Bat collectors are obsessed with length and weight to the tune of 1/8th of an inch and to the ounce. There of course is nothing wrong with this if seen in the proper context. Recently I engaged in numerous discussions and e-mails about a Hank Greenberg bat as it related to looking at player production information. Trust me, this is not a re-hash of that anymore than it is a chance to restate my thoughts on player production information and how much weight a bat can lose over time. Both of these are well chronicled.
Before getting into to the subject of this article in any great detail, suppose I found a bat of a player by grade, era, model number and use that you had been after for some time. The price was very reasonable and when you asked about weight and length as compared to what it showed in the player’s personal order sheet, I told you it was within +/-1 ounce of the ordered weight and +/- 1% of the ordered length. Interested?
The subject of this article, at least on the surface, is a 35” 1946-1950 Adirondack Larry Doby retail model bat and what we can see and learn from it as laboratory if you will. I picked this bat up a while back as I was making comparisons between retail and professional Adirondack bats. Those articles have long since been written and published, but this bat still serves a purpose with respect to helping highlight what it is we really do or do not know about bats.
This Doby bat is marked as 35” on the knob the true size of the bat is just over 34 15/16th”. 35” for those “1/8th inchers” out there, is 280 8ths inches long. In other words, 3/8th of an inch is roughly 1% of the total length of the bat. If you were making a bat by hand and were told it had to be within + or minus 1% of the requested length, you might think this would be tough and be pleased if you could consistently produce to this standard. Yet somehow the collecting community views a 1% variance as some great gap…folks it’s 1% of the total length. We are not talking about metallurgic tolerances required to keep the space shuttle from falling back to earth. We are talking about the tolerances on a hand manufactured wood product designed to allow someone to hit a batted ball in flight. Another thing to consider is that this hand turned product did not have to be fitted with or mated to anything requiring an absolutely precise accounting for length. If your counter argument is that these bats were made for professional players and their concerns were always accounted for to most minuet detail, then reflect back on what was provided recently about the way weight requests were addressed for Willie Mays. (Willie Mays personal order sheet from 9-5-69 which reads: MARK ALL THE BATS EXACT WEIGHT HE ORDERED NO MATTER WHAT THE BATS WEIGH.)
Please know I am not casting dispersions on the craftsmanship of those who hand turned bats back in the day, but I only ask that you see this in some broader context. Consider if you will what information was actually recorded in the older player order sheets. They listed weight only and not length. This does not imply that length was not considered as it had to be in order to turn a bat in accordance with some pre-determined profile. But there was a focus on weight and I suspect that is still a primary consideration. I think weight is also in issue not a static metric, but also how it affects the balance or feel of bat.
This article is not about trying to make a case for the Greenberg bat or any other bat that is +/- 3/8th of an inch in variance to a recorded length. It is about context and questioning what we have always been told about bats and why we believe what we do about them. This is a general theme I have researched and written about in no small measure over the past couple of years. The fact that I am working with retail model Doby bat in no way changes the fact that a metric of 3/8th of inch is a tolerance of +/- 1% on a 35inch bat.
I think I paid around $60 for the Doby bat. As such I considered it to be a prime donor candidate for something I wanted to look into. It currently weighs 29 1/2 ounces. I have no idea what the bat weighed when it was manufactured. Even if I had a record to compare it to from the time frame, some variance would have to considered and accounted for.
I was curious what would happen to length of this bat if I hand sanded an ounce off of it. I did not cook the books on this one. I hand sanded the entire bat and I also used a contouring sanding sponge because this would permit me to maintain the taper and shape of the bat. I did focus on the barrel end as I did not want to alter the grip or handle area to a large degree. Throughout this process, I ensured the bat did not become lopsided. I did this by ensuring the bat continued to roll freely across the floor. The end result and just over 2 hours later, was removal of 1 ounce from the bat in as uniform way as possible and to see the length go from just over just over 34 15/16th” to between 34 3/8th and 34 11/16 oz. So we are someplace between a ¼ and 3/8th of an inch, or within 1% of the intended length and 1 ounce of weight difference.
One thing that jumped out at me after the first half hour, is that I doubt this much time was taken with a hand turned product when looking at the requirement to fill orders by the dozens for hundreds of bats. I also doubt that a digital microscope was used to see and record the measurement of length.
Consider this against Greenberg’s bat orders of 3/11/46 and 3/19/47. I picked these for a few reasons. First it was a Greenberg bat that peaked my interest in all of this. Second these orders are from a time when model numbers are identified. This is important since I wanted to see the same models since variations in models can have larger barrels or entirely different shapes or tapers. Thirdly these orders were for bats of the same length.
3/11/46: “His G79 at 35” and 35 ½”
3/19/47: “His G79 at 35” and 33 oz”
If these are to be the same model and same length, but the weight is 2 1/2oz different, well folks…something had to give. After spending the better part of 2 hours hand sanding a bat, I am betting it was the length. The only other way I can think to accomplish this would be to have selected two different billets with the same general size but variances in the weight. Throughout the turning process, remember you are taking off wood. It would not be as simple as just selecting two billets that were 2 ½ ounces in difference, but rather what do you need to start with in order for the final product to 2 ½ ounces different.
I am no way suggesting that the definitive metric is now – 3/8th” to ¼” inch for every once removed. Nor am I implying that every bat had to have an ounce removed from the time the turning was finished. If the bat was weighed during the process, was the weight of the still attached lathe nubs factored in during these in process weigh ins? If so, how much as they do always appear uniform in size?
What I also did not take into account was the quality of the wood or grain count and its impact on the weight of bat in a given length. Nor does it factor in what would be required for the various model styles. I also have no idea how much weight is lost during branding or flame treating any more than I do for how much weight is gained when a bat is dipped in some sort of finish. I can tell you that if I was in a hurry and wanted to take the 1 ounce off of this bat as quickly as possible, machine sanding the barrel end would have very likely shorted this bat a bit more than what I ended up with.
If you want to try this for yourself, then by all means have at it. It does not take much as I only had $60.00 in the bat and two sanding sponges cost just under $7.00 at the local hardware store. Remember, no short cuts. Keep the same general taper of the bat and the barrel and do it by hand. Would love to know what you come up with.
As a collector, it would disingenuous of me to say I don’t look at player production information, when available, in considering bats for my collection. I consider these factors but as just that, factors and not absolutes. This is almost irrelevant as what I like and consider may or may not be the same things you do. I like to see, understand and decide for myself what I believe and why. I can’t think of any clearer way to show this than to spend 2 hours hand sanding a bat. Like you, I am busy and have competing demands on both my time and money. But $67.00 and a couple of hours was well worth spending in my book.
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions or comments on this article please feel free to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com