Baseball bats, in the early days of baseball, came in all shapes and sizes. In the 1850’s baseball was an extremely young sport and batters made their own bats and experimented with bats of all varieties (long, short, flat, heavy). They quickly learned that bats with rounded barrels seemed to work the best. Because bats of all shapes and sizes were being used, a rule was made in 1859 that bats could be no larger than 2.5 inches in diameter, although they could be of any length. Ten years later in 1869, another rule was added that stated the baseball bat could be no longer than 42 inches in length – the same maximum length allowed today. At this time there was no rule regarding the shape of the bat. In fact, some players sometimes used bats with flat surfaces when bunting.
The Birth of the Louisville Slugger
1884 brought the beginning of the most famous name in baseball bats today – The Louisville Slugger. It all started at a baseball game in Louisville, a 17 year old John Hillerich watched Louisville player Pete Browning become frustrated after breaking his favorite bat. Hillerich, a woodworker with his father, approached Browning after the game and offered to make him a new bat. They went together to the woodworking shop, selected a piece of white ash and Browning supervised as John Hillerich made his new bat. The next day, Browning went three for three with the new bat, word spread about the new bats, and the Hillerich family was in the baseball bat business! Demand quickly grew (although baseball bats weren’t the focus of their business yet), and they soon began adding their recognizable Louisville Slugger trademark to each bat.
In the 1890’s, the rules committee stated that bats could no longer be sawed off (flat) at the end, they must be round, and the maximum diameter was increased to 2.75 inches. Shortly after 1900, Honus Wagner, one of the great players of all time, became the first player to be paid to have his autograph burned into Louisville Slugger bats. Although bats have continued to develop over the years, wood baseball bats today look similar to the bats of 100 years ago. The biggest differences, however are that bats today are much lighter and have thinner handles.
The Rise of Aluminum Bats
In 1924 a patent was issued to William Shroyer for the first metal baseball bat. Despite this early patent, metal bats were not seen in the game of baseball until 1970, when Worth introduced the games first aluminum baseball bat. Soon after, Worth produced the first one-piece aluminum bat and the first little league aluminum bat. Easton arrived in the aluminum bat scene in the late 1970’s with a stronger grade of aluminum that is credited with significantly increasing the popularity of aluminum baseball bats. Despite the popularity of the bats with the baseball players nationwide, Major League Baseball (for competitive and safety reasons) has never allowed anything other than wood bats to be used. In 1993 Worth and Easton both introduced Titanium bats, and in 1995 Easton and Louisville Slugger introduced the strongest, lightest grade of aluminum bats to date. Improvements to baseball bats continue today as developments such as double walled bats and scandium-aluminum bats arrive in sporting goods stores. There is no doubt that today’s high-end, scientifically designed aluminum bats are a far distant relative to the heavy, hickory bats used by players nearly 150 years ago!
2001 – Barry Bonds and Maple Bats
The 2001 baseball season brought about a feat that 10 years ago most would have thought not only impossible, but completely ridiculous – Barry Bonds hit a record 73 home runs in a single season! Soon into his home run tear it was learned that Bonds was using maple wood baseball bats, rather than the standard bats made of white ash. Players copy success, and soon major league ball players everywhere were searching for maple baseball bats! A quick search online will find dozens of companies selling maple bats. The past 150 years has brought significant changes to baseball bats and the game of baseball itself. There is no doubt that the future will bring additional changes to the seemingly simple tool known as the baseball bat.
Read more about the bats that made history.