A bat can be a player’s best friend
The famous .400 hitter Ted Williams was photographed taking a large ham bone and rubbing it vigorously against his light-colored Louisville Slugger bat.
Other major leaguers have used rolling pins and soda bottles to compress or harden the wood. It was reported that Pete Rose soaked his bats in motor oil and hung them to dry to make the wood perfect for hitting a baseball where no fielder was standing.
Major league players cherish their bats . . . a tool of their livelihood. Children of all baseball ages can be as fond of a favorite bat as they are ice cream and video games.
Not that long ago the vast majority of bats were made from white ash found in the highlands of north central Pennsylvania and south central New York.
In today’s baseball landscape, the majority of major league bats are made of maple with ash now in second place and birch an also-ran in third place.
When trees are felled they are made into billets and carefully dried for four or five days before being made into bats.
Still the largest bat maker is the the Hillerich & Bradsby company that manufactures its bats in Louisville, Kentucky and stamps a brand or places a decal on the bats that says “Louisville Slugger.”
While Louisville Sluggers were once used by more than 90 percent of major leaguers, that percentage is now lower since Mizuno, Marucci and Old Hickory companies have gained favor with more and more players.
About 8,000 billets arrive every Monday on Main Street in Louisville, the home of Hillerich & Bradsby since a move from Jeffersonville, Indiana in 1996.
While each bat was once painstakingly turned on a lathe by a worker they are now mass produced by a “computer numeric control machine” that can make one every eight seconds.
Once a bat comes from the “machine” it is dipped in a clear lacquer or stained and then air-dried.
The people at the Louisville Slugger plant turn out over one million bats a year, but only about 200,000 go to major league players.
The average major leaguer uses about 90 bats per season.
The lower grade bats go to amateur players or minor league professional teams.
Major leaguers can be seen swinging solid pink bats on Mothers Day or Breast Cancer Awareness Day.
Many players use two-tone bats that are stained on the barrel end and white where the player grips his weapon. There are also numerous players using all-black bats that are also stained.
With a high percentage of today’s pitchers throwing fastballs in excess of 90-miles-per-hour and possessing wicked sliders, split-finger fastballs, curveballs and cut fastballs the hitters are going to lighter bats with thinner handles.
Bats used by today’s hitters are generally lighter in weight than those used by Hall of Fame hitters like Babe Ruth (42 ounces), Ty Cobb (42 ounces) or Jimmie Foxx (38 ounces). A vast majority of today’s players use bats that weigh from 32-to-34 ounces.
The same as the size of player’s gloves have changed . . . along with shifts to thwart hitters . . . and the arsenal of pitches chosen by the specialists, the bats have changed through the years.
Ted Williams would have done things to his bats to stay ahead of the pitchers of this era and probably would have batted over .300 . . . of course he would have been nearly 100 years old if alive and couldn’t run quite as well as he did when batting .406 in 1941.