“My name is Dave and I am a collector.” The reply “Hi Dave” comes back from the assembled group. I spend the next few minutes describing why I search E-Bay, flea markets, yard sales and any number of other venues looking for “baseball stuff.” I recount the find of the 1950s Ted Kluszewski cracked model U1 gamer in a Cincinnati area Play It Again Sports store in the late 1990s. I can see the look in their eyes…they too have dreamed of stumbling across “the find of the century.” If only there was a Collector’s Anonymous.
Collectors like the hunt to be sure. At times as we stalk piles of dusty and cracked bats, gloves, uniforms etc… we find something that appears to hold great promise, only to have our hopes dashed to find out it’s not a gamer. Other times we find a gamer that turns out to something other than what we had hoped for…still other times we find something of with great promise, and despite doing our best are left with a “could very well be”. This later scenario is the subject of this article.
As I was looking for bats from the Cincinnati Reds 1919 World Series, I came across this bat. It is a Hillerich and Bradbsy block name Williams bat from the general labeling period of 1916 to 1921. This bit of potentially Legendary Lefty Lumber was listed by the very experienced and reputable vintage bat dealer Art Jaffe. Art had the great fortune and foresight to purchase hundreds of bats years ago from Louisville Slugger. This bat was listed as:
Player: Williams, (Lefty?)
Era: circa 1919
Teams: Black Sox? Banned with Joe Jackson?
Side Written: Williams
Team Side Written
Art listed just enough information to peak my interest and I felt the bat, while not cheap, was priced right especially if I could put it in the hands of the White Sox pitcher who lost 3 games in the 1919 Series. Art had previously sold another such block letter Williams with a similar description, only being from the 1911-1916 general labeling period. I liked this one better given the range of the labeling period and that it included the World Series year of 1919.
I had only seen one other bat besides these that was said to have been possibly linked to Claude “Lefty” Williams. That bat was offered by Robert Edwards Auction in March of 2001 (Lot # 409; 36” 42 oz). The bat was attributed to Lefty Williams since it was said to be the same model and dimensions of a previously seen Swede Risberg bat, a team mate of Lefty’s. That Risberg bat was featured as lot # 510 in the Barry Halper Auction and is listed as being 36” and 37 oz. This Williams bat is 36” and 38 oz.
While I am not calling this attribution into question of the REA offered Williams based on the Risberg bat, I decided to take a different approach by beginning to look into the Williams’ who played major league baseball during this time frame and what their status was with to respect Hillerich & Bradsby.
Players whose last name was Williams who played in the majors during the labeling period of this bat produced these results. (Source being www.baseballreference.com). With the names I came up with, I also cross walked it against a list of Hillerich & Bradsby endorsers.
Cy Williams 1912-1930 (H&B Contract endorser) Cy Williams can also be found with retail offerings in the Spalding catalogs from 1917-1924. His bats in their catalogs were only offered in even whole inch (32,33,34,35, etc) lengths.
Denny Williams 1921-1928 (H&B Contract endorser) 7 AB’s during this period and only in 1921. Did not play in 1922 or 1923.
Ken Williams 1915-1929 (H&B Contract endorser)
Rip Williams 1911-1916, 1918 (Non-H&B Contract Endorser). Only 28 games in 1918.
Claude “Lefty” Williams 1913 -1920 (Non-H&B Contract Endorser) 195 AB’s during this period.
Marsh Williams 1916(Non-H&B Contract Endorser). Appeared in only 10 games in 1916.
These are some things I know:
Fact: Players with endorsement contacts with Hillerich and Bradsby had their signature names burned onto the barrel of the bat. Besides Rip and Marsh Williams, Lefty Williams is the only other one of the five Williams from this period who did not have an endorsement contract with Hillerich and Bradsby.
What complicates this is that Cy Williams appears to have been under contract with Spalding as well. Based on what I wrote about last year with respect to player endorsement contracts, I am not sure Cy might not have also been a bit sly in his business dealings.
Fact: This bat features a different style barrel from a Ken Williams signature model H&B bat. The Ken Williams’ signature model bat is 34” and 34.3oz. This bat is 36” and weighs just over 38 oz. This Williams bat is hand turned with rasp markings on both the barrel and knob ends. This bat happens to be the same knob style, length and approximate weight as the Lefty Williams bat in the June 2001 REA Auction.
I have been looking for a Cy Williams bat to do a similar comparison with as with Ken Williams. I got some help from Mike Specht when I asked him about this. While Mike did not have any production information on Cy Williams either , he did point out that:
Charles Gehringer records– On 2/1/1926 order as “Joe Kelly Toronto 5/20/25 — same as Cy Williams 34″ / 35 oz” — This (Joe Kelly 5/20/25) was also ordered on 7/21/26 and that he (Mike Specht) would interpret the notations penned above to indicate that Williams bat is indexed at a length other than the 34″ and the 34″ notation being a departure, although the way it is written could suggest that the 34″ is the same as Williams’ length which would be a departure from the Kelly index length.”
As mentioned previously, Cy Williams can also be found with retail offerings in the Spalding catalogs from 1917-1924. His bats in these catalogs were only offered in even whole inch (32,33,34,35, etc) lengths. An autograph model of one of his Spalding bats has turned up recently in the length of 33 ½ inches, so Mike might be right about Cy Williams using a bat other than 34” inches as this would the case at 33 ½”.
I have no idea at this time how many bats were ordered by any of these six individual Williams. Even if you take Cy and Ken Williams out the mix by either endorsement relationship or bat type/model/length, then how to we assess the overall likelihood of the bat being one of Lefty, Denny, Marsh or Rip Williams?
The general labeling period of the bat is 1916-1921. During this period, consider the number of seasons each one of these men played.
Lefty Williams: 4 of the 6 seasons.
Rip Williams: 2 of the 6 seasons.
Denny Williams: 1 of the 6 seasons.
Marsh Williams: 1 of the 6 seasons.
This leaves Lefty Williams as having had 4 times the number of seasons in which to have had a bat made for him than either of Marsh or Denny Williams and twice as many as Rip. Based on the number of years involved, the number of bats likely to have been made each year, and considering these factors are likely to have an impact on the chances availability and survival as a function of number, then this bat has a much higher probability of being one of Lefty Williams then either Rip, Marsh or Denny Williams. None of this makes this bat a Lefty Williams bat, but rather indicates that it has a much better chance of being one of his as opposed to Rip, Marsh or Denny Williams.
An additional point must be made before going any further. There is also the possibility that the bat was made for a Williams during this period that never made it the major leagues (either a minor or negro league player). There is no side writing on the bat indicating it was sent in by a minor league, negro club or any other player. What I am left here with is the question that has haunted intelligence professionals since the dawn of time, how do you prove a negative?
One thing that may be working in favor of this bat as Lefty Williams offering, might be that while the bat is cracked, the bat was not repaired for later use. This may be an indicator that the bat had some special significance when discarded. Clearly Lefty Williams was a more significant player than Rip, Marsh, or Denny.
I also decided to take a look for information that could be contained in period images. It came as no great surprise, that I could not find images of Rip, Marsh, or Denny Williams.
I found a picture of Cy Williams and Rogers Hornsby from 1927. Although the photograph was undated, the year could be identified since this was the only year Hornsby played with the NY Giants (and yes, I realize it is a posed shot).
Cy Williams was listed as being 6’, 2” in height or a total of 74 inches. In this shot he is not standing completely erect. Neither is Hornsby who is listed at 5’, 11” in height.
In the image Williams measures some 122mm. The half way point of his height in this image is marked in blue. Even if his slouched height is 72”, the half way point would be some 36”. Based on the bend of his wrist, I am assuming he has the knob of the bat in his palm (marked in a broken red line). You can see that the bat Williams is holding is very likely shorter than 36” and may be more in line with the shorter Spalding bat referenced above. I also found a picture of Cy Williams with Hack Wilson and the bat Williams has appears to be the same size (proportionally) as the one in the Williams/Hornsby picture.
In an image from August of 1922, Ken Williams can be seen with a bat that has tape on the handle. This Williams bat has no tape nor signs that it ever did. Yes I know Ken Williams could be looking at this bat in the picture and wondering why a teammate chose to use this type of bat. The other thing to consider is that Ken Williams may have taped bats at certain times and not at others.
At the end of the day, or actually many days of research, I am not sure this bat was one used by Lefty Williams, but I am sure it could have been. This would have been the same answer I would have given a collector if they sought my opinion on this Williams bat. You can’t have one opinion for your items and another opinion or standard of proof for the items of others…and yes, I see this all the time from collectors who are looking to make their own items look good at the expense of other items and other collectors. An item “is what it is” no matter who owns it and don’t let anyone every try to convince you other wise.
The purpose of this article has been to highlight a seldom used form of analysis that seems to be overlooked, especially by today’s “photo matching” crowd. The type of work I am referring to is called exclusionary analysis. The premise is that at times, one theory might have a higher probability over other options because there is something in the other options that tends to exclude them or diminish their likelihood. I used this type of exclusionary analysis in my re-look of the 1932 Babe Ruth “Called Shot” jersey.
If you are looking at items of your own or those you are interested in acquiring, consider looking at them in a similar manner that I have done with this bat. In the end, you will know more about you have or might have and why. You will also be armed with a logical methodology to question the work and opinions of others. In my opinion, this is something sorely lacking in this hobby/industry today.
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 a DaveGrob1@aol.com