Before you read anything else, please know I have a tremendous amount of respect for Vince Malta. He has devoted countless years and likely a fair amount of personal funds to provide this hobby with vast amounts of information. I will be the first to admit that I am not in a position to state I have seen more bats than Vince or studied them as long as he has. This article is entirely about research methods and my general impressions of how the hobby has interpreted the findings presented in his latest book “ A Complete Reference Guide-Louisville Slugger- Professional Model Bats.”
Hypothesis: Information branded onto a bat and the manner in which it is branded can be used to date the bat to a given time frame, or in Vince’s words from page 9, “Understanding label branding variations, and combinations thereof, is useful in determining the year(s) a bat was produced, and ultimately when a bat could have been used by a player.”
While I have not spent the same amount of time looking at bats as Vince has, I have almost two decades of formal training and experience as an analyst. I would also offer that I am not new to this field of study or the topic at hand. In looking to prove Vince’s hypothesis, one I feel does have some merit, it has to be looked at first within the context of research methods and logic.
I take this on at this time for two reasons. First I wanted to spend a good deal of time reading and trying to understand the process and the publication itself. I feel I have done that. Secondly, it is my sensing that the hobby/industry may be reading things into this latest work that are just not there nor were they the intent of the author. I will begin by stating facts that have bearing on the hypothesis that “Understanding label branding variations, and combinations thereof, is useful in determining the year(s) a bat was produced, and ultimately when a bat could have been used by a player.” I don’t want to speak for Vince, but he said useful, not definitive.
Before even considering this for publication, I did a number of things:
1. Sent Vince a copy of the basic facts and assumptions that I saw as him using to address this complex issue.
2. Spent an hour and half on the phone with Vince going over each one point by point. At no point in this conversation did I find him to be defensive about my observations or skeptical of my motives.
3. Provided Vince with a copy of the article for his review. My intent is not to denigrate his work. It is to offer insights as to why many of the conclusions being reached and applied throughout the hobby using Vince’s book as the basis must be seen in a much more conservative context.
This review of the book begins with establishing facts about the environment that have bearing on the hypothesis is question. They are macro-level facts that are not limited to any particular bat or era. Please now consider these statements of fact having relevance to the hypothesis.
1. Product information from Hillerich and Bradsby changed over time and this is reflected on a bat. Examples being:
TRADE MARK REG. U.S. PAT. OFF
TRADE MARK REG.
REG U.S. PAT. OFF
These items can also be seen reflected in dated company literature and advertising products.
2. These means of indetification exist on a bat as function of a branding process.
3. The brands were struck at various times and were not uniform or identical throughout the history of the company. This remains true today.
4. These branding devices are subject to alteration because of:
a. Changes that may have occurred as brands were made from the same mold.
b. Changes occurred to the same branding device as a function of temperature change and use.
c. Changes occurred because the brands or molds were modified.
And as such, there will be variations in what appears on the bat. By studying these markings against the backdrop of bats that are dated through the means of side writing, it may be possible to establish when a bat was manufactured.
5. The centerbrand, supplemental stamping for things like “Bone Rubbed”and “Powerized” as well as barrel stampings for signature and supplemental information are all contained on separate branding devices and need not be used in the same combination at all times. All three areas are subject to the conditions mentioned in # 3 and #4. In addition because they exists as separate plates, the space between the oval of the centerbrand and the word Powerized has to be considered when looking for variations.
6. We have no idea how many branding devices were made for any of these items nor do we know the extent of their reuse or use in combination over time. As such we can not say that the imperfections that appear manifest on a bat were caused through temperature change/use or are a result in reuse of molds since we don’t know what they looked like to begin with. There is also a possibility that what is identified as an “imperfection” is just that, something that occurred at the time of manufacturer (the branding device and not the bat) and remained unchanged throughout the life of the product.
7. Side writing exists on a bat for two reasons:
a. It records when a bat was received by Hillierich & Bradsby for duplication.
An example would be a bat side written 2/25/28 might indicate this was the date the bat was returned.
b. It was placed on a bat to identify it as particular model made on the date inscribed. An example being 2/25/28 might indicate this bat was made off the order placed o 2/25/28. This would in fact be a bat manufactured after 2/25/28.
Both Vince and I are in agreement that these represent the relevant facts having bearing on the hypothesis. They serve to establish the environment being examined and also set the stage for establishing the assumptions necessary for his latest book. Necessary assumptions must be established in order to address gaps in information and to add context to the body of the work. These assumptions must remain as constants throughout the study. For an assumption to be valid, it has to be something that at some point in time can be shown to be a fact. If they can’t be, then they should not be used. Additionally, when they come into conflict with facts, they have to either be discarded or explained in detail as anomalies. Failure to do either one, or to be cognizant and sensitive to your assumptions will likely result in drawing the wrong conclusion from what the data suggests. The errors in conclusion can come in one or two forms.
A. You are seeing a relationship that does not exist.
B. You are missing a relationship that does exist.
This represents the crux of the issue for me and is what I conveyed to Vince. That being, the nature of the assumptions necessary to do the work he did create very sensitive data points, and as such can lead to errors in conclusion’s reached by collectors using and interpreting his work.
Consider this list of assumptions necessary against the backdrop of the relevant facts when looking at data points in support of the hypothesis on the relationship between branding and dating. The point must be understood that these necessary assumptions can not be in conflict with the facts or nature of the environment you are looking to study. When they are, this creates the issue of data sensitivity and has a direct impact on the surety of the conclusions drawn from the work. I reviewed all of these with Vince and as with the facts, he agreed they were assumptions necessary for his work.
Assumption #1. The various branding products used existed in a small enough number that the markings seen on the sample of the bats observed are indicative and representative of the complete time frame of use.
Problems with this assumption are that we don’t know how many were produced and as such, the data is sensitive to brands that you have not seen, and thus, so are the conclusions that are drawn. This unfortunately is an invalid assumption since we will never how many of each type of branding device were produced or used.
Assumption #2. Certain characteristics are less important to study than others because they are more likely to be subject to external variables such as the location of the 125 that may be either an insert 125 or inclusive 125 centerbrand variation.
The problem with this assumption is that it hinges on the ability to distinguish the difference as to what version you are dealing with. If you can’t determine which (insert or inclusive) version you are dealing with and how to see it, you can’t assume that the variations in location are caused by either and only focus on other aspects of the centerbrand. This too is one that I do not consider to be a valid assumption, in that it allows you to discard a variation that is positional in nature as opposed to one caused by a change in the branding device. The angle of how a bat is rolled across the branding machine will not result in a positional change within the brand itself. It may result in depth or strike variation, but not that is positional in nature.
Assumption #3. Variations exist because of either the introduction of a new branding device or the change in an existing one through the effects of temperature and or use.
Problems with this assumption are that we don’t know what the various branding implements looked like when first made. This is critical since slight variations or imperfections are sighted to support a date or range of dates. Additionally, if the assumption is that these brands changed over time due to repeated heating/cooling and use, then how do you tell the difference between a marking that was caused by an imperfection or variation at the point of brand casting as opposed to one that occurred over time because of use. This has to be addressed as both relate to the element of time. It also requires an assumption within and assumption in that the variations that occurred over time by temperature and use did not result in a particular branding implement being a variation of itself, only to be identified as a separate variation. This is still a valid assumption, but very sensitive with respect to specific branding device identification.
Assumption #4. These various branding implements had a fairly defined and finite lifespan, thus enabling us to establish a relevant relationship between the information they provide and the dates provided from the side writing.
Problems with this assumption are that we have no way of knowing how long these implements stayed in service nor how often they may have been reused at later date. This problem is compounded by the fact that you are likely dealing with three separate brands (Center, supplemental, and barrel) and each of these can be found in variations that occurred at striking or over time. Unfortunately, this assumption is also liked to #1, which is an invalid assumption since we will never know the quantity involved.
While assumption #4 is still a valid assumption, it is extremely sensitive because we are dealing with the variables of time and quantity and both are unknowns.
Assumption #5. The side writing used to date a bat to a year was inscribed either during the same year or some established/consistent metric of years necessary to establish a date or range of dates for when the bat was returned or it represents an inscription used to denote it as model made dated to a particular order.
The problem with this assumption is it relies on at least one uncontrollable/unknown variable, that being time. In the case of it representing when the bat was returned, I don’t have any problem accepting the assumption that the bat was inscribed maybe within a couple of days of receipt. But you have no way of knowing in many cases when the bat was produced to begin with. You can’t base the dating of the bat’s manufacturer off of the same details such as branding variations that you are currently studying. If so, then you have already confirmed and made use of data that is still in question and something the side writing is supposed to help you establish. Even with the use of side writing, this assumption is still subject to the fact that various branding products either individually or in some combination were used later after a newer version was introduced. In the case of this side writing being used to denote the model made based on an ordered of date, we have no way of knowing when this was inscribed on the bat. In many cases, unless versions of handwriting can be identified and dated, you really have no way of distinguishing which one it is. While this remains a valid assumption, it is extremely sensitive to the factor of time. In addition, this characteristic is also one subject to deception or spoofing.
As Vince’s states as part of the introduction of this wonderful book, “As this hobby continues to grow, hopefully it will be built upon factual analysis rather than fables and hyperbole.” I could not agree more. What I would offer is that analysis only occurs after research has been done, data gathered and certain conclusions drawn. When considering doing your own work, first consider the necessary construct of your research methodology with respect to:
Facts Bearing on the Problem
As all of this has a direct effect and relationship on and to the data you gather and the conclusions you draw from it. The assumptions used by Vince in his work to produce this latest book, while for the most part are valid and necessary, they need to seen and understood with respect to sensitivity and what that means with respect to conclusions that can be drawn. In the end, it is culmination of process/methodology, data, and conclusions that will be left for analysis and interpretation.
If you have read this far and don’t own a copy of Vince’s latest book, then shame on you. I consider it a must have. This is how I make use of it; through the filter of all I have discussed with respect to logic and methodology and against the backdrop of a very experienced and passionate collector (meaning Vince Malta) who is telling me that he has seen bats that he feels can be dated to date range based on his research. This does not mean that every bat from that established date range has to look like the offered example for the reasons I have mentioned.
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions and comments on this article, please feel free to contact me at DaveGrob1@aol.com
POST SCRIPT: I offered Vince the opportunity to provide a post script to this article after he had a chance to read it. On June 30th Vince was kind enough to reply with:
No post script is necessary. I read the article that you edited and thought that it was correct.
I wish you the best on the search to truth and correctness and every success.