The Hanna Manufacturing Company, producers of the Hanna Batrite brand of baseball bats is one of those off brand manufacturers whose product use at the major league level is often the subject of debate. Many collector’s and researcher’s position on this matter has been influenced by their observation that “I have never seen a picture of one being used by a player in a game.” While a photograph such as this would always be a welcome find, I can’t help but think we have missed an opportunity to connect various other bits of information in looking at this issue.
Consider the decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in November of 1935. The case centered around a suit brought against Hanna Manufacturing by Hillerich and Bradsby over the use of the names of players that Louisville Slugger had under endorsement contract. According to an article that appeared in the November 26th 1935 edition of the San Antonio Light, the court “refused to review a lower courts decision against Hillerich and Bradsby of Louisville that the Hanna Manufacturing Company of Athens, GA, could use those names provided they stuck to the facts.” Additionally, “The circuit court held that a “Babe Ruth” bat might mean a certain type and allowed the company to use the name if it added “style or shape” even those the Louisville firm had the players under contract for use of their names.”
If the basis of the suit was decided that Hanna had to “stick to the facts”, then they would have had to have shown that the bats bearing the names of the players where either in fact bats used by the players or at least modeled after bats they used. We know this issue between Hillerich and Bradsby had been the subject of controversy for some time. Dave Bushing and Dan Knoll’s MastroNet Reference and Price Guide for Collecting Game Used Baseball Bats gives a wonderful account and transcript excerpt from Lou Gehrig’s testimony on this from 1933 (pages 28-29).
Still we are left with the issue of a picture or lack of one for some collectors concerns. Most times the counter argument to Hanna use comes in the form that “the picture was a staged or posed shot and could have been taken for promotional purposes.” One of my favorite Hanna bat photos is a still shot and comes from Sport Magazine from the 1950s. When looking at the image consider what is you are actually seeing.
Featured and the subject of the photo is Hall of Famer Johnny Mize. Mize played for the NY Yankees from 1949 to 1953. At the latest, this is still some 20 years after the Gerhig testimony about his use of Hanna bats. Mize is standing in the Yankee dugout at Yankee Stadium and posing with a bat. The bat has been prepared for use as evident by the tapped handle. Notice that the other sections of the bat rack contain bats that also appear to be prepared for use either by the application of handle tape, player’s initial, or uniform number. While this photograph does not prove Mize used or intended to use a Hanna bat, I think it makes a fairly compelling case that someone on the New York Yankees planned on using it.
This same thing with respect to naming conventions and player endorsements can also be found in the case of Hillerich and Bradsby Louisville Slugger model bats made for Stan Musial. Musial bats from the 1950s appear with the phrase MUSIAL MODEL on the barrel as apparently Stan opted not to continue with his endorsement contract with H&B. Hillerich and Bradsby use of his name in connection with their product was likely in line with the previous court ruling. What does this indicate about other manufacturers such as McLaughlin-Millard (Adirondack) and their use of the phrase STYLE or TYPE?
Getting back to Hanna bats, the obituary for Clay Hanna as it appeared in the Saturday March 20th 1943 edition of the Nebraska State Journal mentions Hanna as “ one of the south’s best known manufacturers of lumber products, including baseball bats used in the major leagues died Friday after an illness of two weeks.” The Port Arthur News reporting on the same event on the same date refers to Hanna as a “nationally known manufacturer of baseball bats.” These mentions of Hanna bats in the big leagues come at the mid point between the Gerhig testimony of the 1930s and the Mize photograph from the 1950s.
All of this seems to tie back to the comments made by Garnett Beck (of Zinn Beck Bat Manufacturing Company) about the major league market and leaving “the major field to the major companies (H&B, Adirondack, and Hanna)”.
So what do we have:
1930’s: Testimony of Lou Gehrig that he used Hanna bats.
1940’s: Contemporary media and personal accounts about the use of Hanna bats in the major leagues.
1950s: Images of Hanna bats prepared for use at the major league level and Hanna product information showing at least one product endorser at the major league level in the form of Chico Carrasquel.
This gives us at least a three decade span chronicling the use of Hanna bats at the major league level. My hope in writing pieces like this is to get collectors energized about looking for new things in new places…the information is all old and has been available to us for years. As the Supreme Court alluded to at the outset of this article, if you stick with the facts you’ll be fine…as a collecting and researching community let’s get started looking for them all over again.
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
MEARS Auth, LLC