When asked to evaluate the following bat, MEARS conducted a study of the history of Kork Gripped bats to offer our opinion.
A lot of debate has occurred in the past with respect to the 40K model bats that have entered the hobby. Store model, Game Used, minor league, their intended use has been hypothesized for as long as there has been an organized hobby.
With the recent information gathered by MEARS, we have been able to support their professional use. By highlighting their inclusions in the H&B factory records, studying images of players holding cork gripped bats, examining 40K models of both star and common players, identifying professional model vs. store model traits, and finally examining actual examples, MEARS is quite confident that these bats were indeed used in Major League games. For the purpose of this article, we are referencing professional model bats. We differentiate professional models from store model via the lack of inch marks found on the knob. 40K models of period superstars could be found in H&B dealer catalogs. Store model examples that have been examined by the staff of MEARS were found to have inch marks on the knob. Inch marks were the process of labeling bats by length, which were intended to be mass marketed and sold to the general public. This discussion will deal with identified professional models.
Many of the players ordering and using professional model 40K bats were Hall of Famers. Both actual examined examples and H&B factory records supported this. To illustrate the history of 40K model bats, MEARS used the following bat as an example:
Examination of a 1925-31 George Babe Ruth 40K H&B Louisville Slugger Professional Model Game Bat
To determine professional issuance, MEARS examined Babe Ruth bat #300715 for signature version, centerbrand dating, length, weight, wood grade, Kork Grip, evaluation of use, and comparison to known factory records. We also referenced all known listings of cork grip bats, which were found in available H&B records. Finally, we surveyed two common player professional model 40K cork gripped bats, George Ramsey and Harry Smith. The common bats served to illustrate that 40K bats were produced for professional players other than the superstars of the era and further support their use in the major leagues.
The examination of the MEARS #300715 Ruth bat revealed:
Barrel Signature version: This bat exhibits the Second Version barrel stamping facsimile signature which came into use during the 1921/22 era and was used for the remainder of his career.
Centerbrand: Examination of the centerbrand reveals this bat was manufactured during the 1925-31 era. This can be verified with the book, A Complete Reference Guide of Professional Model Bats by Vince Malta. The presence of the Second Version signature also helps date this bat to the 1925-31 era.
Length: For this label period (1925-31), H&B factory records show bats ordered for Ruth in non-specified lengths with weight listed only, 34.5 inch, 35 inch, 35.25 inch, 35.5 inch, & 36 lengths. This examined bat measures at 34.5 inches and does match the H&B factory listed lengths of 34.5 bats as being ordered by Ruth during the 1925-31 era.
Weight: H&B factory records reveal during the timeframe of 1925-31, Ruth ordered bats weighing from 35 to 42 ounces. This bat weighs in at 35.2 ounces, which is within the range of factory document weights recorded for Babe Ruth during the 1925-31 era.
Wood: This bat is manufactured from professional grain ash, which is also consistent with all bats sent to Ruth during this time frame.
Kork Grip: MEARS has established via photograph proof (Joe Jackson with Kork Grip bat), reference in the H&B factory records, and the examination of additional professional model 40K bats, that Louisville Slugger supplied professional ballplayers with this model. Examples examined include:
MEARS #302455 1921-31 Eddie Collins 40K
MEARS #301123 1914-15 Ty Cobb 40K
MEARS #251754 1911-16 Joe Jackson 40K
MEARS #303775 1917-21 Ty Cobb 40K
MEARS #255107 1917-21 Harry Davis 40K
MEARS #302906 1921-31 Frank Frisch 40K
MEARS #302914 1921-31 George Sisler 40K
MEARS #302944 1921-31 Ed Roush 40K
MEARS #301586 1921-31 Lew Fonseca 40K
MEARS database 1921-21 Mickey Cochrane 40K
MEARS database 1921-31 Al Simmons 40K, 36 ¼”, 37 ounces
In addition, MEARS examined images of 1910-15 professional model Frank Homerun Baker 40K JF Hillerich & Sons bat. The bat measured 33” in length. This supports the introduction of the cork grip process to the 1910-15 era.
With the exception of the cork grip, the above referenced bats were consistent with each players personal bat record ordering patterns with respect to length, weight, model, and barrel signature. The above players did have store model 40K bats offered to the general public, but those were found with inch marks on the knob. The above examples had hand turned knobs, which is a practice consistent with professionally produced bats. All of the above-examined bats were also consistent with respect to model to their 125 H&B examples. It should be noted that the two common players, Ramsey and Smith were also produced with hand turned knobs. The hand turned knobs were consistent for both common and Hall of Fame caliber players.
Common Players Examined
MEARS research 1921-31 George Ramsey 40K (block letter) 36”, 36.8 oz, hand turned, sw 7/28/23
MEARS research 1921-31 Harry Smith 40K (block letter) 34”, 32.3 oz, hand turned, sw 8/15/29
MEARS research 1921-31 Pat Malone 40K (block letter) no information recorded
The examination of the Ramsey, Malone, and Smith 40K bats proved that H&B did produce bats from common players.
Recently (December 2007), a new discovery of a 40K model bat was introduced to the hobby. The bat originated from the estate of Leslie Burke (Detroit Tigers 1923-26), teammate of Harry Heilman (Detroit Tigers 1914-29). This was the first 40K professional model bat to enter the hobby with a direct chain of provenance to a player’s estate.
The specifics of the bat are:
PSA #G55338 1923-26 Harry Heilman 40K Louisville Slugger bat, 34”, 36 ounces (Les Burke Estate)
Examination of the above referenced 40K Heilman bat when compared to his personal bat records for 125 models show consistency of ordering patterns for the 34” length and the weight was within the range, 36-40 ounces, of documented Heilman ordering patterns.
The examination and listing of the above bats allows MEARS to establish the fact that Hillerich & Bradsby supplied major league ballplayers with 40K professional model bats from the era of 1911-31. The MEARS image of Joe Jackson with the 40K grip allows for photographic verification. The inclusion of Harry Davis & Lew Fonseca signature models in the group allow for us to establish that 40K bats were supplied to non-Hall of Famers which were under contract with H&B. The examination of the Ramsey, Smith, and Malone demonstrate that H&B did offer and produce professional model 40K bats to non-contract holders. This was determined by the block letter barrel stamping. There is also a specific factory record for Babe Ruth ordering Kork Grip bats during the 1921 season. It appears in the factory record as:
Babe Ruth 40K H&B personal record order listing:
Tom Griffith, 8/9/21, with kork grip, 48 bats
This ledger entry verifies the fact that Babe Ruth did indeed request an order of bats with the kork grip application. Also, 48 was a large request since most bat orders were 3, 6, or 12.
Other H&B personal bat orders of 40K model bats found in the Louisville Slugger bat records were:
(40K) Travis Jackson, 4/1/25
(40K) Joe Sewell 4/25/23 & 1920-22
Joe Sewell’s ordering of Kork Grip bats were quite interesting, as he is the first documented player to request Kork Grip bats over several seasons. His personal bat records show he requested Kork Grip bats during 1923-26, and 1920-22. During 1922, he specifically ordered the same model bat with the request for No Kork also.
A thorough examination of the H&B factory records did reveal additional references of major league ballplayers ordering Kork Grip bats. Under Cardinals star Pepper Martin H&B personal bat records, the following information is recorded:
5-10-40 order: Johnny Mize, use Hornbsy with cork handle, 36”, 35 ounce
7-24-40 order: Hornsby cork handle, 36”, 33 ounce
8-28-40 order: Hornsby cork handle, 35”, 33 ounce
There was no specific mention of the date of the Hornsby bat in the Pepper Martin bat records. Per the H&B dealer catalogs, Kork Grip bats were discontinued by 1935. In the 1932 H&B dealer catalog, the Kork Grip bat they illustrated was a pre-powerized model, therefore, most likely manufactured during the 1920s due to the dating of the illustration. Therefore, it is assumed the cork grip process was manufactured from 1921-31, which corresponded with the height of Hornsby’s playing career and was supported by the bat labeling in the illustration. It should also be noted that in the Pepper Martin records, there was also specific reference to Martin ordering both Mize and Hornsby bats with no mention of the cork grip, indicating that Martin ordered two versions of the bats, one with and one without the cork handles. This is determined as H&B specifically listed the three references with cork handles, and the other orders did not.
This verifies that H&B produced and archived at least one Hornsby bat with a cork handle. The above references were taken from the H&B factory records, which recorded side written professional model bats, which were used as templates for future bat production. This entry verifies that at one time there was a side written Rogers Hornsby model bat with a cork handle, which was archived and side-written. There is no specific mention of this bat in Hornsby’s bat records. Regardless, this Hornsby bat record with the cork grip reference serves as an additional record of cork grip bats being ordered by Major League players.
In summary, this bat is consistent with production ordering patterns which are documented via known H&B records to Babe Ruth professional model bats for the 1925-31 era with specific respects to model, application of kork grip, length, weight, signature version (#2), and use of professional grade wood. Although there is no specific reference of this bat in Babe Ruth’s 1925-31 records, the length, weight, model, and signature version are consistent the surviving records of Ruth bats from the same period.
Grading: Base grade 5, plus one point for bat matching known ordering patterns for Ruth bats from 1925-31.