Segregation in the Negro Leagues manifested itself in many ways. Traveling in separate buses, using different public building entrances and restrictions to the use of drinking fountains were the norm for players traveling the Negro League circuit. These restrictions also carried over to the manner bats were identified. What has not been previously discussed was the practice of discrimination that was practiced by the major companies that supplied the Negro League players with their game used bats. Babe Ruth could have his name branded on his bat, but Josh Gibson could not. White ball players at the single A semi-pro level were offered personal bat contracts, but the professional Negro League All Stars and World Series teams were not.

Before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier while playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, bat manufacturers would not allow the Negro League player’s name to appear on their own game used bats. At best, the team name such as the Kansas City Monarchs may appear, but prior to Jackie Robinson, Negro League players were regulated to use blank bats bearing no name, or bats bearing the names of their Caucasian counterparts. Negro League legend Buck O’Neil discussed the bats he used during his 17 year career while playing for the Kansas City Monarchs. In an article written by MEARS which appeared at titled, “Photographs of Ernest C. Withers & Observations of the Game and Gear” he recaps the conversation noted memorabilia expert Dave Bushing had with O’Neil while discussing Buck’s career during a public appearance. O’Neil reported that players did use the model bats of some of the more popular white players of the time and that some of the bigger clubs even had their own names on the bats. Buck O’Neil was never offered a contract or endorsement while playing ball.

Offered for the first time are two very rare collectable bats, chronicling the practice of how players were treated by bat manufacturers before integration and how the practice changed with Jackie Robinson’s first big league game.

No longer overshadowed by players like Ruth and Mantle, Negro League legends are attracting national attention in the big league market of sports memorabilia. Players such as Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson and Mule Suttles are gaining popularity among high-end collectors as the contributions of these iconic figures are being placed within their proper historic context. With the increased acknowledgement of their careers, pricing is also beginning to settle at the levels attributed to the giants of major league baseball which were not affected by segregation such- players such as Babe Ruth. “Mantle and Ruth are no longer the only players of value among collectors. Recent market trends indicate players from the Negro Leagues have outperformed many white players with respects to the value of sports memorabilia,” said MEARS company president and CEO Troy R. Kinunen. “If I was investing, these formerly overlooked players and leagues are can’t miss. The market is finally recognizing these players’ sacrifices and contributions to the game, and the monetary value these items have. ”

Kinunen’s Milwaukee based auction house, MEARS (Memorabilia Evaluation and Research Services) is offering two authentic, game used bats from the careers of two historic Negro League legends, Mule Suttles and Jackie Robinson. Offered via their online auction site,, the following historic artifacts are described as:

Lot #17: 1937 Mule Suttles Newark Eagles Side Written & Factory Documented Negro League H&B Louisville Slugger Professional Model Game Used Bat (MEARS 9.5) – Only Surviving Example!

Referred to as “the Black Babe Ruth”, Mule Suttles is listed by some historians as the all-time Negro League home run leader with 237 round trippers- a title often, but incorrectly attributed to Josh Gibson. This bat originated directly from the archives of Louisville Slugger, as evidenced by the side writing, the practice where H&B factory workers applied the name of the player that had returned the bat to the factory so that additional orders could be placed. Suttles name does not appear marked on the bat by the factory, only his teams name, “NEWARK EAGLES”. This practice of the Negro League “team name only” placed on the barrel was documented in an interview with Buck O’Neil. Segregation was evident in the practice of supplying Negro League teams with equipment, as Louisville Slugger did not allow players to have their names branded on the bats like their Caucasian counterparts. “This is the only Suttles bat known in the hobby, and as the Negro League home run champion, the sky is the limit as to the value. Babe Ruth bats typically sell in the $100,000+ range, with dozens of known examples. As a one of a kind item, I can only imagine the real value of this bat,” said Kinunen. In addition, the auction house is offering a bat that is more of a household name among baseball fans. Described on their website as:

Lot #21: 1953 Jackie Robinson H&B Louisville Slugger Professional Model Game Used Bat – Brooklyn Dodgers (MEARS A7.5) 1 of 4 known, third highest graded!

After leaving the army in 1945, Jackie Robinson began his Negro League career with the Kansas City Monarchs. With the practice of segregation in major league baseball coming to an end with his first professional game on 4/15/47, the industry leader Louisville Slugger had acknowledged Robinson’s achievement, and shipped him H&B bats bearing his name during the end of 1946 (12/5/46). That bat would have contained the first ever African American players’ autograph to appear on the barrel of a bat.

With the announcement made that Jackie Robinson would be playing on opening day 1947, in anticipation, Louisville Slugger created a new bat for Jackie Robinson to use. H&B factory records documenting Jackie Robinson’s rookie bat order are listed as, “4-11-47, G7 (Gehringer model) 35”, 33 ounces, 2 bats.” Robinson’s facsimile signature continued to be proudly branded onto the barrel of his personal model bats.

Robinson continued to use Louisville Slugger bats and there is no record of him using any competitor’s brand. This bat is consistent with one of the two bats manufactured for Jackie Robinson’s use during the 1953 season. This is the only model (R17) ordered by Robinson in the 35” length and the second from last order of the R17 model requested by Jackie Robinson. He ordered on more batch of R17 bats measuring 36” on 6-14-53, thus this model was never made for Jackie again.

Louisville Slugger continued to supply Jackie Robinson with bats bearing his name until the end of his career, and allowed all future black players to have there name branded onto the barrel of their bats. As the 1940s decade ended the first rookie crop of the fully integrated major leaguers entered the big leagues, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson and Henry Aaron used bats bearing their names, just as did the young Mickey Mantle, Eddie Mathews, and Harmon Killebrew. With one more instance of the playing field being leveled, all of the young players began to make their own careers. I can only imaging the pride that a young Henry Aaron must have felt when he first saw his name on the barrel of his very own Louisville Slugger. Baseball was finally equal.

Regarding value of the groundbreaking signature model Jackie Robinson model bat, Kinunen replied, “Jackie Robinson bats have sold for $85,000 to $125,000 in the past. This is the first Robinson bat evaluated by our company in many years. Besides a solid investment, this bat epitomizes the courage and meaning of the Jackie Robinson legacy.”

Both the Suttles (Lot #17) and the Robinson (Lot #21) game used bats are available for immediate bidding with the auction ending on December 10th, 2009. Questions can be directed to Troy R. Kinunen at