Introduction by Dave Bushing and Toy Kinunen
We at MEARS consider Marshall Fogel’s collection of game bats used by Hall of Fame players to be the most complete and comprehensive of all other similar collections.
After grading thousands of gamers, including similar Hall of Fame player bats in Marshall’s collection, we have never seen as many great players’ bats displayed all together in one room. Traveling to Denver to see that display was the highlight of our trip.
When Marshall opened the security doors to what he calls “The Bat Room,” we finally saw, for the first time, Hall of Fame player’s bats beautifully displayed in order of the date each bat was put on a lathe and turned. Marshall’s collection of over 250 bats stood vertically, like soldiers at attention, in bat racks painted with high gloss black paint.
There was a numbing feeling when we stood in his “Bat Room” and walked down the first five rows of bats starting with Anson. Not being able to list every bat we observed, we cannot resist mentioning the “gamers” of Evers, Wagner (side-written), Home Run Baker, Coombs (side-written), Oscar Charleston (side-written), Ruth (a beauty), Gehrig (the last bat used to hit four home runs in one game – June 2, 1932), Foxx, Ott, DiMaggio, Mantle (1961 rare and signed), Clemente (signed), Koufax (signed), Paige and the list goes on including World Series and All Star bats.
Thank you Marshall for the opportunity to authenticate and grade your collection. The fun part of seeing this fabulous collection was being able to authenticate and grade so many high quality bats. Marshall you were fortunate to buy so many of these great bats when no one else cared.
My Bat Collection – By Marshall Fogel
Why and how did I collect my Hall of Fame gamer collection? Why did I select MEARS to authenticate and grade this collection when I myself grade and authenticate bats as well as co-authored a bat guide publication with Dave Busing and my other good friend, Dave Knoll? (MastroNet Reference and Price Guide for Collecting Game Used Baseball Bats, Vintage Guides, Volume One.)
The first question is the easiest to answer. My collecting obsession began when I was ten years old.
With the ownership of baseball cards and my Mantle model bat, I provided myself the opportunity to fantasize future baseball greatness.
When I started high school I decided I was too old to collect and much to old to fantasize a future career in baseball.
My interest in collecting, for some unknown reason was ignited again in the late 1970’s simply be ordering one set of Topps cards each year.
Then in 1989, I read an advertisement promoting a National Sports Convention at the Holiday Inn in downtown Chicago. Upon learning that Sandy Koufax was signing autographs, I considered seeing him a good reason to attend. After checking in, I remember taking the escalator downstairs to see the dealer tables and walking into this gigantic room filled with an endless amount of baseball items. Thinking back to that 1989 time in Chicago, I can’t resist saying “If I only knew then what I know now!” The 1989 convention was, in my opinion, the beginning of the initial recognition that sports cards and sports memorabilia would become important and valuable collectibles.
I bought hundreds of baseball cards at the convention. More importantly, I purchased a model bat signed by Mantle and Maris. Later, I learned years later that the signatures were forged and the first card I bought, a 1953 Topps Mantle, was trimmed.
From that time in Chicago, I reasoned that I needed something more than collecting cards. I wanted to own equipment that the player used in a game. I selected the bat to collect.
As the years have passed and as I reflect back, I clearly remember that there were only a handful of collectors in the pursuit of collecting bats. I did question, early on, if I was spending money on bats that would have little future market value. However, at that time, I couldn’t help myself. Today, I realize that I made the right decision when I started collecting bats. Dealers and collectors thought of me as an eccentric, crazy and an “easy mark”. Now I hear I was smart and “ahead of my time”. If you are thought of as an eccentric crazy and an “easy mark”, you are probably a “smart collector” and “ahead of your time.”
Being somewhat of a compulsive person, I needed to learn everything possible about these bats I was collecting. In the early 1990’s, I and two other friends, met in Louisville and drove out to the Louisville Slugger bat production plant located, at that time, in Indiana. Our mission was to learn how to date and authenticate game used bats. We also spent time at the Louisville Public Library where historical records of the company were on file.
In short, the trip was a bonanza as we had filled our minds with enough information to begin to understand how to date bats. When I arrived back home, I suspected that I possessed some bats that were not gamers. I was right. My Gehrig and Mantle bats were model bats. Fortunately, the dealers reimbursed me. I must admit that after my trip to Louisville, I learned about half of what we experts know today.
All through the 1990’s, bat collecting has grown. During that time, I was still able to purchase just about any bat I wanted for my collection. Today, my educated guess is most early important Hall of Fame gamers are in private collections. With some exceptions, I would estimate there are a dozen or less existing pre 1960 game used Hall of Fame player bats.
In 2001, I determined my collection to be complete. Now there are only seven Hall of Fame bats I know exist that I do not own. Three of them I will probably never be able to buy, and four of the bats are too difficult to purchase. When visitors tour my collection of cards, autographs uniforms, pin backs, and the rest of my items in my collection, it is the collection of baseball bats that attracts center stage.
I was very reluctant to allow my collection to be authenticated and graded. I was not concerned with authentication as I knew from my expertise that the bats from my collection were game-used from a specific time period as confirmed from the Louisville Slugger bat records.
However, Dave Bushing and Troy Kinunen asked me several times if they could authenticate and grade my collection. Possessed with a card-grading mentality, I turned them down. I was concerned that a bat grade lower than an “8″ was like having a baseball card graded less than an “8″. For example, I have side-written Ty Cobb bat worth over $75,000, and if the bat graded a “6″, then I believed the grade would devalue the bat.
Later, after I carefully examined the bat authenticating and grading standards used by MEARS, I changed my mind. I now believe that the MEARS authentication grading methods are reasonable and serve to increase the value of my collection. Though I have the same expertise as other experts, I knew I could not authenticate and grade my own bats as the results would appear to be self-serving and suspect.
First, it is important to divide the whole MEARS process into two parts, being authentication and grading.
Authentication is the most important aspect of the bat examination. The MEARS system acknowledges this essential criteria by awarding the most points (+5) when a baseball bat qualifies as a professional model bat matching factory records, personal player team index or known player characteristics. Of all these alternatives, a bat shown to be ordered, based on the factory records is the most important factor in the authentication category. It is the factory records that validate the order by the player and a side-written lettering with the player’s name and/or vault mark is added evidence in placing the bat in the player’s hands. Add to these factors the player’s characteristics to a bat and there is even more added evidence of a specific player having used the specific bat.
It is grading that plays a secondary role. It is important when attending to the secondary value of grading to pay attention to the ultimate fact that vintage bats, event bats and special bats are very rare.
MEARS is in the process of authenticating and grading my collection and have completed the examination of 30% of my collection. I have already received a grade of 10 on ten of my bats and a grade of 9 for ten bats and several stars for special bats.
Here are some examples of bats that MEARS has first found to be authentic and have received overall grades of 5 through 7. I added comments after the grade to illustrate that the grade does not in the lease override the rarity and the special provenance of each of the bats of which few exist:
Frank Baker – 7.5 (very rare, over 80 years old).
Richie Ashburn – date sent August 26, 1948 (has some chipping and some nail holes, yet rarity – very few Ashburn bats and earlier known of this player).
Roberto Clemente – 7.5 (The bat has a vintage autograph and Clemente’s uniform number (21) appears on the knob and barrel. This is one of the best game used Clemente bats).
Joe DiMaggio – 7 (This bat is a valuable, rare rookie era bat with a cracked handle).
The MEARS authentication and grading system
To the contrary, the more game use, among other listed traits, there is generally a higher grade. Use is assigned in degrees such as light use – 1 point, medium use – 2 points, heavy use – 3 points. Per the MEARS grading criteria, half points are allowed when evaluating use. A combination of traits determine the amount and degree of use from light to heavy as determined by a combination of experience and expertise. The use of traits are as follows:
*** Ball marks: light, medium or heavy
*** Stitch marks: deeply embedded or surface marks
*** Handle crack: noted with no points subtracted unless there is a piece missing where the crack occurs or the crack extends into the manufactures markings
*** Deadwood: small occurs from the repeated contact of the ball to the bat, causing the raising of one or more layers of the grain
*** Bat rack marks: paint transfers indicating the bat was placed and removed from the dugout
*** Cleat marks
*** Taped handle: Trait that can further support use by a player if examined player was known to prefer a taped handle, i.e. Duke Snider with a criss cross tape pattern
*** Pine tar: Further trait, which may commonly be associated with a player, i.e. George Brett
*** Grain examination: swelling, scoring, boning, checking, and is the grain ok professional quality.
The more combined appearance of traits equate to the higher degree of use.
Again, there is no downgrading for game-used cracks with no significant missing wood. Also, vintage nails put in the bat by the old-time baseball players to fix cracks and extend the life of a bat are positive game use traits and add to the final grade.
Additional reasons for Added points:
*** Pinpointed factory records + ½ point. If the bat has a unique entry into the player bat records an additional ½ point is added.
*** Vintage autographs + 1 point. If the autograph is determined to have been signed during the players playing career it is evidence the player had that very bat in his hands at the time of the signing. Game bats used were rarely given away as souvenirs, and surviving examples are rare.
*** Side writing + 2 points
*** Vault marks + 2 points
*** Photographic evidence: if photographs can support a bats use, from 1 to 2 points can be added.
*** Original Louisville Slugger shipping label: 2 points
*** Documented uniform number on knob: MEARS has established a database of known authentic uniform numbers. When a number matches other known authentic examples, + 1 point is added. Uniform numbers can be very unique and documented to the player, serving as a game used signature.
*** All Star and World Series bats are automatically graded A8 due to their unique nature. Visible game use can raise the grade by 1 or 2 points.
Additional reasons to subtract points
*** Foil tamping is missing / Filled in / Light -1/2 to -2 After loss of factory stampings, 25% or less -1/2, 50% or less -1, 100%or less -2. Foil stamping is more typical on Adirondack bats.
*** Light factory stamping -1/2 to -2 Light factory stampings are the result when the manufacturer’s die is improperly aligned. The die strikes an especially hard portion of the wood grain resulting in a light or partially incomplete barrel marking.
*** Missing piece: -1/2 to -2 to be determined by the percentage of the piece of the wood missing from the bat. Missing wood is typically found on the handle or back of barrel. -1/2 point is subtracted when there is a small sliver missing from the handle crack or one very small layer of wood is missing off the barrel. 2 points are subtracted when the handle has multiple cracks, a large piece is missing or 2 or more layers are missing off the barrel.
*** Incorrect player uniform number –2
*** Use not attributed to one player: -1/2 to -2 This occurs when the bat is manufactured with one players name and used by another. Obvious signs include an incorrect uniform number. Use attributed to an additional player can come in the form of excessive use commonly found on bats that were given away and used by fans or players at a lower professional level.
*** Team index bat – Model length or weight does not match personal record -1 point each
*** Pre-1930 H&B, one player-trait does not match known examples -1 point each
*** Bat refinished – 0.5
*** Chipped knob – 0.5
*** Water damage – 0.5
*** No player tape – 0.5
*** Gouging – 0.5
*** Bon-vintage nails or screws – 0.5
*** Cracks affecting warranty stamp – 0.5
*** Unfamiliar numbers in writing – 0.5
Further minus-point factors (-3 points)
*** No factory records, but bat exhibits known player length, weight, or model
*** After factory stamping (i.e. YMCA, Patent date, 250 or 40K – these bats when having specific player traits should be considered “pro-models”)
*** Hanna Bartitie stamp on knob
The final grade evaluation after all the above factors considered (10 point system):
Base Grade: +5 Professional model, bat matching factory, personal player, team index or known baseball characteristics
Use Grade: none = 0, light = 1, medium = 2, heavy = 3
Provenance: matching shipping records (first party +2, second party +1), vault marks +2, player traits +0.5, year bat ordered
A star after the grade is given if there is something about the specific bat (bat used for a special event or period of time).
Though I have centered my collection of Hall of Fame game used bats, there is value in collecting bats of your favorite player, your favorite team or players that have commonality. Whatever your desire, bats generally up to 1980 are rare.
I have always been amazed as to how and why these older bats even exist. Of course, the Louisville find was an important bat resource as well as bats from the players’ personal collection.
Whatever the source, the demand for bats far exceeds the supply. I have noticed the last three years that most vintage bats are in “strong hands”. As such, the prices have dramatically increased. Even though there are probably more Ruth vintage bats that any other early 20th Century player, the above average Ruth bats are now selling for over $70,000.
With that said, how does all this information interact with my decision to endorse the authenticating and grading of my bat collection by MEARS?
In conclusion, the MEARS grading system is a reasonable and fair method. Once you become familiar with the MEARS system, you will be very comfortable in understanding the substantial difference between bat authentication and card grading. The best closing remark is in the format of a question, “Would a game used Honus Wagner bat graded a 4 be the most valuable and important bat in your collection?”