The Baseball Observer Feb 2015 vol 1 - Page 17

This is a highlight of the progression of the bat because there were so many changes throughout the early years. In the early years up to around 1859, there were no restrictions on the bat (length, width, size or wood type) and players were responsible for their own. Shape also varied from flat to round. Soon players began to use Wagon Tongue Wood for their bats. Wagon tongue wood is the handle which was used to pull the wagon around. As there is a lot of stress and strain upon the tongue – the wood used for it was very strong and durable so it made sense to use it. By around 1859, there were only two constancies to the bat – the type of wood and the round shape. Other than that you could use any size and weight you could handle. The bats were generally heavier and the handle was much thicker (less tapering from barrel to handle) than today’s bats. In 1859, the Professional National Association of Baseball Players made the first restrictions to the bat and limited the diameter of the barrel to 2 ½ inches but still allowed any length. It wasn’t until 1869 when they limited the length of the bat to 42 inches (what it still is today). Up until 1884, either you made your own bat or you had a woodworker make one for you. It is well documented that the 1884 date began the era of bat manufacturers. During a game a star during that time Pete Browning got frustrated when he broke his bat. In the stands was a young boy, Bud Hillerich whose father owned a woodworking shop and told Pete they could make a bat that wouldn’t break easily. Working closely with Pete on his required “specs” for the bat – using Ash – they came up with a bat. The bat performed so well afterwards that many players and teams went to the Hillerich’s to make their bats. The Louisville Slugger bat was born (this was the trademark the Hillerich’s put on their bats). In 1893, the rules committee made three improvements to the game. One, the end of bats were no longer allowed to be sawed off. Two, you could no longer use “flat barrel” bats and three – the pitching mound was moved back from 50 feet to 60 feet 6 inches. In 1895 the restriction of the bat diameter was increased to 2 ¾ inches. One of the more “unique” bat designs was the “Bottle” bat (see right). In 1919 a Cincinnati Reds player Heinie Grog use this bat. We might call it now days a “Big Barrel”. It was a 2 ¾ barrel bat that tapered sharply below the trademark. Surprisingly, there have been no major rule changes addressing the bat since 1895. Since round the 1930’s, bats have stayed pretty consistent to date. In 2001, the maple bat became “vogue” due to Barry Bonds and his record setting 73 HR’s in one season – he used maple. Hickory is also used but Ash is still the most used wood for wooden bats. Yes, aluminum bats became popular in the 1970’s….but that’s another story.