In recent months I have written about early 20th Century bats. What both the Spalding article and the one on player endorsements had in common was my take that the early pre-1920s may not have been dominated by Hillerich and Bradsby as some might want to believe. In the Spalding article I brought up two reasons offered by collectors for their preference for H&B bats. Those being the fact that there is surviving production information from Louisville Slugger and that H&B bats show up in photographs.
All of this got me thinking about what other manufactures might have been in the mix with respect to providing bats for major league play. The first name that came to mind after Spalding was A.J. Reach & Company. A.J. Reach, like Spalding was a former player who realized that the growth of the national pastime needed to be fed balls, bats, gloves, uniforms and various other related products. So sure was he of the potential for this endeavor, that he opened a sporting goods store in 1874. By 1881, things had progressed to the point that he moved to larger location and took on a partner as well, Benjamin Shibe. Both of these men, besides their company affiliations also where involved in ownership of local professional clubs; Reach with the Phillies and Shibe with Connie Mack’s Athletics starting in 1901.
All of this begs the question, would the affiliation of these two men have any influence on the equipment used, not only by hometown teams, but ones they actually had a financial ownership in as well? In looking at this, it is interesting to note that even if they had not had an ownership relationship, what about a local preference for a local manufacturer? You can see this same thing with uniforms for the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns with respect to Rawlings; the Chicago Cubs and White Sox with Windy City based Wilson; The Cincinnati Reds for in town Goldsmith, Macgregor/Goldsmith and finally just Macgregor, and Boston area teams with Horace Partridge and McAuliffe as well.
The 1950 Philadelphia A’s yearbook features a wonderful tribute to Connie Mack marking his 50th year in professional baseball. Part of the main article offers that “As an inducement to gain financial support from Shibe, the newly formed American League offered to use the Reach ball exclusively.” Shibe would end up with a ½ interest in the news fielded A’s. Getting back on topic, what about the idea of local Philadelphia major league players using Reach produced bats? It not only makes sense from the standpoint of proximity and complimentary interests, but there appears to be the “photographic evidence” as well.
My reference library consists of a variety of sources, but one of my favorite types is the vintage scrapbooks I have picked up over the years. I go through them all the time looking for different things, depending on what the issue at hand might be. I decided to go back and look for early 20th Century pictures of both A’s and Phillies players to see what I could see. I found a wonderful picture of A’s infielder and Hall of Famer Eddie Collins. I have looked at this picture any number of times, but never really paid much attention to the bat he is holding. When I did, I simply saw an oval outline with some writing and just dismissed it subconsciously and an H&B product. The fact of the matter is it is not a Louisville Slugger, but an A.J. Reach & Company “The Burley” model bat.
It took me a while to come to this as I had not given much thought to what else I might be looking for. With this in mind, I decided to look at other various Reach bat logos and designs in order to provide visual and mental templates to refocus my attention on. This was a bit tough at first, as I could not use the MEARS Bat Label Index since it contained no Reach entries. If you are surprised that I admitted this, you shouldn’t be. We at MEARS continue to research and write because we know enough to know we don’t know everything.
I did some other searches for Reach bats and found a logo for the early 1900’s that features a “Keystone” design, not unusual given Pennsylvania is known as the Keystone state. What is most striking about this logo is that it is a circle and not the oval image of similar dated H&B products or the above mentioned “Burley Model”. I decided to go back through some other references and found a picture of Miller Huggins from the same period while he played for the Cincinnati Reds. The image on the bat is clearly that of a “circle” brand, although the interior contents of the brand. The interior letters are not discernable. Another possibility for this “circular logo” could be that of local Cincinnati manufacturer Goldsmith. While not a Reach product, this would also be in line with the idea of hometown suppliers. In any event, while I can’t say with the same degree of certainty that I can for the Collins “Burley” image being a Reach bat, I can say that it not an H&B product.
One of my favorite things about working with MEARS is the ability to research and write. Both are enhanced by the reference information that we have assembled as a group and as individuals. Dave and Troy have collected manufacturer’s catalogs for some time. In addition, guides were also part of the over $5,000.00 we spent on reference information last year. For this project, all I had to do was let Troy know what I was doing and he assigned the support task to Peter Dobrogowski. Peter came to work for MEARS in 2006 and spends the bulk of his time assisting in the production of our letters and a myriad of other tasks as well. Peter pulled the Reach references, boxed them up, shipped them out and also sent me his updated data base of our catalogs and manufacturers publications. Peter, like Laura Jenkins, are just a couple of the people you don’t hear about with MEARS, but their contributions are no less important to the work that is done. For those who may not realize this, I live the Washington D.C. area and MEARS is based out Milwaukee so this is akin to an inter-library loan within the just over 320 of these catalogs and manufacturers’ publications on hand in Milwaukee.
Amongst the assortment of items that Peter sent were Reach product catalogs, Annual Reach Guides, Instructional Booklets on both Hitting and Pitching, and even an internal Reach Publication with “Restricted Trade Prices and Selling Pointers” for Reach sales personnel. What all of these have in common is they support the goal of selling sporting goods and the branding of the Reach name. All of this is very similar to that which was done under the Spalding name as is ahead of the H&B advertising onslaught that was still a decade or so away.
The 1911 Reach Base Ball Good Catalog shows the Burley Model as its “Top of the Line” product or “Professional Model Bat. This catalog coincides with the same approximate period of the Eddie Collins photo with a Burley bat. The photo appears to date from around 1909-1914 based on the uniform style and the fact that 1914 was Collin’s last year with the A’s.
The 1911 catalog lists six (6) different types (by finish & model) of The Burley Bat. The Center Brand Logo is the same for all, with the exception to the various specific model number being listed under the name of A.J. REACH Co.
NO 6-0: Special Burnished Oil Finish
NO 5-0: Special White Finish, Taped Handle
NO 4-0: Special White Finish, Plain Handle
The model and product description for the “REACH BURLEY” Professional Model Bats begins with the statement:
“These bats are used by the World Champions” and highlights their use both Frank Baker and Rube Oldring. The model descriptions include:
Model C is a thin handle bat, with hitting surface well toward the end.
Model L has more hitting surface, with a slightly thinker handle.
Model W has more hitting surface than either of the other models, with handle like the Model L.
For bat dimensions, “These bats range in length from 32-35 inches, and weigh from 34-44 ounces. Model C is made in 32, 33, and 35 inch lengths. Model L is made in 32, 33, 34, and 35 inch lengths. Model W is made in only 32 and 33 inch lengths only.”
The price for these bats is $1.00 each. By comparison, the other Reach model bats for Mens’s, Boy’s, and League Play run in the .75 to .10 cents range. While not the focus of this article, the length of professional model bats from the pre-1920s is often a much debated topic. What I found interesting is that Reach would restrict the length of one of its “Top of the Line” Professional Model bats to 32-33 inch length and that the other two models could both be found in the same 32-33 inch length as well. This may be a indicator in a preference for shorter bats by the target sales or use population.
The drawback to all of this is that the REACH BURLEY Professional Model Bats appear to be without any sort of player identification. Attribution would largely have to be based on player characteristics and provenance that was both reasonable and verifiable.
The 1919 Reach Catalog still lists the REACH BURLEY as a “Professional Bat” with two finishes and eight (8) models priced at $1.50. Also listed are two styles of “De Luxe” model bats that price out at $2.00 each. As with the 1911 catalog that states these bats are “hand turned” by experts, the 1919 catalog shows lengths specified to the ½ inch and weights given in ranges. For example, samples from the De Luxe menu include:
Length: 32 ½
Weight: 39-45 oz
Length: 34 ½
Weight: 38-43 oz
Of the twelve (12) different models of the De Luxe, seven (7) are of lengths of less than 34”.
THE BURLEY models are shown in much the same manner with respect to ordering availability.
Weight: 35-39 oz
Length: 34 ½
Weight: 40-45 oz
Of the nine (9) different models of THE BURLEY, (7) are available in lengths less than 34”.
The combination of being hand turned and the ordering allowance for a range of various weights seems to indicate REACH was both capable and willing to do custom work; custom work that would be in line with a professionally ordered item. The other thing that may not be readily apparent with respect to both the “De Luxe” or BURLEY bats is just how much they cost in period dollars. In looking at the graphic provided using information from the U.S. Bureau of Statistics from 1918-1919, these would hardly be considered fodder for the sandlot.
The 1922 Reach Catalog is interesting as point of comparison on a number of levels. The “De Luxe” is still the “Top of Line” and has increased in price to $2.50. The REACH BURLEY is now $2.25. The 1922 Catalog also features a line of “REACH PLAYER MODEL Bats. The description for this product lines states (Price $2.25):
“The actual playing bats of many of the American and National Leaguers are, as a rule, too heavy for the average college, school or amateur player and for that reasons we are making this line on the actual players models and have produced lighter bats through the use of selected, second growth Northern White Ash with the hardest fiber and greatest driving power. Made in twelve assorted models under the following players’ names:”
Buddy Ryan Model
Johnnie Evers Model
The thing that caught my attention was the phrase “making this line on the actual players models.” Does this imply that REACH had made bats for these players previously to a certain specification? I think this is quite possible. There is also the possibility that the model or design could have been copied from another manufacturer. Remember that Spalding had bought Reach. The thought of a possible copy of an H&B product crossed my mind so I decided this might be interesting to compare the player names offered with those players who are listed as having been H&B/Louisville Slugger endorsers.
(NOTE: For those only listing last names, I assumed the last name was that of the greatest player of prominence at that point in time. The rationale for this is based on the purposes why REACH, or any other manufacturer would do this. That being marketing and why you show a player’s name associated with your product to begin with). This is what I found.
Buddy Ryan Model (No Endorsement Recorded)
Crawford Model(Assumed to be Sam)(No Endorsement Recorded)
Schulte Model (Assumed to be Frank)(No Endorsement Recorded)
Sissler Model 1916 H&B Contract
Huggins Model (Assumed to be Miller)(No Endorsement Recorded)
Johnnie Evers Model (No Endorsement Recorded)
Kauff Model (Assumed to be Benny) H&B Contract 1912
Clarke Model (Assumed to be Fred) (No Endorsement Recorded)
Davis Model (Assumed to be George D. or Harry):
Harry Davis in 1906
George D.(No Endorsement Recorded)
Frisch Model 1920 H&B Contract
Chance Model (Assumed to be Frank)(No Endorsement Recorded)
Robertson Model (Assumed to be Dave A.)(No Endorsement Recorded)
In the case of these twelve (12) player model bats, only four (4), if you count one of the Davis entries, was an H&B endorser. The other thing I found interesting is that Huggins is listed and he was one of the players I found with an non-H&B labeled bat. While this is not definitive in it is own right as Evers block name H&Bs have been found to exist, it does beg the question that if they may not have been using Hillerich and Bradsby bats, what were they using? I don’t think considering established manufacturers such as Spalding or in this case, REACH, out of the question.
Other indications that Hillerich and Bradsby may not have been the manufacturer of choice or dominance during the early part of 20th Century can be found in examining both larger industry information and often overlooked period artifacts in the form of side written bats. In the Spalding article I mentioned information contained in Bob Hill’s “Crack of the Bat: The Louisville Slugger Story” indicated H&B’s self acknowledgement that they were struggling against a “name recognition problem.” What caught my eye in going back over that text for this piece was an entry recorded from the “Sports Marketing Quarterly” in 1919 that states “Of the 28 companies (bat manufacturers) remaining in 1919, 20 used strong national advertising.”
While I have no idea who all of these 28 companies are at this time, nor do I know which ones produced professional player bats, it is here that looking at “side written bats” offers some insights. Side writing refers to the annotations placed on a bat when it was returned to Hillerich & Bradsby for the purpose of having it serve as a model or template for subsequent production. While it may seem like a blinding flash of obvious to many, based on a question I was asked after the Spalding article, it is worth reminding folks that the dates on these bats refer to when they were returned and not originally manufactured. Thus you could have a bat with a 1917-1921 H&B period center brand that might be side written 3-17-23, but the later side writing does make the 1917-1921 labeling period extend to 1923.
A look at side written bats is possible due to the still extensive inventory of Art Jaffe at Left Field Collectables. These bats are what remains of the over 1000 bats that Art bought directly from Louisville Slugger years ago.
In looking through these offerings, you will notice that in one case, (beigh, e.t. (everett) there is a bat that is dated to roughly 1905, yet the side writing does not indicate the bat was returned until 1921. The other thing you will find is that the following non-H&B manufactured bats were sent to H&B. I say sent vs returned as these products did not originate with H&B:
Draper & Maynard (D&M)
Huck-A-Bay Bat Co
Wright & Ditson
And even a number of bats that are listed as “Hand Made.”
I think it is logical to infer that the reason these bats were sent to H&B is that they were found acceptable through use.
Yes I know there will be those who will say, “O.K…maybe you have some pictures and some catalog information, and some lesser known manufacturers bats showing up at H&B, but what does that prove?” I am not trying to prove anything as much as I am questioning the long accepted basis and sufficiency of the arguments for viewing early 20th Century H&B bats as some sort of “Gold Standard” by which all others are evaluated. Consider the information provided in the previous Spalding article, the one on H&B Player Endorsements and now this one focused on Reach bats. View this information in its totality and objectively consider:
1. Comparable Reach Market Dominance for the Period Along With Spading.
2. Hometown and Local Ownership and Proximity Issues for Possible Player Preference and Use.
3. The Information Contained in the Reach Product Catalogs.
4. The Similarity in Shape and Size of the Reach “BURLEY” Logo When Looking at Less Than Clear Images of Center Brands from This Period.
5. Photographic Evidence to Support that Reach BURLEY Models and Spading Products Were Used by Professional Players.
6. The Number of Bat Manufacturers Producing Product at the Time.
7. The Variety by Manufacturers of Bats Who’s Products Showed Up at H&B for Duplication.
8. Hillerich & Bradsby Self-Stated Struggle for Brand Name Recognition.
My intent is not to create a market for any such products, but rather to get collectors and researchers to re-examine what they have been told, what they think and why. This is what education is all about.
MEARS Auth, LLC
POST SCRIPT: Articles like this are made possible through both the internal sharing of information within MEARS as well as the willingness of veteran vintage collectors, researchers, and MEARS members like Art Jaffe and Marcus Sevier. Art took time out his day to talk with me about side writing and Reach bats and Marcus was good enough to provide the images of the Reach center brands/manufacturers’ labels for this article. Thanks Guys….