As an Intelligence Officer, over the years I have often found that what you are looking for has in fact been hidden in plain sight. Bat collectors and researchers have spent countless ours pouring over shipping records and photographs in an attempt to determine what a player may have ordered or used at various points in their careers. One of the keys in all of this has been the study of Hillerich and Bradsby center brand logos. This research has focused on trying to establish to relative date to when a bat may have been manufactured by identifying how the center brand has changed over time and when those changes occured. The hobby owes a great deal of thanks to the efforts of pioneers like Vince Malta, Ronald Fox, Bill Riddell, and Michael Specht in the seminal work “Bats: Professional Hillerich and Bradsby and Adirondack 1950-1994” and to Dave Bushing for his work in the “MastoNet Reference and Price Guide for Collecting Game Used Baseball Bats.”
What these works have in common is both a study/dating of center brands as well as a listing of player bat specifications that have been gleamed from production information courtesy of Louisville Slugger. This has given the hobby some invaluable data and for that I am thankful. My work is not meant to denigrate those efforts in any manner, but simply to offer insights to the fact that this study of the center brand are not complete and not to the fault of those researchers. They seem to found what they where looking for. My premise is that by looking at some of the same information in a different manner; two things are made possible.
1. The ability to provide insights as to player lengths of bats that may not appear in the production information for any number of reasons.
2. The ability to provide the hobby/industry at large with a process that can be used at a collector level to assist them in answering many of their own questions with respect to player bat lengths or other information shown in photographs.
My efforts in this project are based on a commonly accepted practice in the field of imagery analysis that an object of known size can be used to ascertain information about other objects within the same relative plane. I have often used the example of an aircraft parked on a runway. If you know the length of the wing span is say 350 feet, then everything else in that image that takes up the same amount of space is also 350 feet. To bring this concept and practice into a little more of a practical perspective, consider a wooden yard stick and begin to think of it terms of a baseball bat. If you are looking at a picture of a yard stick and can see the incremental measurements, you know how long any section of it is by simply counting the number of “inch” measurements.
This is possible because, even though you are working from a picture, you have an object of known size to add scale to the rest of the yard stick. This of course seems obvious enough. But how do you apply the same logic and methodology to a picture of a baseball bat. Enter the Hillerich and Bradsby Center Brand Logo.
I have long known this principle to be both factual and executable on some level within a hobby context. I showed this by using the size of baseball to ascertain information about sleeve length to support my findings on the jersey Roger Maris wore when he broke Babe Ruth’s single season home record in 1961. For this project, I needed empirical data on center brands. Here is where I and the rest of the hobby/industry owes a great debt of gratitude to veteran vintage bat collectors and researchers Marcus Sevier and Art Jaffe for providing me with much of the information I used to establish the metrics for determining the Hillerich and Bradsby Center brand as an object of know size. Both Marcus and Art where quick to assist in providing information and this work could not have been started as quickly as it was without their support to serve as a jumping off point. The chart I have provided is by far complete as I am adding to all the time. In addition, I have only provided two Ty Cobb photos. Both the chart and photos represent extremely small samples.
While I am thanking people, I have to thank my daughter Mary for the quick refresher on high school math. In this same vein, I must offer my sincere apologies to my high school math teachers for stating that “all this is useless…when am I ever going to be able to use this stuff”.
It must be noted up front that using this data/technique must be done both carefully in both application and interpretation. If you are sloppy in your markings and measurements, you will widen the margin for error and thus render any findings just as sloppy. Work in this area should be done with a very fine lead mechanical pencil and in small metric increments such a millimeters. The conversions can be done easy enough on the back end. If done correctly, I think that reasonable assumptions can be made to the area of ½ of an inch with respect to the length of the bat in the hands of a player or pictured elsewhere. The greatest value this has to the hobby/industry is in filling in gaps of pre-war players where documentary evidence appears to be most lacking.
To begin with, you will need to find suitable images to work with. This is often not as easy as it may seem since it requires that the image have two key components. First it must be shot in such a manner that you have access to the center brand logo. As I stated in one of my previous works titled “What Do We Really Know About Bats,” I highlighted that in the case of even of solid photographic references like “The Image of Their Greatness: An Illustrated History of Baseball from 1900 to Present”, being able to even determine the bats manufacture is difficult.
Consider that this book devotes some 221 plus pages to cover the period from 1900 to 1950. Of that:
Of those 221 pages, 194 feature pictures…
Of those 194 picture pages, 79 of them include bats…
Of those 79 bat pictures, they contain approximately 168 bats…
Of those 168 bats, only 30 permit you to discern a manufacturer by the label…
What this means is that only about 18% of the available data provides any relevant information with respect to being able to see an identifying the center brand logo. This takes us to the next aspect of what you will need to find in your photographs.
The photographs in question must be complete. By this I mean, they must include the full length of the bat. This aspect is often made difficult because many potentially useful and valuable images have been cropped to accommodate formatting for publication. The best shots for this work are those that are taken with player holding a bat up to and across his chest. What you will often find is the portion of the bat that extends well above the player’s head has been cropped out of the picture. I cases like this, you are actually missing a second critical piece of information. Consider the fact that if the photograph you are looking at shows a clear shot of the center brand logo, then you will also have access to what is contained on the barrel as well with respect to player name since both are done along the same lines of the bat.
Even before you begin to make a single mark on the image, do yourself a favor and be sure you have done as much imagery analysis to ascertain as much of the possible information contained within the photograph. Take note of what the player and other players are wearing in the photograph with respect to the style of uniform they are wearing. This can help you narrow the range of when the photograph may have been taken if not readily available. Consider aspects of when a player or players may have played with a certain ball club and what the respective uniform styles would have been. The other thing that should not be overlooked are details contained with the center brand themselves. While these may not be always be clear, you can at times rule out certain bat labeling periods. Consider the labeling periods of
The subtle changes in these years can be discerned by noting the visual difference between a symbol such as —•— and text such as “125” or “MADE IN U.S.A.” above or below the words “Hillerich and Bradsby Co.”
While all of this has little to do with the mechanics of using the principles of an object of known size, I bring it up to enable you to get the most out of your time on the front end. This gives you a better final product as the end result is focused on determining the significance of the information contained within the photograph with respect to player bat length. Narrowing a time frame is important when you consider that in the above examples, the labeling period of 1917-1921 spans five years and the 1921-1931 spans a decade. The other thing is that these periods include years common to the others. You will also want to take note of are things that are commonly referred to as “player characteristics.” This term refers those aspects of a bat that have been either:
1. Manufactured for a player such as knob size and style or even finish.
2. Added by a player such as tape or handle scoring.
3. Manifested on the bat over time by player use such as cleat marks or wear to swing patterns.
4. For later bats you will find evidence of player uniform number markings, but for early bats these would obviously not be present in the years pre-dating the wear of such player identification.
This is worth mentioning as you will find photographs that may permit you to see the widest part of the center brand, but the barrel markings might be either obscured on illegible.
Taking Your Measurements
There are often times I would encourage people to work from enlargements when doing imagery analysis. This is not one of them. I recommend you work with magnification vs enlargement. Enlarging images for this work will often result in blurring the area of the center brand and distorting the contrast between the branding effect and the wood. I always begin with taking the measurement of the center brand logo. This measurement is taken from the widest portion of the center brand in terms and recording it in terms of millimeters. The next measurement is taken of the length of the entire bat. It is here that some cautionary and educational advice is offered. If the bat in the photograph is roughly vertical in the image, then the measurements are taken from the top and bottom portion of the bat. If the bat is canted in an angle showing the bottom of the knob, then the image measurement is taken from the center of the knob.
Remember you are dealing with the visual representation of a three-dimensional object that has been captured in a two dimension medium. This holds true for the top of the bat as well as the upper measurement is taken from “the crown” in the image. It is very important that you understand this for both future work, and more importantly, how it relates to this project. Since my theory is that Cobb used bats longer than what is recorded in his production information, this visual phenomenon actually works in favor of what I am trying to show.
The “canting” of an object in a photograph either towards or away from the camera, ONLY serves to make it appear smaller and not larger. The point being, that these “canted” bats may in fact be a bit larger the data suggests, but they are certainly not smaller as a function of how they are captured in the photograph.
What you are left with is data to support a factual observation along the lines of the “yard stick example I mentioned earlier. The center brand of this bat is xx mm in length. Everything else on this bat that takes up the same amount of space is of the same size.
Next you apply the range of measurements for the center brand for a given time frame and apply that as the object of known size the bat. For a quick reference, you can make tick marks on the photographs for the center brand and find that say the bat is question = 8 ½ times the length of the center brand. For a center brand that is 4 inches wide, the overall bat length would 34 inches. I know it may seem like more trouble than its worth to actually do the work in the metric system completely and then go back and make the conversions in inches, but then again, you are going to get a more precise answer in the end and I am sure that is what you are looking for.
Understanding and Using Ratios and Proportionality
Another aspect of imagery analysis that is worth mentioning with respect to determining player bat length is somewhat akin to the principle of using an object of known size. However is must be stated and understood upfront that this is by no means the same as what I have just covered. Its purpose is only to be used in a comparative nature with respect to looking at possible trends. The premise here is simple in that a players hand can be thought of an object of known and consistent size, but only in general terms.
We have all heard discussions about players with bats in photographs and the comment might go along the lines that “this bat looks very small or large compared to what we are used to seeing for You-Name-A Player.” The fact of the matter is that while these observations may in fact be accurate, how are they quantified? Mind you in most cases, you are probably dealing with examples that are in all likelihood could be variances of some 3-4 inches one way or another as these represent a difference of say 10% of a bat length that falls in the range of 30-40 inches. How do gauge this when things “just don’t look like” what you have seen in the past.
This involves the concepts of ratio’s and proportionality and is really only useful in what might be extreme cases and requires great care in practice and use. Although the principle is the same in that objects take up the same amount of space along the same plain, the conclusions are not intended to as definitive as they are illustrative. This work also enables you to use those countless photographs that exist and are without the center brand being visible. Here is how it works.
You have to assume that a player’s hand sized remained relatively constant throughout his playing period. You will also have to work from photographs that show the same things. What I am referring to is the concept that this player’s hands take up the same amount of space on a bat of any length as that is the constant and the bat length is what in fact varies. What you will need to do is say that the player’s hand represents and covers a certain area on the bat.
Ty Cobb photographs are great to use since his manner of grip permits you to clearly see where one hand ends and the other begins. What is means is that the size of Cobb’s hand exists in some proportion to the overall length of the bat. In one photograph you may notice after measuring the size of the bat (110 mm) and size of the hand (10mm) , that this means that Cobb’s hand size accounts for approximately 10% of the bat length.
In another photograph, the measurements are taken the SAME WAY and you find that Cobb’s hand accounts for a much larger proportion of the bat say 20% of the overall bat length. This tells you the second Cobb bat is smaller than the first bat by a certain ratio. If one of the photos has a clear center brand that permits the approximate size to be ascertained, then you can make some rough observations about the relative size of the other bat.
While I caution and remind folks about the need for accuracy and consistency when taking measurements, I am sure there will be those who will want to mix and match or selectively use these various techniques. While they are related, they should never be seen and interchangeable methods for work, only complementary efforts.
Where to Begin
I learned back in graduate school that if you hope to complete something from a research standpoint, (even if only initially) you have to establish some sort of boundaries for your efforts and a reason why. To that end, this first cut will focus on the early 20th Century and clearly prior to 1930. I picked this period for a couple of reasons.
First is that the further back you go back in time, the less information you will find with respect to player bat lengths recorded in the Hillerich and Bradsby/Louisville Slugger production information. Much of this early information make reference to making bats using “old diagrams”.
An example of these “diagram cards” can be found on page 44 of Crack of the Bat: The Louisville Slugger Story”, by Bob Hill. What I found interesting is that the Cobb diagram appears to read 34”.
This same relative length of bat for Ty Cobb can also be found listed in MastroNet Guide for Cobb at 34-35” (Bushing and Knoll) and again at 34 ½” on page 117 of “The Slugger’s” by John Holloway.
Mr. Mike Specht, one of the authors of “Bats: Professional Hillerich and Bradsby and Adirondack 1950-1994” offers that “regarding Ty Cobb, the documented evidence that exists include a diagram of his original Cobb model that sets the uniform length of the Cobb model bat at 34.5 inches. That length is also consistent with the H & B Cobb display bat, which is 34.5 inches and 42 ounces. Additional evidence of the 34.5 inch length for Cobb is found in the orders of other players for Cobb model bats. Generally in those orders, only weights are mentioned, as the length is standardized at 34.5 inches. In the rare instance where a length is noted, it is a length that is a deviation from 34.5 inches, as that length it was the standard for a Cobb model, either sent to Cobb or ordered by another player. That is the documented evidence that currently exists.”
In addition to this archived data from the actual manufacturer, anecdotal evidence offered by Ty Cobb himself seems to substantiate this. “My personal Louisville Slugger model, as they will verify at Hillerich & Bradsby, was never revised in any way throughout my career except in weight. It was 34 ½ inches in length, easy to handle, had a medium small barrel with a slight taper to medium large handle, then flares out slightly to a medium shallow knob.” Given all this, you are probably asking why go any further?
Part of this goes to back to how I was trained as an intelligence analyst. We are taught to look for answers in a multi-discipline approach. By this you look to answer questions using a variety of sources. I this case we find the Cobb’s own account (34 ½) being in conflict with a tool room drawing showing 34. Yes I know this is only a variation of half an inch, yet some bat collectors would consider this slight variance enough to cause them to pause. Variances of two, three, or four inches would be considered absolutely ridiculous. But are they?
This same debate has occurred with weights as well. Arguments have focused on what people “think” a bat might have lost or gained over time without much more than opinion. Although this is a topic for another time, I actually contacted individuals who study this and their findings where surprising to some and not to others. The larger point being, we should all be willing to reexamine information over time.
I have long felt that many of the early images of Cobb showed him with a bat that seemed to exceed the commonly accepted references and data points. Cobb was not a small man for his day as being listed at 6’1” inches and 175 pounds so this was not simply a matter of a small guy dwarfed by the size of bat. With this being said, I decided to look for images with respect to Ty Cobb.
While I know there are dozens of other players I could have looked at, this goes back to setting limits as I could spend years on this effort. My goal is to provide something useful that will allow others to build on over time.
What Did I Find
The value in all of this would probably be of little use or cause anyone to go through the time and effort of what I laid out if it only highlighted that the production and antidotal information showed the exact same things. Once again, this effort was not undertaken to undermine the work done by others with respect to cataloging and presenting this information to the collecting public. Rather to demonstrate that there is much we still may not know in this area as well as present a means and a process for re-discovery to the larger collecting and researching community.
Before we get much further in all of this, let’s make sure we are all on the same sheet of paper of what this process involves from a very real and practical sense. I in no way am attempting to insult anyone’s math skills, but rather think it will be very helpful if I take as much of the guess work out of it for you up front.
I think it is also incumbent upon me to “show my work” as was required of me back in high school. When making the conversions from your markings that where done in millimeters on the picture to inches for your bat length, you use a direct proportion. A direct proportion is used to compare two quantities (in this case millimeters and inches) that are related through equal factors (portion of the bat length/center brand and the total bat length).
A simple mathematic expression can be set up to solve this problem using our known information to find X, the total length of the bat in inches. 3 7/8 inches or 3.875 inches is the unit of measure we will use for the example center brand label. In the picture you are working with, let’s assume the center brand label measures 11 mm. The total length of the bat is 111mm. Using the formula of direct proportion as seen in Example 1 the bat in question would be approximately 39 inches in length.
Since you will see by the enclosed chart that there are various measurements for center brand labels by labeling period, I would recommend that you use a range of these in order to get a range of bat length as opposed to trying to work from an average. This all ties back to what I mentioned before about trying to ascertain as much information as possible about the date of the photograph.
Let’s consider applying all of this in a practical manner. The images I have selected can be found in “Peach: Ty Cobb in His Time and Ours” by Richard Bak. Cobb Image 1 is 107 and Cobb Image 2 is from page 190.
These images where selected because the bats in them show Cobb characteristic handle tap and they have the center brand visible and enable some scale to be applied to the photograph. Yes I know they are not “action shots,” and some will consider them invalid for the purpose of examination. You can find “action shots” of Cobb with bats of comparative size in these books.
“Peach: Ty Cobb in His Time and Ours” p158
“Greats of the Game; The Players, Games, and Mangers that Made
Baseball History” p19
“150 Years of Baseball” p108
The photographs I have used and are provided for your reference are a bit blurry as seen in this monograph. The actual images I used are very clear. The images are provided more for their instructional and illustrative value. When doing this type of work, or to double check my work, please use the images as referenced. This underscores the importance of using quality images.
Dating and understanding Cobb Photo 1: This photo shows Cobb sitting next to Tris Speaker. Speaker is wearing a Red Sox jersey so it can not later than 1915. The style of the uniforms worn by both Cobb and Speaker suggest that the likely year is 1911 Referring to the center brand data chart, you will see that 1911 is a cross over period for the labeling period.
The center brands for the periods of 1897-1911 and 1911-1917 gives us a range of 3 5/8th inches to 3 7/8th inches. Measurements using both ends of the sample spectrum produce:
With a Center Brand of 3 7/8th inches and using the formula for direct proportions, X or bat length = 39.175 inches.
With a Center Brand of 3 5/8th inches and using the formula for direct proportions, X or bat length = 36.6125 inches.
In either case we have bat that exceeded the length normally associated with Ty Cobb bats in accordance with Hillerich and Bradsby recorded and referenced production information.
Dating and understanding Cobb Photo 2: This picture is of Ty Cobb by himself. The combination of uniform crest style and cap would seem to indicate the photograph is from the 1913-1915 period. Referring to the center brand data chart, these years all fall within the 1911-1916 labeling period. The range for this period is between 3 11/16th inches and 3 7/8th inches. It should be noted that when dealing with pictures that show bats in this slight angle, the measurement at the knob is taken from the center of and not the bottom of the knob.
With a Center Brand of 3 7/8th inches and using the formula for direct proportions, X or bat length = 38.5 inches.
With a Center Brand of 3 11/16th inches and using the formula for direct proportions, X or bat length = 35.53 inches.
Once again, in either case we have bat that exceeded the length normally associated with Ty Cobb bats in accordance with Hillerich and Bradsby recorded and referenced production information.
One thing that I would like to highlight, is that by comparison these two photos show that in both cases the center brand was 10% of the overall bat length. Yes I know there will be those who will be quick to throw stones at this work because there are such variances between possible bat lengths given what is being used at the length of the center brand. In both cases we do have Cobb with a bat with his often sighted Cobb characteristic handle tape, that regardless of which measurement is used, exceed the length of the accepted lengths found is his production information. The other thing I will ask people to consider is then what is the length of bats Cobb is using that are considerably shorter by visual comparison to what I have referenced. This is where the value of looking at images and using something like the amount of space Cobb’s hand take up with respect to overall bat length.
Data such as I have provided is designed to facilitate discussion, and part of this discussion should include a theory as to why we are seeing what we do. I will go ahead and offer something to begin the dialogue and offer people something else to throw stones at. Consider that Cobb often used a stance and grip that called for his hands to be spread apart further than normal. This actually lessens the amount of the area with respect to total bat length that is available for plate coverage and hitting surface. If you have decreased the amount of total bat space as a function of how much is lost by the stance/grip combination, then in order to achieve the same amount of plate coverage and hitting surface, you have to increase the size of the bat.
Where Do We Go From Here
Going back to what I mentioned earlier about the purposes of this project, my hope is that other collectors/researchers will build on this for other works about other players and time periods. The other thing I have hoped to highlight is that this is what actual Imagery Analysis is as opposed to “photo matching.” I also hope the hobby/industry at large begins to chronicle in detail the various center brand widths. I would be guilty of a gross oversight at this point if I did not mention that there is great value in this effort beyond using the center brand width to calculate over all bat length.
We now are beginning to record objects of known size or a very reasonable range of know sizes that can used to study things like the size of lettering, numbering and crests on uniforms as well. Please remember there is only value in this for objects within the same relative plane.
The other thing that is worth mentioning is that I hope this information will be used. Just as in high school math, when you had to “show your work” to get credit, you should expect to see that others do as well. If someone is using this work to substantiate a claim they are making about a bat in hopes that you will buy it, then ask to see their work. In evaluating that work, consider:
1. The quality of the images used in terms of clarity and all the information they may contain.
2. The precision or lack of in the manner in which they took their measurements.
3. Check the math.
I will be the first to admit that there are some issues that have to be addressed over time. These involve working with what must considered a very small sample when given the original population. The surviving population is in itself very small compared to the original population both in terms of bats and suitable images. Another issue is ensuring the measurements for future work is done the same way in all cases.
Even with these factors in play, I hope you will consider:
1. Ty Cobb possibly used bats of a greater length than are recorded in the production information by the manufacturer.
2. The Hillerich & Bradsby center brand has use beyond that of identifying a labeling period.
3. Imagery analysis has a place and value in baseball research and is far more than “photo matching.”
4. High school math students should pay attention to their teachers…you will use this stuff some day.
MEARS Auth, LLC can be reached for questions or comment at DaveGrob1@aol.com