Over the past year, I have written a number of articles on bat use by professional baseball players. These articles have ranged by topic from early manufacturers, player endorsement contracts, to a rather focused and incremental look at Adirondack bats from the 1950s-1960s. I recently realized that I have neglected an important part of the game’s history and will see about correcting that with this piece. The Negro Leagues may not have been considered “The Majors”, but it was professional baseball, and arguably played by the some of the finest men ever to take the field.
The game played by Negro League ballplayers was the same one played by their major league counterparts; nine innings with three outs per side…90 foot bases with a ball, gloves, and bats… The question I looked to answer was what sort of bats did they use and how do I go about finding out?
In looking for the answer to this question, I looked in many of the same places I have gone to in the past; period images and production information.
PLATE 1: Circa 1952 Memphis, TN. Offerings include Hanna, Hillerich and Bradsby, and Adirondack.
PLATE 2: Circa 1946 and the Newark Eagles. Adirondack and Hillerich and Bradsby (2 of each). Keller Type.
PLATE 3: Circa 1947 and the Indianapolis Clowns. (2 Adirondacks). Notice the words Clowns on the barrel. Musial Type.
PLATE 4: Circa 1948 and the Birmingham Barons. Hillerich and Bradsby Johnny Mize Model.
PLATE 5: Circa 1948 and Memphis, TN. Hillerich & Bradsby, Spalding, and Hanna.
PLATE 6: Early 1950s and the Indianapolis Clowns. Adirondack Bob Thompson model with Clowns on the barrel.
PLATE 7: Circa 1952 and Memphis, TN. Hillerich and Bradsby Duke Snider model.
PLATE 8: Mid 1950s Louisville, KY. Hillerich and Bradsby Pee Wee Reese model.
Below are samples of Hillerich and Bradsby team order sheet extracts.
Birmingham Black Barons May 29th 1940:
His 8-18-39, 36”; 40oz
Babe Ruth 8-17-33; 35”, 38oz
Ed Roush 2/34 2/35; 38oz
Lou Gehrig 5-13-31, 36”; 38oz
Rudy York 7-20-33, 35”; 36oz
Joe Cronin 7-27-33, 36”; 38oz
Rogers Hornsby 1/35”, 1/36”; 36oz
Note: Burn Black Barons on All
Baltimore Elite Giants March 4th 1941:
Bats ordered in 35”; 34/35oz
Bats ordered in 36”; 35/36 oz
Note: “All Above Stock:
What I found interesting in this was finding Adirondack bats in images from the mid 1940s and that Adirondacks showed up with some regularity. This seems to tie back to the note in the Adirondack 1951 catalog and the statement of “We reserve the right to sell direct to all professional baseball clubs.” Could it be that Negro League players making it to the majors had already developed a preference for Adirondack bats?
-Willie Mays was signed by Adirondack before the start of his rookie year.
-Larry Doby was an Adirondack endorser as early as 1949 (Adirondack catalog).
Another general observation is that while some clubs, either through production information or period images, are known to have requested team names be placed on the bats, this is not a constant. We also know that stock models could have been ordered for players in lengths of 35” and 36”, not just 34” and 35”.
Consider the order for bats of players from the Baltimore order of March 4th 1941. Of the players listed, these were still active at the time:
Please know that none of this is intended to create a scare about what bats of these players may or may not be, but it is always worth knowing and understanding what the population of player’s bats might include and why when deciding to buy them.
My hope is that in throwing this topic out there that others will begin to look for, chronicle, and share the information they might find about bat use in the Negro Leagues. These players have been relegated to “minor league” status for far too long…they played a professional game, with professional equipment and to not to be acknowledge that from a research perspective could be summed up in one word…unprofessional.
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions or comments on this article, please feel free to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com