First off, I would like to thank MEARS for the opportunity to share my research and findings in this venue. Not too long ago, Troy K. wrote an article updating some findings on Louisville Slugger 40-K Kork Grip bats and a LOO on a Babe Ruth 40k. Coincidently, I discovered a photo ( a popular one at that ) of Ruth posing with the bat boy in the ’21 World Series gripping the popular 40k kork grip signature model bat. (See Photo attached). This matches well with his personal record order:
Babe Ruth 40K H&B personal record order listing: Tom Griffith, 8/9/21, with kork grip, 48 bats
MEARS additionally introduced to us the Joe Jackson photo with the White Sox holding a kork grip, and a Cobb photo as well with L.S signature model kork grip in hand. As noted in Troy’s earlier article, a Harry Heilmann 40-k Kork Grip Signature model was found in a teammate’s (Les Burke) collection. During that research I was fortunate enough to come across a Honus Wagner photo (Getty Images #56483014 ) holding a 40-k L.S. bat as well. I place this photo to the dates of 1915-1917. Using the Baseball-Reference “Dressed to the Nines”, it shows the Pittsburgh Pirates uniform that Honus is wearing, introduced in 1915 through 1918. Honus’s last year in the Majors was 1917.
Identifying the Kork bats in photos can sometimes be difficult, as it was common for players to use tape or tobacco juice to improve grip. Using imaging tools, to enhance the photo can help identify the difference between a Kork wrapped handle and a taped handle. We mostly see Black or White tape on handles of bats. Tape is most easily identifiable by the way it starts and finishes. The starting point and finishing point of the tape is typically uneven with the rest of the wrap, which quickly identifies it as tape. White tape in particular, as you would imagine, gets dirty quickly, and the edges easily show in photos. Black tape can be a bit more difficult to distinguish, however as the tape wears on the handle you can see the fabric of the substance begin to curl or frail. When attempting to identify L.S.’s “kork”, you first have to know what “kork” looks like. If you have ever open a bottle of wine that has a cork, it is virtually the same substance L.S. used on there bats. In photos, ( like the Ruth photo ) it can appear very dark and contrast to the bat. Others like the Joe Jackson one MEARS provided, it resembles more of the lighter color, like a wine cork.
What do we know is fact? We know 4 Major Louisville slugger signature contracted players / superstars are shown in photos holding Kork Grip bats during there time in the Majors:
1. Joe Jackson ( Photo )
2. Honus Wagner ( Photo )
3. Ty Cobb (Photo )
4. Babe Ruth ( Ledger entry and Photo)
Now I’m going to move into a new area. The Signature Model. We know what when Honus Wagner signed the L.S. contract back in 1905 ( soon following by Lajoie and Cobb ) that Decal Professional Model bats were introduced. On those decals, were the signatures of the players as well. We also know there are 2 basic Louisville Slugger labeling periods post-Wagner signing, prior to 1917. They are as follows:
1905-1911 ( J.F. Hillerich and Son)
1911-1916 (J.F. Hillerich and Son Co.) (1916 being a transition year, MEARS LOO of Wagner Sidewritten bat 5-12-1916 with H&B centerbrand puts more likelihood of 1915 being final production year)
There are 0 known Signature Model bats ( Signature burned into barrel) between 1905-1911. In the MEARS reports, there are less than 12 known Signature Models between 1911-16. Just like in 1905-1911. The bats would either come with Decal, Blank or Block Letter.
Two Items I was attempting to confirm:
1. When did the Signature Model (burned in barrel) style introduced?
2. Was the 1st iteration of the Kork Grip Signature Model bats, ever available to the public?
Here is what I found:
Currently in the MEARS LOO database, there are 3 professional model 40-k Kork Grip Bats (Cobb / 2 Joe Jackson) with the labeling period 1911-1916. We know that the kork grip was Patented in Sept. 1914 by the stamping on the handle. So these bats can be more focused “officially” between 1914-1916. (Unofficially most like during the 1915 baseball season since the aforementioned sidewritten bat “5-12-1916” exists of Wagner with Hillerich and Bradsby centerbrand). Since Sept 14th it was given its patent, and the regular season ended in the first week of October, it puts more likelihood of distribution to players for the season of 1915.
The Ty Cobb bat in MEARS database matches very well with Cobb characteristics:
Length and Weight: 34 inches ( Cobb’s Tool room drawing 34” – America’s Bat Book – Bat Card – Sidewritten Cobb bat 34.1 ) ;37.6 ounces ( Multiple Pro-model and sidewritten bats match weight criteria )
Usage: Hand-Turned. Lathe Mark. Cleat marks distinctly throughout lower portion of barrel, significant usage/grain swelling. As well as, the eventual removal of kork, and spiral tape pattern applied to handle.
Length and Weight: 33 to 33.75 inches, 37.6 to 40 ounces. (MEARS examined bats both in 33 inch and 36 inch realm)
Usage: Hand Turned, Heavy Use, Grain Swelling. Blonde Style bats (multiple photos’ of Jackson using non-black betsy style bats exist) Round style barrel end.
I have yet to discover a Store Model Signature 40-K Kork Grip bat during the 1914-16 label period. This pre-dates catalogue versions that are available. We see Decal store models (40 J.J. 40 T.C.) but not these. There are “0”. Where did they all go? Where are all the Store Model Barrel Burned in Signature model 40k’s?
In the 1939 H&B Catalog, Harry Gowdy says in the 1914 World Series, he used a decal bat.
Eddie Collins Signature model 125 Pro Model Bat https://mearsonline.com/loa/bats/?id=255010. This bat is sidewritten, “Edw. T. Coll – Chicago White Sox”. Eddie Collins. Eddie Collins didn’t join the White Sox until “1915”. This shows the Signature model in the 1915 market.
In conclusion, I believe MEARS has only graded 3 1914-1916 Kork Grip Bats for a reason, because they are as rare as the “dash-dot-dash 1911-1916” signature counterparts, and were ONLY available to players. Subsequently, evidence points to these Signature Models and Kork Grip Signature Models being introduced together in 1915.
If you have questions or comments on this article, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com.