Contracts are interesting things. Over the years people have spent countless hours and money writing them, reading them, and interpreting them. Contracts also have served other functions, since by their own definition, they represent a matter of record for reference as it applies to something. Historians have long used various contracts and forms of contracts retrospectively to gain insights on events or circumstances in the past. Consider those doing genealogy work and their use of marriage licenses to determine age and place of residence for a distant relative.
Some of the more interesting contracts that I feel whose research value has been underutilized are those dealing with player endorsements for Hillerich and Bradsby in the early 20th Century. A cursory look at these will reveal, that although a players signature was cut from them, they are not cookie cutter templates by any stretch of the imagination. The concept for these was simple. A player would grant Hillerich and Bradsby permission or license to his signature, likeness, or reference with respect to their products in exchange for some form of compensation. This appears to have come largely in the form of product (bats) and service.
I will let the “contract lawyers” out there offer their findings on these, but I thought I would do a little Pro Bono work for our readers. Consider these examples and what they may indicate or reveal about the events or circumstances in the past.
Zack Wheat August 10th 1921: “That I have used the Louisville Mascot Base Ball Bat made by the Hilton Collins Co., Incorporated, Louisville, KY., and have given it a thorough test and find it a first class bat in every particular and recommend it as such as it has helped me in my batting.”
Observations: Two things stand out in this text. The first is the mention of the Louisville Mascot Base Ball Bat which has been found in retail catalogs and largely assumed to be a store model product. Here we have a player stating he used them. You will also notice that this contract does not read like the others from the same period so this does not appear to be boiler plate language. The second thing to note is the actual producer of the product, Hilton Collins Co, of Louisville.
Ray Schalk August 22nd 1921: “In service of consideration service and Bats furnished in the past, I the undersigned, herby agree to give the Hillerich & Bradsby Co., Incorporated , of Louisville, Kentucky, rights to use my name and photograph on Base Ball Bats and advertising same and it can be registered as their trademark.” (On Hillerich & Bradsby stationary).
Observations: Schalk’s statement would seem to indicate that he had been using Hillerich & Bradsby products prior to this date but may not have been on an exclusive basis or why would the contract come so late in his well established career?
Heine Groh September 28th 1920: “I, the undersigned give to Hillerich & Bradsby Company (Incorporated) of Louisville, Kentucky, the exclusive right to use my name and photograph as a “Trade Mark” on Base Ball Bats and advertising of same”. (On Hotel Gibson Stationary, Cincinnati, Ohio. Groh acknowledges receipt of a check for $25.00 and hand writing above indicates for consideration received)
Observations: For Groh this may have been a cash deal as no mention is made for product or service.
Dave Bancroft October 18th 1920. “For a valuable consideration, the receipt of which I hereby acknowledge, I the undersigned herby agree to give Hillerich & Bradsby Company, Incorporated, Louisville, Kentucky, the sole and exclusive right to use my name on photographs on Base Ball Bats and in advertising same and it can be registered as their Trade Mark.” (On Hillerich & Bradsby stationary. Hand written note at bottom saying “Die Recd. 9/27/21)
Observations: Although the endorsement agreement was signed in October of 1920, if the die was not received until September 1921, it seems unlikely that any Bancroft signature bats would have been used until the 1922 season.
Max Carey September 27th 1920: “I, the undersigned give to Hillerich & Bradsby Company (Incorporated) of Louisville, Kentucky, the exclusive right to use my name and photograph as a “Trade Mark” on Base Ball Bats and advertising of same”. (On Hotel Gibson Stationary, Cincinnati, Ohio. Carey acknowledges receipt of a check for $25.00 and hand writing below indicates for consideration received).
Observations: Appears that both Groh and Carey cut the same deal. Can’t help but wonder what the monthly rate at the Gibson in 1920 was.
Jim Bottomley June 26th 1923: “I, the undersigned, having used the Louisville Mascot Base Ball Bat and finding it a first class bat in every way, for value received, hereby irrevocably bargain, sell and set over and assign to Hilton Collins Company, Incorporated, Louisville, Kentucky, and their successors, or assigns the following rights:.”
Observations: Once again another player stating use of the Louisville Mascot Base Ball Bat. Interesting to note that there is no time limitation placed on this because it is irrevocable and the transfer of this conveys, in this case later to Hillerich & Bradsby.
Jocko Conlan April 10th 1926: “ I, the undersigned, state that I have nevrr given any manufacturer the right to use my name or photograph on baseball bats, but have for a valuable consideration, the receipt of which I hereby acknowledge, I hereby give to Hillerich & Bradsby Co., Incorporated of Louisville, Kentucky, the sole and exclusive right to use my name and photograph on baseball bats and in advertising same and it can be registered as their Trade Mark, and I agree further not to give this privilege to any other manufacturer of baseball bats.” ( On Hillerich & Bradsby stationary. Conlan acknowledges receipt of a set of golf clubs).
Observations: Baseball is now spelled as one word. What I find most interesting is the language about never being under contract with someone else endorsing bats and stating he would not do it in the future. Things are in contracts for a reason. Might it have been that H&B signed someone who had been under contract with another company like Spalding? Additionally if they felt that this had happened in the past and likely to occur in the future, then why not put in language to keep folks from jumping around. For an interesting read on players using other manufacturers bats, I recommend pages 28-29 of the MastroNet Bat Guide by Bushing and Knoll. Here you can find Lou Gehrig’s testimony in 1933 where he states he used Spalding and Hanna Batrite bats. This work also contains information on player signing dates with Hillerich & Bradsby.
All of this brings to mind something that noted military historian John Keegan points out in his classic “Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al-Qaeda. That being this: “Most intelligence comes in scraps. For a complete canvas to be assembled, the scraps have to be pieced together into the whole cloth.” I for one am thankful that these scraps of paper have survived as they offer insights into a time that very few today have any first hand knowledge of. We are provided reference information involving additional bat manufacturers such a Louisville Mascot, player compensation, and the nature of the market with respect to what appears multiple manufacturers competing for endorsements and or trying to protect their investments.
I encourage everyone not simply to study the canvas that exists today with respect to what has been written about baseball bats. Rather, spend some time looking at and for the scraps. I think if you do, you will find that they are hardly such and contain more information than was previously determined to be useful.
MEARS Auth, LLC