season, Gehrig took a job with the New York Parole Board. His condition continued to deteriorate and it became necessary for him to give up his job. This great baseball player died at home on June 2, 1941.
More Baseball, More Trees
At this point in history, it was evident that baseball was here to stay. The challenge of every play and the excitement of the fans increased attendance every year. Bat manufacturers realized the importance of continued research in order to supply the best quality wood for their products. Hillerich and Bradsby began manufacturing baseball bats as a small concern at the turn of the century. By comparison, in today's bat industry, it takes thousands of trees each year to supply the bat demand.
Louisville found out early in the bat business that Northern white ash was the most acceptable for manufacturing their product. The best white ash comes from the Northeastern states where the terrain, soil and climate are most favorable for its growth. Hillerich and Bradsby own thousands of acres of timberland in New York and in Pennsylvania. Ash provides just the proper amount of tensile strength and resiliency. This, along with the favorable weight of ash, translates into power and drive in the finished bat.
When the billets are unloaded at the company timber yard, they are stacked for forced-air drying. This is done in modified dry kilns for six to eight weeks. Next, the billets are doweled to uniform size, inspected for defects and weighed. Finally, they are manufactured into different size baseball and softball bats.
It is important to note that wood bat usage has fallen off because of great reliance on aluminum. Most wood bats today are used by Professional leagues. Hillerich and Bradsbys' comparison of the bats of today to those of yesterday finds that today's bats are lighter, they have larger barrels and thinner handles.
The Most Popular Model
Hillerich and Bradsby have over 300 Pro models on record today. They also have 20,000 specification cards in the Pro model file. For example, both Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron used similar model bats. However, Ruth's bat weighed 42 ounces and Aaron's weighed 33 ounces. The model bat most popular today is that of Eddie Malone of the Chicago White Sox, for whom the bat Model M I 10 is named. Bats also have nicknames such as Timber, Lumber, Willow, Black Death, Black Betsy and Stick. Give Hillerich and Bradsby credit for manufacturing millions of baseball bats for more than 115 years. Their bats were, and still are, made in America.
Having confidence in a baseball bat is very important to every Major League player. The players make their bat selections very carefully in order to insure that they obtain the best bat made for them. Ted Williams, the Boston Red Sox slugger, considered his bat a very good friend. As a result, his accomplishments included a .406 season in 1941, two Triple Crowns, two Most Valuable Player awards, six time American League Batting Champion, 521 home runs and eighteen All Star games. His .551 on base percentage still stands to this day. Williams' career batting average was .344. Yes, Ted Williams was one of the greatest hitters that ever lived.
If Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals did not have a number on his uniform, he would still be easily recognized due to his famed corkscrew stance and ringing line drives. During the time that Musial pitched Class C Baseball, he developed arm problems. It was then that he became a slugging outfielder. He topped .300 eighteen times, won seven National League titles, was a three time Most Valuable Player and played in twenty four All Star games. Stan Musial was nicknamed "The Man" and it was often said that he hit "from around the corner".
Joe DiMaggio is remembered as one of the games' most graceful athletes. Many rate his 56 consecutive game hitting streak in 1941 as the top feat of all time. The "Yankee Clipper ", with his wide stance, was two time Batting Champion, three time Most Valuable Player, averaged 118 RBI's and had a .325 lifetime mark. Because of an ankle injury, DiMaggio played in only 139 games. Nevertheless, he still had 125 RBI’s, 76 base on balls and struck out only 13 times. Make no mistake, 1941was the year of the streak and of .406.
Many times it has been written that Willie Mays of the New York Giants excelled in all phases of baseball. His staggering statistics include 3,283 hits, 660 home runs, a 302 average, two-time MVP, eleven Gold Gloves, twenty four All Star games, four World Series and the National League Rookie of the Year in 1951. Willie used an Adirondack McLaughlin-Millard bat to help him complete these statistics.
Another exciting moment in baseball happened on October 1, 1951. New York Giant outfielder Bobby Thomson, using an Adirondack Model 302 bat, hit a ninth inning, three run homer to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers and win the Pennant. To the Giants and the rest of baseball, Thomsons' blast was "The shot heard round the world"..
Minor League Sluggers
Who is the Home Run King of Professional Baseball in the USA? Prior to Barry Bonds' feat in 2001, it was Joe Bauman. In 1954 he hit 72 home runs in just 138 games. This 6 foot 5 inch, 245 pound first baseman played for the Roswell (New Mexico) Rockets in the Class C Longhorn League.
I spoke with Joe, who still lives in Roswell, for the purposes of this article. He said that he used a Louisville Slugger, 35 inches in length and weighing 34 ounces, a Model S-2 Vern Stephens bat. Bauman, often called "Joltin' Joe", was 32 years old when he hit his record breaking 72 home runs. Until then, the Minor League record was 69 home runs, set in 1933 by Joe Hauser of the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. Hauser's record was tied in 1948 by Bob Crues of the Amarillo Gold Sox.
Bauman elected to remain in Roswell because his family was successfully established in business. What an outstanding year Joe had in 1954. Along with 72 home runs, he had 224 RBI's, 456 total bases, 150 walks, a .916 slugging percentage and a .400 batting average. The two previous years at Ortesca, Bauman hit 103 home runs (175 home runs in three years). His Minor League career shows 937 home runs, 1,057 RBI's and a .337 batting average. Joe was the first player to hit 50 home runs three consecutive years in Professional Baseball. He hit 50 home runs in 1952, 53 in 1953 and 72 in 1954. Yes, Joe Bauman is still the "Home Run King of the Minor Leagues".
Joe Hauser told me by phone that he also used a Hillerich and Bradsby bat, 34 inches long and 31ounces. He had his own personal model. Standing 5' 10 1/2" and weighing 175 pounds, Hauser was 34 years old when he hit his record 69 home runs in 1933. He also hit 63 home runs in 1930 for the Orioles of the International League. Joe hit 399 home runs in the Minors and 79 in the Majors. In 1924, he hit 27 home runs playing for the Philadelphia A's, second only to Babe Ruths' 46 for the New York Yankees. Joe Hauser lived in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and was 98 years old when he passed on, July 11, 1997.
When Reggie Jackson, of the New York Yankees, hit three consecutive home runs in he sixth game of the 1977 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, he used an Adirondack "Big Stick" bat. The Adirondack bat has an interesting history. Sometime before World War II, Edwin McLaughin set up a small sawmill and woodworking shop in Dolgeville, New York. He produced dimension stock for the woodworking industry and billets for the producers of baseball bats. In 1945 he was joined by Charles Millard and together they formed he partnership of McLaughlin and Millard. In the spring of 1946, McLaughlin and Millard began making baseball bats. They knew that they were located in an area plentiful with Northern white ash, the best quality wood for manufacturing baseball bats. In that same year, Hal Schumacher, a very good friend and former New York Giant pitcher joined the firm of McLaughin and Millard. His responsibility was managing Professional and dealer sales for the business.
In June of 1969, Evan Baker joined Adirondack as president. One of his innovations was the bat-mobile. The bat-mobile was an Airstream trailer equipped to hand turn bats at various Major League spring training camps. By providing this service, Adirondack converted many big leaguers to using the Adirondack "Big Stick". For example, in June of 1971, Joe Torre and Tony Oliva used the "Big Stick" and led their respective league in hitting.
In June of 1975, Rawlings Sporting Goods merged with Adirondack. The improvements included updating facilities and increasing the sales of baseball bats. This year, it is projected that 1 1/2 million wood bats would be produced. In order to meet this quota, production will have to be set to nearly 8,000 bats per day.
The Trademark Legend and Boning the Bat
It was easy to realize that millions of baseball bats with a brand trademark are manufactured each year. Why are these trademarks so vital? The philosophy of Hillerich and Bradsby on the trademark states that "the strongest part of a wood bat is the grain. We brand our bats with the grain of the wood exactly ninety degrees either side of it. Therefore, if you keep the trademark up, the grain will be facing the pitcher, whether you are a right or left handed batter." It is important to remember that the turn of the batters' wrist may vary. This will determine the proper position of the trademark in order to hit the ball on top the grain.
Years ago, baseball players would devote hours to boning three or four select bats from an order of twelve. In 1944, in the Philadelphia Phillies clubhouse, I observed such players as Ron Northey, Buster Adams, Tony Lupien, and Bob Finley performing this procedure by using a mounted hambone attached to a table platform. On the hambone, they were rubbing the barrel of the bat against the grain to seal the pores, and to make the surface harder. However, boning is no longer necessary due to the sophisticated methods of treatment and the final finish used by bat manufacturers today.
In order to play well in the game of baseball, relentless hours of practice are of the utmost importance. To properly practice, teams should have two Fungo Sticks. Hillerich and Bradsby manufacture four models. Three of these models are made of wood and used mostly by professionals. College and high school squads as well as other teams use the fourth aluminum model.
The wood Infield Fungo is 34 inches in length with a thin handle and scaled down barrel. This bat is designed for control, accuracy and the ability to place the ball in all directions. Using this bat to simulate regular game conditions will give infielders the necessary practice to react properly during games. Resembling this Infield Fungo is Louisville's all-purpose Fungo, which is 36 inches long with a larger barrel.
The outfield Fungo Stick is 37 inches long and has a thin handle well as a small barrel. It is mainly used to hit fly balls to outfielders. This will help improve their judgment and throwing skills. The extra length provides a whip like action necessary to hit balls with control and accuracy.
The newest Fungo is made of aluminum. It is 35 inches in length with a 2 1/4 inch barrel. The handle is thin and white taped. Since the weight can be controlled, a 24 ounce Fungo is popular. Because of the versatility of the bat, only one model is necessary.
Weighted on deck warm-up bats and other devices should be used with extreme caution. The five foot on-deck circle gives the next batter an opportunity to prepare for his turn at bat. It is located 13 feet behind home plate and 37 feet to the right or left.
The Bratt on-deck bat is shaped like a regular bottle bat. It has a red plastic coating from the trademark to the end of the 2 5/8 barrel. This bat weighs 4 pounds 1 ounce, and is 34 inches long. It is manufactured in Lynn, Massachusetts.
Several years ago, Louisville Slugger came out with a 'whip-o-warm-up' bat. The handle up to the trademark is made of wood and coated with rubber. From the Trademark to the end of the barrel there is solid rubber making the bat barrel very flexible, with whip like control. The bat weighs 5 pounds, is 33 inches long and has a 1 3/4 inch barrel.
On the market today, there is a 10 inch rubber and plastic weighted sleeve that fits over the bat barrel. However, it was not as well received as other products. A round rubber ring, or doughnut-type device weighing 4 1/2 pounds is still considered one of the best.
Before products were made specifically for on-deck use, I can remember that in the mid-30's our coach drilled a hole in the barrel end of a regular bat and filled it with lead. He then painted a wide rust colored (the only paint we had) stripe around the barrel with our school initials.
Today SSK, a Japanese sporting goods company, makes a warm-up bat of Japanese white ash, lead filled and painted two colors. One model weighs 40 ounces and is 33 inches in length.
New and Improved
Born in New York on February 23,1963, Bobby Bonilla uses one of the Hillerich and Bradsbys' improved 1992 model bats. I have one of Bobby's bats in front of me, and above the Louisville Slugger logo he autographs his bat Roberto Bonilla. This genuine model S-318 has specifications that include a medium handle, a slightly larger than 2 1/2 inch diameter barrel, a 35 inch length and just over 32 ounces. The barrel is rounded and the center of balance is above the trademark.
When you pick up this bat, it feels top heavy. Bonilla, being 6 foot 3 inches tall and weighing 230 pounds feels very comfortable with this style of bat. Bobby uses a double knob on his bat similar to the turn of the century Nap Lajoie bat. The modern day version of the second knob is made of synthetic material and slips over the end of the bat. It is adjustable and can be removed from the bat at any time.
Most players have the ends of their bats 'cupped out'. This removes extra end weight and moves the center of balance toward the trademark, giving the batter better whip-like control.
The Major League Rules Committee has specific criteria on cupped bats, which states "an indentation in the end of the bat up to 1 inch in depth is permitted and may be no wider than 2 inches and no less than 1 inch in diameter. The indentation must be curved with no foreign substances added."
Brett's Pine Tar Bat
George Brett of the Kansas City Royals caused quite a stir with his Hillerich and Bradsby pine tar bat in 1983. On July 24th, Brett hit a home run off Yankee reliever Goose Gossage in the ninth inning to give the Royals a 5-4 lead. Because the bat had pine tar beyond the legal limit of 18 inches, measuring from the bat handle, the home plate umpire disallowed the round-tripper. As a matter of fact, I recall that Brett had pine tar halfway into the Louisville Slugger trademark. However, this decision was later reversed and the pine tar home run did count. Kansas City ultimately defeated the Yankees, 5-4.
The 'Clank' of the Bat
Amateur baseball players use aluminum baseball bats most commonly and the bats are here to stay. These bats, however, at first were not without problems. Some were not strong enough and would bend when hit with a baseball. At times, it was found that the rubber plug at the end of the bat would pop off. Replacement of the plug was necessary. For the most part, these problems have now been corrected.
Easton entered the team sports market with aluminum bats in 1970. Their metal working technology has produced one of the best balanced and best performing bats in the world. Easton excels in the aluminum bat market at every level. Their bats were the choice of the Gold Medal winning United States Olympic baseball Team. Many college players, including those that participate in the College World Series, approach home plate with the high performance Easton bat in their grasp.
The Louisville Slugger aluminum bats were introduced to baseball players in the early 1970's. The NCAA legalized aluminum bats in 1974. Louisville's plant is in Santa Fe, California because the high strength alloys of aluminum are produced in this region. The importance of these alloys is twofold:
They provide strength and durability to withstand the impact of striking a baseball.
These alloys contribute to the production of high-performance lightweight bats.
Louisville produces over one million aluminum baseball bats a year.
With the proper technology and engineering, the aluminum tube of these bats is drawn to redistribute the walls with the desired weight. After tempering, the bat is tapered to the proper dimensions. Cleaning treatments and heat treatments are performed on each bat. They are straightened and in some instances, the ends are spun closed or machined to accept an end plug. The bats are polished, anodized and silk-screened. Before these bats are labeled and packed for shipment the plugs are put into place, the knobs are welded on the ends and they are gripped.
Metal vs. Wood
By comparison, the main differences between aluminum and wood bats are breakage and weight. Defective aluminum bats are minimal. Greater bat speed and distance on batted balls is the result of weight distribution and the ability to make the aluminum bats stiffer and lighter with a balance spot closer to the handle. The aluminum bats can be purchased with a 2 3/4 inch diameter barrel and up to 5 ounces less than the length. The most popular models have large barrels and small handles along with weight at least 3 ounces less than the length. Presently, some composites such as graphite are being offered in the market place. Until now, none have provided the performance equal to the aluminum bats.
Bat + Ball = Excitement
Ever since the first recorded game, June 19, 1846 at Elysian Field in Hoboken, New Jersey, the spirit of baseball has swept America off its feet. Although changes have altered the sport throughout the years, the foundation upon which baseball was built still remains the same. That foundation is the classic conflict between the pitcher and batter. It is this conflict that continues to amaze the older fans and attract the new ones.
Today I am confident that the current Major and Minor League players are grateful for all the improvements in the bat. These improvements, along with the changes, have developed throughout the last 160+ years. The pioneers of baseball will never be forgotten. They are represented each time today's players step onto the field.
As the modern day baseball player continues to thrill baseball fans all over the world, the challenge continues. There will always be one more inning, one more game and one more season.. *
...and to the 'thud'
by Steve Orinick
The Composite Bat
For more than forty years since the advent of the aluminum bat, rules committees have been dealing with the daunting task of balancing advances in bat composition and manufacturing techniques against the integrity of the game as well as potential safety hazards. Now, to further complicate the problem, there is one more type of bat: the composite. Starting in 2011, BESR was out, BBCOR is in and ABI testing is an interesting question mark for future years. There are legal composites, illegal composites, composites that look like wood bats, composites that look like aluminum bats, half and half bats and God knows what else will appear in the coming years. Another chapter is currently being written in the evolution of the baseball bat.
Composite baseball bats are made of glass, carbon and Kevlar fibers placed together in a plastic mold. These are anisotropic, which means that these bats are designed to bring out a strength and stiffness of a different kind. The effect is that composite baseball bats are lighter than an aluminum bats. Baseball composite bats incorporated a recent technological advancement of their aluminum counterpart to be used by college and high school players. These are manufactured with an exterior similar to an aluminum baseball bat, but its inside wall is woven instead. Using these have many advantages such as higher damping, better swing effect, lower bending stiffness and an improved trampoline effect.** See BBCOR
The NFHS is currently reviewing composite bats on an on-going basis. They do not maintain their rated characteristics for the life of the bat and that their performance increases the more they are used. This has in fact been established. As the bats are consistently used, they develop interior cracks resulting in increased performance. Additional Accelerated Break In (ABI) testing is being performed on bats submitted by the manufacturers. With a few exceptions, they were banned in 2011 for high school baseball. ABI Article
Bat tampering to increase performance is an additional problem that has yet to be addressed. Both "rolling" and "shaving" of a bat are illegal but virtually impossible to detect. Rolling increases interior cracks (accelerated break-in) increasing the ball's exit speed. Shaving entails removing the cap and shaving down the interior of the bat. The bat becomes lighter and more productive. Tamper-resistant bats are in the works on the manufacturing side, but no such bat is yet available.
One thing appears to be certain from 2011 college ball, BBCOR bats have had a dramatic effect on the game. This has spread to high school ball in 2012 and beyond. The change takes baseball back closer to what it once was before the dawn of the metal bat.
I am addressing this topic here in order to add the current chapter in bat evolution to Mr. Mussills' work.
*© Bernie Mussill, 2000
Former Major League pitcher for the 1944 Phillies, Bernard James Mussill left the playing field to pursue a career in the sporting goods field. Bernie has been involved with this industry since the mid-40's. Along with his personal knowledge of sports equipment, Mr. Mussill has dedicated his time to research the origin and evolution of the baseball bat.
Published in Oldtyme Baseball News, Volume 4, Issue 2
Updated 1999, 2000--©Bernie Mussill, 2000
On file at National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc. Research Library.
Thanks to the following people and organizations for their help with this article:
Bill Deane, National Baseball Hall of Fame, Hillerich & Bradsby, Easton Sports, Rawling-Adirondack, Baseball's Greatest Moments, 20th Century Chronicle, Mussill's Sports Center, Charles "Red" House, Joe Bauman, Joe Houser
Photo Credits: B Mussill, National Baseball Hall of Fame
**excerpt from Everything Baseball, composite bats, web site, 6/11
Connie Mack and Bernie Mussill (circa 1938)
Umpire Tips / Baseball Physics
Page back / Back to top