During 1985 when I was struggling with Mr. Rhynish’s middle school history quizzes, it would have been nice if I could have increased my odds of test success and answered “yes” to his true or false questions. It wasn’t an acceptable answer to Mr. Rhynish, but in the world of collectable bats, the answer may get you a passing grade.
Recently MEARS was asked to evaluate a 1912-18 Boston Red Sox Wright & Ditson bat. With this timeframe of baseball bats, the availability of factory records is quite limited and a clear line of delineation between store model vs. professional model bats is not distinct. And, depending how you interpret the available written catalog information, store/professional model bats may be one in the same.
With the aid of available store catalogs, experience, and comparisons to H&B records and the MEARS database, I began the evaluation of this Wright & Ditson bat.
Dating: Bat was estimated to be dated to the circa 1912-18 era. This was done by examination of the center brand label, which compared favorably to the printed 1913 catalog illustrations. The presence of the team name, RED SOX, also helped establish the dating range and was found in period catalog literature. Only one other Wright & Ditson Major League bat from the same relative timeframe with team barrel stamping is known, that of the New York Giants. The Giants were World Series participants during 1911-13, and it is theorized the bat stamped similar to the RED SOX was issued in conjunction with New York’s series appearance.
With the premise this RED SOX stamped bat was issued in conjunction with the World Series, this bat could have been produced during any of the years of 1912-18, since the Red Sox were World Champions in 1912, 1915, 1916, and 1918. By the 1920s, sporting goods were marketed under the joint name of Victor Wright & Ditson, after the merger of the two companies. Bats manufactured after the merger contained the joint names of Victor/Wright & Ditson, which also were found with a new version of the center brand.
Wright & Ditson and the company’s connection with Major League ball players
During the era, Hillerich & Bradsby manufactured professional model bats for professional players and publicly marketed player endorsed bats. Wright & Ditson followed suit with the endorsement of Napolean Lajoie during the 1910 circa. With the World Series victory of the Boston Red Sox during the 1912 season, the following season the Red Sox endorsed the Wright & Ditson model bat, as documented via their 1913 dealer catalog.
Taken directly from the official 1913 catalog is the following quote: “we feel that our line of bats cannot be improved upon. The models are those actually used by the best hitters in the game- the result of years of experience in supplying the wants of both amateur and professional players. The wood used in all the high grade bats is the finest selected second growth white ash, thoroughly seasoned in the open.”
To further illustrate the connection of between Wright & Ditson and specifically the Boston Red Sox, Tris Speaker is pictured on the following page with a caption that reads, “Tris Speaker, The Hard Hitting Fielder of the Boston Red Sox” and the following quote, “Red Sox bats are used by many of the famous hitters who want a bat that is heavy at the end, but do not require one with a long hitting surface.”
This bat matches the professional specifications of high-grade second growth ash, a major league length (34″), and 40-ounce weight. An example of the bat, with Wright and Ditson Tennis decal is illustrated in the catalog. This bat has no decal nor are there any remnants or discoloration in the area where the decal would have been applied for the store model variations.
To further illustrate the connection between Wright & Ditson and the Boston Red Sox, the same referenced 1913 catalog illustrates a picture of Smokey Joe Wood of the World Champion 1912 Red Sox and a full page endorsement of Wright & Ditson as a supplier of Major League uniforms.
Who supplied the Boston Red Sox with bats during 1912-1918? It was quite probable that members of the Boston Red Sox were supplied and used bats manufactured by Wright & Ditson during this era of 1912-1918. In addition to the marketing literature supplied by Wright & Ditson containing the endorsements of Red Sox players, the examination of industry leader Louisville Slugger’s own shipping records support the possibility.
In order to have a bat manufactured by H&B with your facsimile signature, a contract had to first be signed. The H&B records illustrate that several key members of the Red Sox team did not have contracts during this time span of 1912-1918. To illustrate, below is a list of players and the date they signed their H&B contract:
Harry Hooper 8/22/21
Babe Ruth 7/9/18
Tris Speaker 9/18/12
Although Speaker was under contact with H&B, he was still marketed as an endorsee for the Red Sox in the 1913 Wright & Ditson catalog. Many of the other Red Sox players on the roster from 1912-1918 were not under contact with H&B; therefore they were free to use any supplier they fancied.
With Ruth not signing his H&B contract until 1918, it was possible Babe Ruth may have used a Wright & Ditson model bat during 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917, or the early part of 1918. A documented Spalding Babe Ruth bat has entered the market and has been examined by MEARS, thus establishing Ruth used at least 2 manufacturers’ bats during his early career.
Physical description of the Red Sox bat: Per the description in the 1913 Wright & Ditson catalog, the bat is described as “Thin handle but tapers uniformly and is thicker at the end”. It should be noted that the knob was one of two knobs almost exclusively preferred by Tris Speaker when order H&B models. Speaker bats previously examined by MEARS archived in the MEARS database with similar small knob with thin handle include:
MEARS 304923 Tris Speaker small knob
MEARS 251751 Tris Speaker small knob
MEARS 303963 Tris Speaker small knob
MEARS 251492 Tris Speaker small knob
Exact attribution to Tris Speaker or any specific player cannot be conclusively made, but the similarities to this star player can be seen and correctly noted.
Population Report: Currently this evaluated bat is a 1:1. No other similar specimen has been examined by MEARS as of 10/7/08.
Final Conclusion: This bat dates to the early period of the growth of professional baseball team endorsed products. With the infancy of the practice, there was not a clear line drawn between professional and retail model offerings. In many cases they were one in the same. It is a fact this model bat was offered via the Wright & Ditson catalog, albeit pictured with a tennis player company decal logo. This bat is void of the decal and there are no signs it was ever present. With regards to whether this bat was used at the professional level by the Boston Red Sox; this bat possesses several characteristics, which would be indicative of professional issuance (although not conclusive). To review, the bat was endorsed during the years of 1912-18 era, Wright & Ditson did supply the Major Leagues and Boston Red Sox with equipment and uniforms, there was no differentiation by the company of professional vs. retail equipment, examination of the wood reveals professional grade second growth ash, manufacturers characteristics were allowed by Major League baseball, (length, weight, model), H&B did not have all Red Sox players under contact during the era, the model was consistent with one favored by Tris Speaker, and this is the only example examined by MEARS.
I hope that by sharing this evaluation with you, the fact that old information can be interpreted in new ways will allow you to think and rethink what we know about bats that were produced during the early years of the 20th century.
Troy R. Kinunen
References: 1910 Wright & Ditson, 1913 Wright & Ditson Catalog, 1924 Victor Wright & Ditson