Major League Baseball Rule 1.10 states: (a) The bat shall be a smooth, round stick not more than 2 3/4 inches in diameter at the thickest part and not more than 42 inches in length. The bat shall be one piece of solid wood. NOTE: No laminated or experimental bats shall be used in a professional game (either championship season or exhibition games) until the manufacturer has secured approval from the Rules Committee of his design and methods of manufacture.
In looking at this language, it is easy to see why the dimensions were decided upon. The diameter of the bat is the same as the ball. The batters box is 81 ½ inches wide so the bat length is designed to ensure plate coverage for the batter while in his half (left or right side of the plate) batters box. The idea of no experimental bats seems obvious enough, but what might have caused this language to have been added?
As with any number of things that are baseball, they often lead back to Babe Ruth. This one in particular leads back to an article in the July 21st 1923 edition of the Bismarck Tribune in a story titled “Ruth Springs Trick Home Run Bat- Judge Landis May Be Called to Render Decision on it.”
The article goes on to site Baseball Rule 15, that at this time read much the same as the current rule with respect to dimensions, only that “and (the bat) be entirely of hard wood.” It seems the bat the Babe was using since July 2nd was one that began with an idea offered by Sam Crawford. The idea being that bats break because of varying degrees of thickness, so that the portion of the bat most prone to breaking should be made of a stronger type of wood. The bat was called the “quadrebuilt bat”. The bat was made of four distinct sections of wood that were then glued together. The most surprising thing was the statement that “Crawford sent several of these bats to Ruth. The Babe is trying them out and is having unusual success.” According to the chart on pages 279-280 of “The Babe-The Game that Ruth Built” by Ritter & Rucker, the Babe hit 8 home runs during this period.
A follow-up article that appeared in the August 27th 1923 edition of the Iowa City Press-Citizen says Ruth felt this bat was within the rules since it did not exceed the established dimensions and was in fact made of hard wood. The article mentions that the American League has just changed the rule on bats to include they must be made of one piece construction. It also makes note that many National League players have taken to using this same bat as Ruth. There is also a mention of Ken Williams using a corked bat, which does not appear to be a violation of the rules as written in the day.
All of this brings to mind a couple of questions. First, how many of the home runs Ruth hit in 1923 were with this bat and did really make a difference? The year end total for the Babe in 1923 was 41, up from 35 in the previous season. Second to Ruth that year was corker Ken Williams with 29. It is also interesting to note that Ken Williams led the AL in home runs the previous year with 39. Williams’ 1922 campaign broke Ruth’s four year run as reigning American League home run champion. For the Babe in 1923, 18 of his home runs were hit between July 2nd and August 18th . In other words, roughly 42% of his home run production that year came in approximately a 25% span of the season.
The other thing is the mention that the bats were supplied by Sam Crawford. We know that during this period of time, there were numerous companies, large and small, providing bats to the major leagues. Did Crawford have his own short lived venture or did work as a salesman for a larger more established organization?
According to an article that appeared in the January 19th 1929 edition of the Syracuse Herald which is an excerpt from Babe Ruth’s Own Book of Baseball, Chapter 12, Ruth goes on to mention that:
“a few years ago, Sam Crawford the old Detroit outfielder and slugger, sent me a sample bat from the coast. It was one of those trick things made out of four separate sections, pasted and fitted together. Sam wanted me to try it out and see how it worked. The first time up I hit the ball over the fence for a home run and during the entire game, I got myself two doubles and single in addition to the home run. Naturally, I was tickled pink. In the clubhouse that night, I had Woodie send Sam an order for six of these bats. They came along a few days later and Colonel Ruppert happened to be in the clubhouse when they arrived. He took a look at the bill and threw his hands up in the air. Those bats were listed as six dollars each.” The article, or in this case, the text of this chapter of Ruth’s book goes on to talk about other players giving Ruth bats to use including Harry Heilmann.
Getting back to the question about Crawford’s involvement as a bat maker, Ruth’s comment about Crawford sending him the first bat from “the coast” seems to exclude Hillerich and Bradsby and indicates the West Coast. Ruth’s team the New York Yankees played on the east coast so any reference to an east coast manufacturer would not make any sense.
We do know that following his career in the Major Leagues, that Crawford, went on to play for the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League (PCL). Crawford also became the head baseball coach at the University of Southern California as well as serving as an umpire in the PCL during the later part of the 1930s. All of this seems to indicate these bats were produced on the West Coast as Crawford remained on the West Coast until his death in 1968.
I have never seen a bat bearing the name or a manufacturers branding associated with Sam Crawford, but in all likelihood they are out there. It is also likely that these “trick bats” used by Ruth and other players would be easy to spot given the four piece construction. I can’t help but wonder how many of these things have sat in flea markets or antique malls ignored as “store model” bats. My greatest hope in doing this archival type research and sharing this information is that one of these bats will garner some new found interest and finally surface.
Just as these bats caused a rule change in Major League Baseball, research like this is designed to change the rules about “what we have always been told” about the manufacturers of professional model baseball bats in the early part of the 20th Century.
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
MEARS Auth, LLC
POST SCRIPT: Babe Ruth’s Own Book of Baseball can be found in re-print form via Amizon.com in price ranges from $2.36 to $19.95.