I’m talking bats here, common only in the sense of pricing when compared to most of their Hall of Fame counterparts. I have been beating the drum with regards to game used bat prices as compared to baseball cards, the disparity of pricing based on rarity, but demand for cards has always far exceeded that of baseball bats, therefore, rarity does not a price make. But let’s not compare apples to oranges. For the sake of argument, let’s discuss the rarity of the bat perceived as a common as compared to the superstar and Hall of Fame player bats.
This basically applies to collectors of team bats and/or specific players not exclusive to either superstardom or the Hall. This idea was driven home to me last week when a met Pittsburgh Pirate collector, Marty Wallach, at the All Star Fan Fest. For now, he is trying to put together game bats of the 1960, 1971 and 1979 Championship teams. When he mailed his want list, some of the so-called common has never once graced my inventory list. And these are bats from the last 30-40 years. He is talking about going back to 1925 and 1927 as well. My father in law has been attempting to build a collection of White Sox game used bats from the 1938-40 era and my good friend Jerry Silverstein has been trying to buy a game used bat of any player who ever played in Brooklyn, an almost, if not probable, impossibility but a lofty undertaking indeed.
And while the Hall of Fame player bats from these teams are often very valuable and hard to come by, bats such as a Luke Appling, KiKi Cuyler or Pie Traynor, each of these player bats does exist and I have handled at least one if not more of all of the above. But lets look at some so-called commons on these rosters. If we go back to 1925, the roster was smaller but commons from this team are not only tough , not one example has ever passed through my hands. These would include player model bats of Vic Aldridge, Bud Culloton, Lou Koupal, Ray Kramer, Lee Meadows, Johnny Morrison, Red Oldham, Don Songer, Emil Yde, Roy Spencer, Jewel Ens, Al Niehaus, Johnny Rawlings, Fresco Thompson, and Glenn Wright. A roster of 28 players with 15 never before seen ( I know, there are a lot of pitchers on this list). Add to this the bats of which I’ve seen two or less and that leaves only Traynor and Cuyler, two of the three Hall of Famers on the 1925 team that must be considered common with regards to the total numbers of commons still on the market or in collections.
How about the 1960 Pirates, a team of a much more recent vintage? Here, never seen bats include Tom Cheney, Bennie Daniels, earl Francis, Joe Gibbon, Paul Giel, Fred Green, or Don Gross, (I know, more pitchers and their bats are always scarce) How about catchers like Bob Oldis and Danny Kravitz, or maybe infielder Dick Barone or R.C Stevens or maybe even Harry Bright or Roman Mejias. Maybe some of you have had some of these bats or still do, in your collection but for over twenty years, I have not handled or seen even one example yet Hall of Famers Clemente and Mazeroski are there for the money if you have it to spend.
My father in law would love a Monty Stratton or a Moose Salters but in over five years, not one has ever hit the retail market to my knowledge and I watch it pretty close. And my Dodger collecting friend, I just found him an Ox Eckhardt and a Pete Reiser but still, the quest continues. And any of you readers out there that have been attempting to put together even a single year of game used bats from your favorite team know that when I am talking about commons, they are never that. They are in fact some of the most elusive of all collectibles. And they are most often far less expensive than their more common, but still scarce, Hall of Fame counterpart.
So while we all know that the so-called commons are most often far less common than their label applies, what are the perceived reasons behind these rarities? If we are talking pitchers bats, those are all rare. As for the others, there are various thoughts on why they do not exist. First off, as we go back each decade, time has taken it’s toll on most examples of many common player bats but why then are Babe Ruth game bats one of the most common of all pre war Hall of Fame bats. In his own words, he stated that he was often shipped over 200 bats a year and it stands to reason that if you got a bat from Babe Ruth, you prized and cherished it. But what if your neighbor was Tony Piet (Whtie Sox) and he brought home some bats to the neighborhood kids? They might use them on the street, especially during the depression when a free bat meant a dollar saved. That is one theory, that in the days before collecting became a nation wide endeavor, days when ballplayers were your next door neighbor, back when the Brooklyn Dodger players would ride the street cars to the ballparks with the fans, that the only bats that had value, hence the only bats that were saved and revered, were those of the days superstars.
Now I’ve deliberately decided not to use the MEARS population report to support my theory because in today’s climate, the cost of authenticating and grading a so called common may exceed the perceived value of a common bat (currently) or that just maybe, tons of commons reside in collections but they just haven’t been submitted but if this were the case, why do so few commons ever hit the collecting market? As for auction houses, maybe the perceived value does not warrant the cost of the placement in a catalog. OK, then why do so few turn up in dealer inventory where the cost of taking a common to a show or placing in a classified ad is no more expensive then say, marketing a Roberto Clemente bat?
Then could it be that the so-called common players, the utility guys, just didn’t have the connections or clout to order as many bats as the superstars? Since I am on a roll using the Pittsburgh Pirates as my example, lets look at the H&B records for the 1960 season of Clemente versus another player, lets use Dick Stuart. Stuart ordered his first bats in 1955 so by 1960, he had been playing for six seasons. In 1960, he ordered a total of 49 bats for the season. That same season, Clemente, who had been ordering bats since 1954, one season longer than Stuart, ordered 68 bats, just shy of twenty more bats yet he was still a ways away from being a superstar. The disparity increases as the years go on, lets take 1965 as our next example using the same players for comparison, a year when Stuart ordered 61 bats and Clemente ordered 140 bats, an increase of 79 bats. Add this to the keepsake factor and you have a numerical theory.
Now we could keep this up all day, going through the records of every team and comparing bat totals of superstars to good, if not, great all around players and utility men and I am sure there would be examples of a so called common player ordering as many, if not more, bats than a comparable superstar but if this was the rule, then there would be many more commons on the market. And if the same could be said that kids kept the bats of their favorite players regardless of superstar standing, then again, we would have far more common bats than we do now.
My thoughts; that it is a combination of factors. One, that superstar player’s model bats were more revered and hence, have a larger survival rate and second, that superstar players ordered, and received, more bats than their more common counterpart. That said, I am not touting that you should sell your common game used Clemente bats in favor of Dick Stuart gamers, only that given the rarity factor and the increasing demand, the prices of the more common starters on any Championship team will continue to escalate in price.
One other factor when collecting game bats of a Championship team deals with era. The purist collector would like to have all of his 1960 Pirate bats be of that era but if you pass up good commons for your collection simply because they are the wrong era, you will never, and I mean never, be able to complete an entire team even without pitchers. My advise is to acquire the commons as they present themselves and upgrade if and when the opportunity arises as you can always sell your wrong era bat to support your upgrades. And lastly, don’t get frustrated with the lack of new additions once you decide on a team collection. Remember, if you could march into Wal-Mart and buy a complete collection, it would not be worth collecting and the lack of investment of time would yield a far less impressive collection consisting of far less intrinsic value and it would rob you of the joy of looking for and finding that rare addition to your collection, a high that non collectors cannot even phantom let alone experience. The joy of collecting is in the hunt and searching for those COMMONS will keep you busy for years to come.