People have always collected relics from our National Pastime. Game used bats have always had a special place in the hobby for any number of reasons. They facilitate a primal link to a favorite player, team, or time in a fans life. They display well and are something we are all familiar with. As a hobby, they became a real staple for many well over a decade ago as information became available that permitted even novice collectors to begin to differentiate between professional and retail model bats.
This collecting trend continues and today collectors are almost transported back in time to the early 20th Century with respect to the number of manufacturers supplying product to the major leagues. The mainstay for the collecting public has been those bats produced by Hillerich & Bradsby and what is today the Louisville Slugger Empire. Louisville Slugger has had the longest run and by shear volume, dominates the game used bat collecting market and community. The fact that player bat production information has survived and Louisville Slugger’s Museum efforts have furthered this to no end.
A key component to all of this as it impacts the collecting community and game used bat market has been and remains the ability to date a bat and a supporting evidence or information that reasonably places the bat in the hands of a player. Much of this work is centered around the value of reading and interpreting the center brand logo. This bit of branding and manufacturers name recognition has evolved and changed over the past century. On a macro-level, these evolutions have coincided with corporate and related business and product improvements. Much of this can been seen and dated in product literature or company information. Still others can been seen and traced though the process of the patenting and having certain items or processes becoming registered trade marks.
All of what has been described above has created some very general or even year specific dating. In addition, it has been further enhanced by looking at side written bats or even working backwards from player production information to narrow certain ranges based on bat and order availability. At times, small changes have been noted and trend analysis has been done on specific year dated examples such as World Series and All Star Game bats in order to further narrow the range. This narrowing of broader “labeling periods” is extremely valuable as it may facilitate being able to date a bat to either a players day on an active roster or as a bat ordered by him or someone else after his playing days ended.
The premise here is a simple one in practice, that being the dies used as part of the branding process for bats are in fact year or era specific. What would happen if it could be shown that these dies where at times used years after the currently thought “replacement date.” Well Boys and Girls, that day may have finally even if it to be considered and “isolated incident.” On June 8th 2007, veteran bat collector and researcher Marcus Sevier posted an incredible bit of information on the popular hobby site Game Used Forum. What Marcus revealed is that a that a center brand that had been pinpointed to the 1966 season may in fact be a branding die that had been recycled or a modification of one from the 1950-1960 era. That post can be seen at:
This find has nothing to do with the validity of claim by respected author and bat researcher Vince Malta that is die can be used to place bats to the 1966 season, but it does further demonstrate that what we have come to know and accept may not be as clear and clean as we all would like when it comes to trying to narrow down a much larger or broader range of bat dates. The centerbrand in question is listed as exhibit/example C-19 on page 33 of Malta’s latest release.
The die that Marcus has is extremely interesting in its own right. The source of this item as told to Marcus was that of an estate sale of a former Hillerich & Bradsby employee. Not only does it appear that the die may in fact have had the “REG. U.S. PAT. OFF.” filed down, but it also features an alignment of the “125” in the position associated with the 1950-1960 period. A related issue to further cause some confusion is the presence of the ® following the word SLUGGER that is considered to first have appeared around late season1964 and into 1965. The thing that makes all of this significant is that these are manufactured characteristics and part of the dies construction as opposed to being something that may have occurred to the die during use. The point being that this die looks this way because it was made this way. It has characteristics from:
– Alignment of the 125
– Signs of possibly once present “REG. U.S. PAT. OFF.”
– Absence of the “REG. U.S. PAT. OFF.”
Late 1964 and on
– Presence of the ®
Yet can be shown to have been used in 1966 by its presence on All Star Game Bats.
Now consider all of this against this example. The bat in question is a Bobby Allison H&B Signature Model K55 at 34” and having Allison’s number “4” on the knob. Previous entries in Allison’s shipping record indicate to mark weights. This bat has a faint but visible “32” in pencil and a small “2” above his number “4”. There is only one recorded entry for Model K55 at 34” and 32 ounces for Allison during his playing career and that was on 6-21-66. There is also one post career order for these on 6-17-71. I think it is reasonable to assume this is a 1966 model bat.
The centerbrand features the small ® that is considered to be found on those from “the latter portion of 1964, and continuing on to early 1966.” (Malta, p 33). This supports Vince’s macro finding about bats from this general period, but also shows another example from 1966. The stampings on this bat are consistently deep and strong so we know the bat was not “lightly branded” (a function of pressure as seen in depth), yet we have another variation of the POWERIZED. Note how flat the “O” in POWERIZED is at the top of the “O” as well as the odd construction of the “Z”.
Please know I am not refuting the claim and observations of Vince Malta about some 1966 bats, but rather offering what appears to be another variation. The other thing I would like to highlight is that in no place in his book does Vince offer these as absolutes.
The general premise seems to be one of his recording his observations about bats he has seen that he has been able to date for a variety of reasons. There will be many who may want to take a person to task when they find something other than what has been recorded. I will remind collectors that we only able to do this because people like Vince have given something to work from.
The other thing that this center brand highlights, is that the word “Powerized” is in fact a separate die as it is not part of the this branding template. This is noteworthy because, in other cases, we often look to small and or subtle details to further narrow a range of bat use. Consider the 1969-1972 H&B labeling period and the construction of the letter “P” in “Powerized” per the MastroNet Vintage Bat Guide. This era has been narrowed and identified by the bottom of the loop in the “P” crossing back over the stem of the letter. What I have always found interesting in this observation is that this same construction can be found in bats much older that this. Consider what can be seen by viewing bats from the Marshall Fogel collection in the MastroNet Vintage Bat Guide and you will see the same thing in vintage bats of:
As an additional reference, take a look at page 126 of Crack of Bat: The Louisville Slugger Story by Bob Hill. You will notice the branding process of a bat in progress. Notice the grouping of the word under the oval by number and size (appears to be TRADE MARK REG) as well as the alignment of the 125 over the words Hillerich and Bradsby. You will see that the same cross-over “P” variation is present in the bat rolling of the brand.
These come out as examples in a very striking and useful display in Malta’s book on page 37. The best thing about this visual is the multiple examples on a single page. This facilitates ease in study and comparison.
The impact on the construction of the “P” for the 1969-1972 has some potentially very interesting possibilities if truly considered an absolute as outlined in MastroNet Guide . For example:
Mickey Mantle’s last season as a player was 1968. Mantle ordered model M110 at 35” in both 1968 and 1969.
Johnny Bench was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1968. Bench has a number of identical orders for model R161 for both 1968 and 1969.
One of the other things I have found interesting to note is that Vince does identify two versions of POWERIZED that span the 1961-1964 labeling period by manner of construction and visual recognition. While not referenced as such, there also appears to be a difference is the size as well most recognizable by the size of the letter “P”. Consider these examples:
Bat A: 1961-64 Harmon Killebrew Model S207. This model was first ordered on 8-19-63 and throughout 1964. P= 14mm
Bat B: 1961-64 Ernie Banks Model S2. Vintage #14 on knob. P=18mm. Model ordered in 1961-63, but no orders in 1964.
Bat C: 1961-64 Ed Mathews Model S2. Vintage #41 on knob P = 14mm (ordered throughout the period)
Bat D: 1961-64 Gus Triandos Model T99. P= 18mm (T99 only ordered in 1963)
Bat E: 1961-64 Frank Robinson Model R153. P= 14mm (Vintage #20 on the knob and likely a misbranding)
I am not saying that the bats that appear to be from possibly 1963 share a large version of Powerized because of a year. I am suggesting that we all take the work that has presented to us and look beyond visual reference for things like size. While it is possible that some of the slight changes or imperfections in various brandings may have occurred over time due to repeated heating/cooling and use, the size of an object is not subject to the same effects.
As a matter of fact, I am not even sure the Banks and the Triandos POWERIZED brands are the same given some small visual differences and the fact that there is a difference in the space between the word POWERIZED and the outer rim of the centerbrand arch(6mm and 10mm respectively). This goes back to what I pointed out earlier about the dies being separate and held in a frame. It is reasonable to assume that the exterior of these dies are cut in a roughly uniform size in order to be placed or dropped into a slot to hold them in place during the branding process. If these two visually similar (by only appearance of the size and construction of the word POWERIZED) dies where in fact the same, then all aspects of how they are manifested on the bat in the form of a brand on the bat should also be the same. They are not. This could also be a function of the outer spacing of the centerbrand logo as well.
What all of this does is creates issues of combinations that folks may want to interrupt as variations when in fact they are permutations of previously seen branding templates. Given what is a likely possibility that these products may have been used over a period of time makes the hunt for a definitive stamping key or code more of challenge than many of us had hoped for.
I do not doubt that those who have subscribed to this or any other sub-division of a larger labeling period have in fact seen examples that support their position. If these trends can be found in year specific bats such as those for an All Star Game or World Series, it is also worth considering that all of these bats within a given year and event were produced at roughly the same time and very likely with the same die set ups, minus the name die. My point is neither of these observations is sufficient reason for the hobby/industry to simply stop looking.
We know that there are anomalies, but seldom are we actually in a position to see them. By this I mean both see them visually and identify them as an anomaly because of some other factor that places them outside of a proscribe date range. Much of this has to do with just how much information we are able to garner from photographs for any number of reasons. Often times it is hard enough to see the area that contains the stamping or branding, let alone being able to see images in sufficient clarity to discern minute details. The more common anomalies seem to be those that involve the errant stamping or stamping omission of a model number on the knob of a bat. These seem to be discovered during an evaluation process and comparison to player shipping records. There are however, times when through looking at dated photographs that these anomalies can be verified.
Consider the 1976 season and use of the Liberty Bell Logo. This is part of a transition period for Hillerich and Bradsby and is a key to dating some rather significant bats as the model number is currently believed to have moved to the barrel in 1976 and then appears minus the Liberty Bell Logo for the first time in 1977. An exception to this can be seen with the Cincinnati Reds and in what is considered the high water mark of the Big Red Machine. Consider the image of Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, and Johnny Bench from page 153 of The Royal Reds by Hal McCoy (Published 1977). You will notice that the bat Bench is holding has a model # on the barrel and NO Liberty Bell Logo. By all commonly accepted and published information, this is a 1977-79 labeling period. The photo is from 1976 as evidence of the NL Bi-Centennial Patch. It is not a spring training picture from 1977 as the playing field is Riverfront Stadium. The Reds did not wear this patch after the NLCS vs the Phillies in 1976.
Still other issues are often dismissed out of hand as just being an old bat in a photo. Consider the picture of Joe Torre on page 415 of 150 Years of Baseball (1989 Publications Unlimited). The photo shows Torre with one of his signature model Adirondacks with the 1968-1970 “Tee-Pee” logo. The photo is undated, but Torre is wearing a knit pullover St. Louis Cardinals uniform which suggests the photo is post 1970. (SEE CORBIS IMAGE # U1693282, dtd Feb 19, 1971 with a caption that reads: Original caption: St. Louis, St. Louis Cardinals Dal Maxvill (L) and Mike Torrez (R) wear new uniforms. The pullover shirts, made of double knit nylon, are somewhat lighter than the old uniforms. The difference has been noticeable to players who have tried them out. “We feel that the new uniforms will be much more brighter and more attractive than the old ones, and they are certain to be more comfortable,” said Bing Devine, the Cards General Manager.)
The dating of items is one of the more important aspects of evaluating them as date has a very and direct impact on pricing. Jerseys can be dated using a combination of factors such as tagging, jersey style, manner of construction, fabrics, uniform number, players appearing on rosters, patches etc. Bats are different in that they lack many of the same possible points of reference and comparison. Hillerich & Bradsby/Louisville Slugger bats begin with a labeling period as a general point of departure. Then the focus shifts to branding/labeling variations and combinations of models, lengths, weights, looked at in a retrospective manner often through the filter of production information and player shipping records.
All of this is made more difficult by the fact that not all bats are recorded in player shipping records as well as the documented effects that time and environment can have on the weight of a bat (Research conducted by the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Baseball Research Center). One of the more interesting comments I have come across with respect to player bat weights can be found in the order sheet for Willie Mays written between orders dated 9-5-69 and 4-6-70. It reads, “MARK ALL BATS EXACT WEIGHT HE ORDERED NO MATTER WHAT BATS WEIGH.” As an aside, since I am discussing Willie Mays and branding variations, consider the image provided on page 130 of “The Power Hitters” by Donald Honig. Here you will find a picture of Mays in the dugout of Shea Stadium with an arm full of bats. One of those includes an H&B product with his full name of “Willie Mays” stamped in block letters on the barrel. There is no mention of this change from the typical “MAYS” stamping in the Mays player record.
If by now you are starting to form an opinion that this article is some sort of veiled critique of Vince Malta’s latest work, you need to stop right there. It is not. I will remind folks that some of this labeling/branding data I have discussed has been published by MEARS’s own Dave Bushing. The easy thing is to look at the work of someone else and find things that you may not see in the same light. The hard thing is to do the work and research like Vince has done with this latest effort and his role in the providing a framework for the rest of us to do comparative analysis.
The reason we are all in a position to review, evaluate and consider Vince’s and Dave’s work is that they have taken the time and effort to do and make it available to an external audience, thus subjecting themselves and their work to public scrutiny. This is something I respect and admire to no end. Do I feel that every bat collector and or baseball historian should buy Vince Malta’s latest work? Without a doubt I do. I would also hope that collectors and researchers take the time study what has been done by others and do some work on their own. Study does not imply read, memorize, and be able to recall without reference. It means evaluate through the filter of your own multi-discipline research using critical thought and reasoning. It also implies that you subject your findings and opinions to a similar form of public scrutiny.
I am not advocating that we discard all of the previous information published on game used bats or attempt an industry wide “do-over.” That would be unnecessary and counterproductive. It is also not realistic to expect this bell to get un-rung. I am advocating that as in any endeavor, we do not become complacent. Vince Malta’s legacy as a bat researcher and collecting pioneer was solidified back in 1995, yet he has remained committed to looking at and for additional information. This is something we all should be doing. Take the time to look at the information that has been presented and compare it with bats you come across. When possible, share what you find with the authors and collectors. I know this will be welcomed and Vince Malta himself invites people to “add to or correct the findings” of his book.
I realize that for some, there is great peril in this from a financial aspect based on what new or conflicting information, research, and opinions may show or refute. There are also personal and professional reputations at stake for both researchers and collectors. I would ask that all be thankful and considerate of the work of others and evaluate it for yourself. If you can help improve upon it, we are all better off. Additionally, if what you have found supports what has been previously written, take the time to document your findings and share it as well. The growing tendency in today’s skeptical society is to find only fault with what other people have done. Never hesitate to take the time to tell someone you feel they have been correct or helpful in their observations or that you agree with them either. It doesn’t make for sexy or salacious board traffic, but we are all better off as collectors and researchers when this happens. So thank you from me to you (alphabetical order):
as I have benefited or gained something from all of you with respect to my own understanding, opinions, and direction for both collecting and research on game used bats.
I feel that what we really know about bats is still in its infancy. The more we have published information that can be shared and analyzed, the better off we will be. I do however feel that we are becoming a community that wants to deal in absolutes. Given the shear number of bats produced over the years and the number of variations that occur for any number of reasons and factors, we may find ourselves becoming more informed as well as frustrated over time. It is always frustrating at first to see things that we did not expect, but these are just bats. At times like this, I always take comfort in the sense of disappointment that Lewis and Clark must have felt when they reached the top of the Rocky Mountains expecting to see a water route to the Pacific. Instead, they just saw more mountains. They didn’t stop looking and neither should we.
MEARS Auth, LLC
Post Script: For those interested in ordering Vince Malta’s Book, information on it is available at: