I was very glad to see that the so many MEARS readers actually took the time to read the follow up article on the Hillerich & Bradsby vs The Hanna Manufacturing law suit article and have asked the questions they have. In that piece I mentioned the words “context” and “intent”. For those looking for additional information along these lines, I really recommend reading “Crack of Bat-The Louisville Slugger Story” by Bob Hill with emphasis on pages 43-66. What becomes clear to anyone who reads this is the focus of Hillerich & Bradsby on protecting the value of their trade/retail market. In Hill’s work you will find that many of the things we tend to associate with the early days of Hillerich and Bradsby (player endorsements, Famous Slugger Pamphlets/Yearbooks, and an advertising push in publications such as the Athletic Journal, Popular Mechanics, The American Boy, Boy’s Life, The Sporting News, and the Youth’s Companion) were intended to build brand name recognition and stimulate trade and retail sales.
To put this in some sort of perspective for those of you who don’t have access to this wonderful reference, by 1940, H&B was producing some 2,000,000 bats a year, with some 40,000 being produced for professional players. In other words, about 98% of the H&B production capacity and product was devoted to trade and retail sales. This ties directly back to the primary basis of the law suit and the Hanna case and why Hanna was considered to be conducting deceptive business practices that were injurious to Hillerich & Bradsby. It also adds context to the intent of the ruling. On page 2 of the court documents provided it states that “The players were not told it was the intention of the Hanna Manufacturing Company to copy these bats and sell them to the public in competition with Hillerich & Bradsby Company.”
This case between H&B and Hanna would be cited as legal precedence for any number of other cases, some involving the baseball related sporting goods as well. When the Wilson Company pursued legal action against Globe (a glove manufacturer) in the 1950s for manufacturing and stamping a player’s name and “model” or “style” on a glove that was under contract to Wilson, Globe claimed they were free to do so in accordance with the edict in the H&B/Hanna case. Once again, the issue centered a company’s ability to market and advertise these products to the buying public. Here we see the use of the word “model” as opposed to the original language that called for the words “Style” or “Shape.” Was this a violation of the court ruling? Certainly not and no more incorrect than using the word “Type” as Adirondack would later use.
The word “model” is very prevalent with gloves. If you think about it, gloves actually already come in various types as depicted in even the earliest catalog offerings. Those “types” are generally referred to as fielder’s gloves, basemen’s mitts, and catcher’s mitts. Within each of these general “types” are the various “models” or “styles”. What is interesting about the Wilson/Globe case, is that it appears Globe “arbitrarily assigned players’ names to its various products without any attempt to follow the individual preferences of the players.”
So far we have only addressed the issue of public sales and what a manufacturer may have been leading the buying public to believe with product markings. The other issue is what the contract for endorsements entitled the contract holder to. As part of this same Hanna v Hillerich & Bradsby case, the court said in 1935 that professional baseball players could not assign or exclusively license their names for use on baseball bats, they could only sign a consent or waiver which prevented them from objecting to the manufacturers use of their names on baseball bats; “fame is not merchandise.” The baseball bat manufacturer who had a license from Babe Ruth couldn’t sue a competing bat maker who sold Ruth bat. Hanna Mfg. Co. v. Hillerich & Bradsby Co., 78 F.2d 763, 766 (C.C.A. 5th Cir. 1935). Once again, the ruling from the same decision provided that player’s names could in fact appear on the bats of other manufacturers within the context of those provided for their personal use.
There is a great article in the Michigan Law Review (Volume 34, page 588) from 1936 that lays all of this out and reinforces the basis of the H&B legal action was nested on the impact it had on the retail market and “use of the names might induce some people to buy the defendant’s (Hanna) bats thinking the players were using bats made by the defendant….” All of this had a much larger impact on what would become an issue of an expectation of privacy on the part of perceived famous person or ball player when it came to the commercial use of their image or likeness. I encourage all of you, if genuinely interested in this topic, to read more than just board posts and e-Bay lot descriptions on the subject. This is the same general advice I would offer as you research any facet of the sports collectables industry.
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions or comments on this article, please feel to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com.