The line between what markings make a pro model bat, those that differentiate such a bat from one made strictly for the retail or store trade, has become somewhat of a blur. Sure, there are some absolutely sure fire ways to determine most pro models from their store counterparts but we are MEARS have taken a hard look at some very controversial makers and models and have, thru research, taken some of the previous notions about game bats and have literally ripped them to shreds.
Let’s take for example the old notions that players never used ANY decal type bat. Absolutely not true. We have seen, and shared, a vintage action photograph of Ty Cobb at the plate with what was obviously a decal model bat. Again, at a recent Willow Grove show, Jane and Darla, well known hobbyists from the Cincinnati area, had a very large blown up picture of Roger Bresnahan and low and behold, another decal bat. In the 1939 H&B catalog, and I quote “ no. 2 is one of the Louisville Sluggers used by Hank Gowdy to achieve batting fame in the World Series of 1914. Note Gowdy’s picture on the barrel of the bat where the player’s autograph signature appears on the Louisville Sluggers of today.” End quote page 44, 1939 Louisville Slugger Famous Slugger yearbook of 1939. (photo included)
Next, lets take a look at the H&B model 40K cork grip bats. We have had a Pat Malone (pitcher 1928-37) hand turned block letter 40K bat as well as a couple of odd length Honus Wagner hand turned 40K models from pre 1916, a time when the 40K cork grip bat was the most expensive model offered by Louisville Slugger and issued either in 1914 or 15 (pre Bradsby and cork grip was pat. 1914). On 4-10-23 Babe Ruth of the NY Americans ordered a Tom Griffith 8-9-21 model cork grip bat (per Louisville Slugger ledgers). In addition, Left Field collectables sent us a few other odd 40K bats to examine. Both were block letter stamped, never having a store model offered, bats of Babe Ramsey and Harry Smith. Both had the hand turned knobs and dated to the 1921-31 era.
There was a Harry Smith who played in the major leagues from 1901-10 and no such player as Babe Ramsey shows up in the major league encyclopedia. Store model 40K bats, absolutely not.
We have already addressed the issue of the top of the line Louisville Slugger model 250, which, like its 40K counterpart, was actually more expensive than the 125-model line. We noted that on 8-23-20, Babe Ruth ordered a 46oz. model 250. (This again according to actual shipping ledgers) Hence, proof positive that a hand turned 250 models, whether a signature series or block lettered, must be graded on the pro model scale. Points, of course, would be added or deducted depending on whether or not the player had a signature contract and might be found in a retail catalog and again for lack of complete shipping records.
We have also done several articles on this very site with regards to some pre war off brand game bats such as Hanna Bat Rite, Spalding, Kren, and Zinn Beck. (Besides the photo from Marshall Fogel’s collection showing Ruth in front of the dugout with an obvious Zinn Beck model in the photo, another photo exists in Stephen Wong’s latest book (Smithsonian Baseball) on page 70, a killer, 1926 dated photograph taken in the locker room with Babe Ruth clearly holding a Zinn Beck Bob Meusel model 100 Diamond Ace) We have talked about everything from hand turned models to those models actually marked HAND TURNED on the center brand. We have denoted that some pro model game bats actually had inch marks stamped on the knob ( Hanna model bats with name only on barrel for example) which leads me to the real reason behind this article, another rather startling discovery and printed, to my knowledge, here for the first time. H&B made game model bats, those never, ever made available to the general public, with INCH MARKINGS on the knob.
How to we know this you may ask. Is this some evil plot to further confuse the collecting public? Absolutely not! What this represents is our ongoing examination of photographs and records to try and bring out as many facts about game bats as is possible. We make no such claims without 100% proof and you readers who follow our columns know that every discovery is based on proof, not preconceived notions based on hearsay with nothing to back them up. I am working on a story with photographic proof that the previously conceived notion that any game model H&B bat with a 2 over the ampersand and pre-dating 1965 had to be a 61-64 made bat. WRONG, a picture exists of Mantle at the 1960 World Series, holding a previously labeled 61-64 bat with the short lightning bolts. What does this mean? Lets take for example a Roger Maris previously labeled 1961-64 era bat that only shows up in the records for 1961. Well, it may no longer be a documented 1961 bat if that very same bat was ordered in 1960 as well. Oh, what a difference a year can make. Now, instead of a 1961 season bat, you may have a bat made in either 1960 or 1961. Remember, bats were stamped sometimes years ahead of being issued, were made on more than one machine, or were often half finished only to be finished and issued at a much later date. We have proof positive that the Trade Mark Reg. found under the center brand of a pre war bat, a center brand that at one time was thought to be a post 1936 stamp, as having existed as early as the fall of the 1934 as evidenced by a game bat sold by Mastronet and signed/dated by both teams at the 1934 World Series. How could a stamp that wasn’t introduced until 1936 show up as a gamer and dated and signed by both teams two years before it’s supposed introduction? Answer, it could if it was introduced on at least one machine prior to the 1934 World Series. Again, this two-year span can make a huge difference on a few big name bats such as a supposed 1936 or 1937 Mel Ott game bat that might have dated to a Championship season or World Series but if that same bat was offered in 1935, it changes the complexion of the letter. . But again, enlarging dating label periods and allowing for run-over is not the subject of this article either, it’s just to again show that preconceived notions can get altered or changed as further irrefutable evidence surfaces. We have such startling new evidence to offer today.
Following is a list of 125 professional model bats endorsed with block letters from players who never had a signature model endorsement let alone a store or retail model bat. Each bat has at least three things in common; First, they are all 125 models, 2. They are all non-signature endorsed block letter bats never offered to the store trade and 3. each of the listed bats have the inch marks, including the “, stamped on the knob, a trait on H&B pre war bats always thought to indicate a store model catalog bat. They are as follows;
A Ed Taylor, foil printed bat (another anomaly usually reserved for only store model bats, the first such game model H&B bat that we have seen) side written at the factory and dated 1939. 36” stamped on knob. ( one Ed Taylor in major league encyclopedia played in 1926 for Boston Nationals.)
B Ryan, block letter last name only, no side writing, circa 1933-34 (Blondy?) 36” stamped on knob. (Buddy Ryan had a signature model store bat offered in the 1935 Famous Sluggers yearbook)
C Kahn, block letter last name only, no side writing, circa 1933-34 (Owen? 1 year 1930 Boston Nationals)
D Myers, block letter last name only, no side writing, circa 1930’s (Buddy or Billy) 35” stamped on knob with a 6 stamped after the name on barrel.
E Gene Hines, both names in block letters, 1933-34 era, (not listed in major leagues) stamped 35” on knob.
In addition to the above named block letter models, we found the following signature models with inch marks on the knobs as well lest you should think that only block letter bats with inch marks could be game bats. Each was a 125-signature model and none of those listed could be found in our collection of 1930-40 era H&B catalogs. That does not mean 100% that retail models could not have been made for a short or limited time, only that the players were rather obscure or were regional favorites but were not listed in the yearly H&B catalogs.
A Gus Hill, signature model, 1920’s era, no such player found in major league encyclopedia. 35” stamped on knob.
B Walter Rogan, signature model, 1932 Powerized and Bone Rubbed, 33” stamped on knob. Again, no such player found in major leagues.
C Carl Reynolds, 1933-34, a well-known player from 1927-39 but not found in catalogs.
D Benny Kauf, another well known player from the Federal League and Major Leagues who played from 1912-20. (no complete run of catalogs from this era to prove or disprove existence of store model but no other example has ever been found and he had a contract with Spalding from 1917-21 with store model bats offered)
And there you have it, documented game model professional bats never offered to the retail trade but stamped with the previously taboo inch marks on the knobs. What can I make of this you might ask? Well, it is entirely possible that players, even well known and signature model endorses, may have used 125 models with inch marks but if they also had a catalog model, no such claim could be espoused with any reliability. However, if you find a block letter or signature model 125 bat of a player not found in any H&B catalogs or literature, it must be considered for game model status. There is no other argument that makes sense, especially when you find a bat with inch marks and the player name is in block letters and he never in played in the major leagues, what other conclusion can one come to? Until next time, David Bushing
I would like to credit Art Jaffe of Left Field Collectibles for lending me the bats to examine for use in this article.