As a continued supporter and contract holder with MEARS, Rob Lifson has been working with us throughout the year to prepare for the 2009 REA Spring Auction. We schedule time each week to evaluate REA submissions. By working with Rob throughout an entire calendar year, it gives us ample time to evaluate each item provided for MEARS evaluations.
In addition, we also get a sneak preview of the items which will appear in the upcoming sale. The following evaluation was of a 1920’s Hack Wilson bat that turned out to be factory pinpointed to an exact year.
Hack Wilson bats are quite rare as it is only the second 1920s Hack Wilson Louisville Slugger bat evaluated by MEARS. According to the MEARS bat census, this is the highest graded (MEARS A8) example examined by our firm. With the evaluation, it also gives me the opportunity to study the player and compare known bat records to a specific timeframe of the player’s career. In this case, the factory records uncovered the real source of Hack Wilson’s nickname and the possible source of his 1925 batting struggles.
Born 1900 as Lewis Robert Wilson in Elwood City, Pennsylvania. It would be many years before he was granted the nickname that would appear on his H&B game used bats. Lewis Wilson broke into organized ball during the 1921 season. With his Pennsylvania roots, Wilson began his pro career by playing with Martinsville in the Blue Ridge League. After a two year stay, he advanced to the Portmouth Club of the Virginia League. During the 1923 season, Wilson won the Virginia League’s Triple Crown, and on September 6th of that year, Lewis was purchased by the New York Giants and played in the MLB team’s final three games.
Hack was, first of all, a physical phenomenon. There were 195 pounds of him on a 5’6″ frame: the height of Phil Rizzuto, only 40-45 pounds heavier. As a young man it was all muscle: a barrel-chested upper body, blacksmith arms, and bulging thighs and calves on the short, short legs that tapered to tiny feet. He wore an 18 collar and size 6 shoe. And until the liquor overmastered him, he could hit a ton. His physical stature was the source of comparison to another imposing figure.
His nickname derived from George Hackenschmidt, an old-time wrestler. The Russian Lion carried a similar load on a 5’8, 218 pound frame. Some historians have incorrectly attributed the nickname to Hack Miller, a member of the 1926 Cubs. In this instance, H&B factory records support the dating of a nickname in addition to a player’s personal bat records. Examination of H&B factory records show that Lewis Wilson signed his H&B contract during his rookie 1924 season. Although the contract was signed, there are no references of Wilson receiving bats from Louisville Slugger until 1925, a season while he was still a member of the New York Giants. H&B factory records verify Hack Wilson’s model bat being archived during the 1925 season. This bat would have been archived with the script signature of Lewis Hack Wilson while playing for the Giants. Hack Wilson did not join the Cubs until 1926 and would not have been teammates with Hack Miller as Miller retired after the 1925 season. With the verification of this example which is consistent with Wilson’s 1925 H&B records, it is highly improbable that he would have adopted his nickname from a player that he wasn’t even a teammate. Signature model bats were in production from at least 1925 and possibly 1924 (not known if his 1924 models were block or signature models). Therefore, the nickname Hack was most likely adopted from the Russian strongman, George Hackenschmidt.
During the roaring 1920s, strongmen and wrestlers were akin to modern day movie stars. During the 1924/25 timeframe, Hack would have been more closely associated with the popular strongman Hackeschmidt than a utility outfielder he would not meet until 1926.
After a successful 1924 season, H&B offered Lewis a contract to provide him with Louisville Slugger bats. The signing of the contract would provide H&B the rights to brand Hack Wilson’s name into the bat barrel.
Hack Wilson slumped during the 1925 season and saw limited action. At some point during the 1925 campaign, Hack Wilson requested this model bat be sent. H&B records verified this bat request. With his nickname taken from a world renowned strongman, Wilson might have felt pressure to swing a very heavy bat. This bat weighed 42. 4 ounces, the heaviest bat recorded for use by Wilson. With his dismal performance and demotion to the minor leagues, H&B factory records verify that Hack Wilson never again ordered a bat weighing over 38 ounces.
Therefore, this bat was the first & last model of its kind sent to Hack Wilson for use during the 1925 season. Although he stuck with the nickname, he permanently abandoned the practice of swinging such a heavy piece of lumber.
With the historical background addressed, the actual evaluation of the bat could occur. By careful examination of the design of the centerbrand 125, H&B factory records, weight, and knob style, MEARS was able to attribute this bat with the first documented order of H&B bats sent to Hack Wilson during 1925.
1925 Hack Wilson Louisville Slugger Professional Model Game Bat MEARS #308352
Based on the evaluation of the details of the factory centerbrand and a comparison to Hack Wilson’s H&B shipping records, this bat is most consistent with the one-recorded shipping record of 1925. There are three visual points of distinction found when evaluating the centerbrand.
1. A baseline is found under the “1” of the “125” centerbrand. This practice began in 1925 and was present until circa 1928.
2. Examination of the ampersand shows it was used during the 1924-25 circa timeframe. A new more figure 8 like ampersand appeared during 1925, so this was an old carryover centerbrand design.
3. The letter “M” of MADE IN THE USA aligns with the “I” in HILLERICH and the “A” in USA aligns with the “S” in BRADSBY. This practice was consistent with the 1925-28 production design of the centerbrand.
Similar examples can be found in Vince Malta’s Complete History of Louisville Slugger bats.
Therefore, the baseline 1, ampersand design, and alignment of the “MADE IN THE USA” centerbrand stamping all intersect with 1925 centerbrand factory production dating. Thus the premise of our dating.
To further support 1925 as the year of issue, H&B factory records show that though Hack Wilson signed his endorsement contact with Louisville Slugger in 1924, there are no factory records of his orders during that year. Not until 1925 did H&B record Hack Wilson’s first order of H&B bats.
The orders were listed as “1925, His Hornsby, 38-40 ounces. His Hornsby refers to the large knob Hornsby duplicated that was used by Babe Ruth. Hack Wilson favored a similar Ruth/Hornsby style knob and personally requested such and the fact was recorded by H&B into his personal records. Although for the 1925 Hack Wilson personal H&B records, length was not specified, but the weight was recorded at 38-40. Although this examined bat (42.4 ounces) is not an exact match to the recorded 1925 weight (38-40 ounces), this bat is most consistent with that order. Per the H&B records, Hack Wilson never again ordered a bat weighing over 38 ounces.
Barrel Signature: Lewis Hack Wilson appears in script on the barrel. Hack signed his contract with H&B during the 1924 season and this barrel stamping would have begun to appear immediately after.
Bat exhibits heavy use especially present above the barrel stamp. Bat has had the deadwood on the back of the barrel professionally restored. The knob is in good condition, which is hard to find with Wilson bats.
To conclude, based on the design of the centerbrand and examination of Hack Wilson’s personal 1925 bat records, this bat is consistent with his very first factory recorded order of H&B bats. By confirming the 1925 issuance of the bat, the presence of the “Hack” nickname factory stamped into the barrel confirms the source of the name to a famous wrestler and disputes the previously considered source as a 1926 team replacement. Again, a complete examination of H&B factory records unveils information which aids in the understanding of process applied to game used bats by the Louisville Slugger factory. In this case, the accurate source of a very famous nickname.
Troy R. Kinunen
MEARS Lead Evaluator