This research project started out to show model and bat characteristics of Nap Lajoie. About 6 months ago, I purchased from MEARS, a 1905-1911 Nap Lajoie L.S. decal Pro-model bat. (LOO: https://mearsonline.com/loa/bats/?id=306442) I believe I have found enough evidence to assist bat collectors as well as enough to show more use of decal bats in the major leagues as well as Nap’s lumber preferences. However, in my trek, and with the availability of online resources as well as books, I came across a vast area of the highest quality photos from the pre 1930 Baseball era, provided by Uncle Sam! Later in this article, I will break down my finds. Let’s first focus on my original task first.
NAP ORDERING RECORDS / LS INFORMATION
Since Nap played in the professionally Pre 1920, records of his bats with Louisville Slugger are scarce, at best:
-1911 order for 42oz. no model specified.
-His file card is listed at 35.5 inch and 40oz.
2. DECAL BATS
Recently, Robert Edward Auctions sold a Ty Cobb decal bat, for $29,375.00. (http://www.robertedwardauctions.com/auction/2007/1307.html ) They had supporting photo documentation showing Cobb at the plate with a similar vertical style Decal bat in hand in 1908. Other bat collectors are aware of Hank Gowdy reporting he used a decal bat in the 1914 World Series, as well as MEARS finding a decal bat in the hands of Roger Bresnahan in an undated photo. Vintage Authentics sold a Honus Wagner decal bat over 4 years ago, to the tune of more than 100k. This information establishes 2 things: Buyer comfort in use of decal bats, and true use of such by above noted players.
The top is a popular picture that can be found for sale in 8×10 form all over the internet. However, the admins over at www.blackbetsy.com (a Joe Jackson support site) had a much clearer and granular photo (See DECAL 1). If you focus in on the bats in hand, you will see a very clear Louisville Slugger label on a blonde bat held by Shoeless Joe. Ty, holding a darker toned bat, appears to have the same Oval Louisville Slugger center label. Nap, on the far end, has the less clear, but what appears to be the same shaped center label in similar location as the other 2 batters. I mention this detail to show there is a consistency to the location of the centerbrands on all 3 bats. This would lead you to believe all 3 are holding Louisville Slugger bats. All 3 players also had signature contracts with Louisville Slugger. In 2nd picture of “DECAL1”, I attempted to focus in on the bat in Nap’s hands. I was able to see the centerbrand, as well as what measures to be a horizontal decal on the barrel of the bat. As you can see I copied a photo of what a fresh image decal (Crack of the Bat: Louisville Slugger Story) to the location on the image. Style, and location of the centerbrand AND the decal match up incredibly well. Because there isn’t 100% clear proof of what were are looking at, I asked myself a few questions:
1. Are there other bat companies during this era that incorporate oval centerbrands?
2. Do this bat companies use decals on there barrels or other forms of identification, clearly seen in this photo?
3. Would Nap use these bats?
4. What else can confirm this finding?
1-3. It is clear that during this part of the century that J.F Hillerich and Son provided baseball players with a large amount of the lumber. However, competition such as Spalding, Wright and Ditson, were major manufacturers as well. It would be not unusual for competition to use a similar looking style design for store model sales, so as to compete with L.S. We saw Zinn Beck use a similar centerbrand in the 1920s era. The early Reach model bats from the early 20th century featured an oval centerbrand as can be seen in MEARS Auth, LLC’s article “Early 20th Century Reach Professional Bats” (4/29/2007). I believe many a player used whatever bat gave them an advantage but photos and Naps contract and File Card confirm his use of a Louisville Slugger.
4. Length. To attempt to further confirm, I ran measurements. The Centerbrand of mine and (and presumably others) of a 1905-1911 Louisville Slugger Decal bat is 3 5/8th inches. The length of the horizontal Nap Lajoie decal on my bat is 4 1/6th inches. Between the two items, is a difference of approx. 11/16th of an inch. This equates that the decal is approximately 12.3% larger than the centerbrand. Since we cannot measure the true distance in inches in the photo, I chose to use Pixel length provided by Irfanview. In the bottom photo of DECAL1, the centerbrand measures approx. 95-98 pixels. The decal length measures 107-111 pixels. (*The range allows for slight mistakes in pixel measurements of photo on either object). As you can see the difference between the two objects, (approx. 12-16 pixel length –which equates to approx. 11-12%) is a comparative match.
This photo shows Nap at the plate swinging a bat. (www.baseball-fever.com) Since the bat is in motion it is a little more difficult to get true measurements of the objects/imprints on the bat. Again, as in the “DECAL1” it appears to have an oval L.S. style centerbrand, with a decal of sorts in very close proximity. I cannot determine if it is a horizontal or vertical decal, yet there appears to be a center portrait to the object. Although tougher to determine where the centerbrand ends and the apparent decal begins, the decal has a slight size advantage which would fall in line with my determination in “DECAL1” photo.
In numerous Nap Lajoie photo’s I noticed a similarity in the bats he was grasping. They seemed to have a lighter version of the Black Betsy finish. In my research, I came to find out, that Louisville Slugger classified this style as “Flame Burnt” finish. This same finish can be described in Louisville Slugger advertisements. (Advert1.) This same flame treatment was performed on the Ty Cobb decal bat mentioned earlier. I have also seen a pre-1905 image of Honus Wagner standing with same style finish. If you look at the photo marked “Flame_Lajoie_Photo”, you will see 2 photos of Nap, and 2 bats. Clearly in the 2 photos, you can spot the color difference from the handle(s) and the barrels. It’s not quite as distinct as the black betsy finish. I would suspect the Hillerich company, likely kept these bats over the flame for seconds at a time, turning them slowly for the desired effect. One photo has flat end Barrel, other round end. The 2 bats shown below the photos of Nap show the Decal Lajoie bat I purchased, as well as a Lajoie Wright and Ditson Sidewritten bat, that MEARS graded back in 2006. For Example, this bat, https://mearsonline.com/loa/bats/?id=303202, show these characteristics as well. I choose to include the Wright and Ditson model, as it is known Nap endorsed this brand early in his career. I feel Nap likely carried this desire of flame treatment between vendors. Here are 2 other graded bats by MEARS carrying this characteristic.
https://mearsonline.com/loa/bats/?id=306623 (Signature L.S. Model)
As I mentioned earlier, I came across a vast photo find, of Pre-1930 baseball photos. The Library of Congress (http://lcweb2.loc.gov/pp/pphome.html ) has an online catalog, with millions of photos (not just baseball related). The resolution quality is magnificent. Here is what I found:
My goal was to find photos that showed the types of bats that players were using. I easily searched through 15,000 photos, and closely (of those 15,000) I magnified close to 2500. Here are some notes that I gathered:
As expected, Louisville Slugger was a prominent choice of bat in the early 1900’s, even before there signing of Honus Wagner.The Black Betsy style bat (Barrel Flame treated) was used by a good amount of players. I have one photo of Rabbit Maranville holding such bat and Carl Mays (See Rabbit1Carl1). Another “as expected”, but I closely examined “knobs” as well. I looked for carvings..etc.. . I know some may say “we already know this”, but a vast majority of the photos you could clearly see the Lathe Mark of the hand-turned knobs. I guess its re-assuring to know that Photo’s can continue to confirm authenticator’s establishments of Pro-models in comparison to store models.
Now the fun stuff:
Otis Clymer, a former Boston Brave/Senator , seen here on the Minneapolis team, is holding what appears to be a “BING-GO” bat. (OTIS1). It appears to be freshly turned. Possible a local manufacturer.
Jim Thorpe. Photo taken when Jim was a member of the NY Giants. Jim is holding a Spalding “OX” model. (JIMTHORPE1) I haven’t seen this model before. Clearly looks like a pre-game pose.
Christy Mathewson. Christy is clearly using a Fred Snodgrass Spalding Model during batting practice. Possibly due to pitchers bats, not being common, he preferred this model. (CHRISTY1)
I encourage you to go the Library of Congress website, and search yourselves. There is much out there to be seen. Also, if you have any information on SPALDING “OX” bats, please share.
– Justin Brooks
Robert Edward Auctions www.robertedwardauctions.com
Joe Jackson Support Site www.blackbetsy.com
Crack of the Bat: Louisville Slugger Story