It’s Gone—And You Can Tell That one Good-bye!
Remember Little League? I sure do. Played six seasons before turning fourteen and focusing on hockey, the game for which I’d developed an all-encompassing passion.
And, I remember my first baseball bat. A Louisville Slugger. Pure wood. Junior size. I remember proudly carrying that bat—my own bat—to every little league game I played until I outgrew it.
The Elmont National Little League supplied bats, of course. Mostly aluminum bats, many of which had been donated or handed down or used for several seasons and were dinged and dented, but which were all still good enough to use. I was lucky enough to have my own, and though I wasn’t exactly Ted Williams, it sure got me a bunch of hits during those first few years of play. If I remember correctly, my Dad paid $9.95 for it at a local sporting goods store.
I outgrew the bat, didn’t have a younger brother to give it to, so that particular piece of lumber wound up residing in the garage, untouched, for a number of years. Eventually it made its way to the park where I worked, used just as often to pound in tent spikes as to give some youngster something to swing at a baseball with. After that…well, truthfully, I don’t know.
Today, I came across a story about somebody who’s whole home was decorated with Louisville Slugger bats. That led me to a story about a bat from back in the 1920s, which this ballplayer of some note named Babe Ruth had signed, which sold for a cool $253,000.
The Louisville Slugger has been in production for over a hundred years. As the story goes, John ‘Bud’ Hillerich snuck out of work one day to catch the Louisville Eclipse play ball. During the game, the Eclipse’s star hitter, mired in a batting slump, broke his bat, and John convinced him to come back to his father’s woodworking shop to have a bat crafted specifically for him. Pete Browning, nicknamed the Gladiator, broke out of his hitting slump with a vengeance, notching three hits, and from that point forward in 1884, the rest as they say is history.
For going on 130 years, Hillerich & Bradsby has been producing the Louisville Slugger baseball bat, as well as baseball gloves and later, golf equipment under the PowerBilt brand name.
The Falls City Slugger was the name given to the woodworkers’ line of bats, until Bud took over the business ten years later, and rebranded the bats as the now world-famous Louisville Slugger. In 1905, Bud registered the Louisville Slugger name with the U.S. patent office.
In the ensuing century plus, many a hitter has made a Louisville Slugger famous. Al Kaline. Ty Cobb. The Babe and Lou Gherig. Honus Wagner—the first baseball player to sign a deal to endorse a bat? Signed to endorse the Louisville Slugger.
Hillerich & Bradsby continued to produce other wood goods, as well. During WWII, the company produced billy clubs and rifle stocks for the U.S. Army as part of the war effort.
Most of the bats produced by the company are made of white ash, grown in forests owned by H&B, located in New York and Pennsylvania.
The Louisville Slugger is still one of baseball’s most popular items, and millions have been sold worldwide. While you may not have the scratch to shell out for an Al Kaline or Ty Cobb signed Slugger, you can find specimens in great condition at sports memorabilia shows, through online auctions, and at garage and estate sales. Who knows? Maybe there’s a display trophy sitting in your garage right now, perfect to mount over your TV in the man cave or above the desk in your den. You don’t need a famous athlete’s signature on it to make it special, after all. Perhaps your own Little League ‘Slugger’s just waiting to be repurposed and given a place of prominence.
Have you got any of your old wood on display? Still keep a bat that won a game or took your team to the playoffs in a duffel bag somewhere? Let’s hear about it. No worries—the game of baseball can certainly survive a few fish stories.
To visit: Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory