Cal Ripken Jr. signed his new signature contract with Louisville Slugger on 10-30-1978 on which date, they shipped their first bats specifically to him. This first order consisted of two ash bats to be finished Natural, model M110’s, measuring 34.5” and weighing 32 oz. There are no records of personal shipments of bats to Cal for the entire 1979 season. His next personal order was sent on 4-2-1980, but this time, his Natural finish M110 was 35” and Cal would not get any more 34.5” bats sent directly to him until 1990 choosing instead the more commonly found 35” bat of which he is most recognized. During this era, Cal played in 1978 for Bluefield, in 1979 for Miami, in 1979-80 for Charlotte and moving to Rochester in 1981.

While playing professional ball for the Rochester Red Wings of the American Association, he was not wearing his famous number 8 but instead was listed on the roster wearing a number 5. Cal made his debut with the Baltimore Orioles on August 10th, 1981 wearing his now famous number 8 and the rest, as they say, is history.

The first ever shipment of game bats sent to Cal in Baltimore was on 9-2-81 during which he ordered 12 each of the P72 and the M159 in Hickory finish, 35” and 34 oz. I have referred to these early Hickory finish bats as two tone with respect to the handle which does not have any lacquer which might be referred to as a half lacquer finish bat versus the full lacquer finish Hickory (the Hickory refers to the color of stain in that his bats are all actually made of ash and stained or painted the various colors or finish and does not refer to the actual wood used). A full lacquer finish is one that has had the entire bat finished in high gloss instead of the handle remaining dull. With regards to these finishes, Louisville uses a series of terms, several of which are named after the first ball players to have used them. Examples include the Van Slyke named after Andy Van Slyke. The finished named in his honor has a Natural finished handle and a Galen (pinkish hue) barrel. The Walker finish is named after Harry “The Hat” Walker and is a Galen colored handle with a reddish hickory stain applied to the barrel. The Hornsby finish is a light brown finish, the Smith finish is just like the Black finish except it is solid and does not let the grain show through. The Hickory finish is dark brown in color and the Gwynn finish, named after Tony, has a Natural finish on the handle and a Black finish on the barrel. Of course, any of these finishes or colors can be had in full lacquer, half lacquer or no lacquer as well as being either Flame Burned or Natural.

The total number of all bats made for and shipped directly to Cal Ripken Jr prior to this first Baltimore shipment was 89 bats, the majority of which are Natural finished M110 and M159 models. The first ever order of his familiar P72 was not shipped until 3-19-1981 and one subsequent order that was sent on 8-6-81, four days before he debuted with the Orioles on 8-10-1981. Therefore, only a total of 12 Hickory finished P72 models bat were sent to Cal while he was still on the roster and playing for Rochester.

It is possible that the shipment of P72 model bats sent on 8-6-81 could have made it to Rochester before he left for Baltimore and that in not knowing he was going to be wearing number 8, that he could have marked the knobs on his 8-6-81 order with his number 5 and subsequently used them while in Baltimore This is feasible as he would not have thrown away any perfectly good bats just because he moved and changed his uniform number. Therefore, it is possible to have a 1980-83 35” P72 Hickory finished bat with his number 5 in black marker on the knob but having seen most of it’s actual game use in Baltimore however, if you have such a bat like the one currently in Robert Edwards auction, it is more likely that it was part of the six bat shipment sent on 3-19-81. Remember too that the label period for this era bat stretches from 1980 thru 1983 but could have seen use for years after as well. Even so, the highest possible number of bats that were shipped prior to his start in Baltimore would still be 89 bats, some of which could have been carried over and used in Baltimore. The possibility of getting a pre 1980 bat is a one in two chance and everyone of his game bats should have a signature or script stamped name on the barrel since his “New Auto” contract coincides with the first shipment of bats sent to Cal. Traits, such as criss cross white tape, scraping the finish off of the handle (both found on the Robert Edward Auctions Rochester era game bat) along with various amounts of pine tar, bat finish/color, models, lengths and weights varied throughout his career but any bat that can be found that could possible have been used by Cal and is part of the original 89 is a rare bird indeed. Collecting game models of every dating period, model and dimensional change, and finish along with error bats such as the bats shipped to him but bearing the stamp of his father, would encompass an endless amount of time and money yet the search for his earliest bats remains the toughest hurtle to such a collection.

David Bushing