Of Bats and Men: From Louisville Sluggers to Warstic Bats
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A bat to a player in the great game of baseball is more than a piece of wood. To some, it’s a trusted ally, a sidekick. To others, it’s the difference between settling in on a hot streak and being the dog of a slump.
Picking out a bat isn’t an easy task. The weight has to be just so, the look has to be appealing and, most of all, it has to feel right. There is nothing quite like the intricacy of a 15-pitch at-bat where the pitcher-batter duel goes on, igniting fans with excitement over how long it will last and who will come out on top. When we see a professional player take a spot in the batter’s box, most are unaware of what it took to pick that particular bat. Most are unaware that this player picked this bat as if it was his last. If it breaks, sure, there are always more, but a lot of faith is put into a chosen bat.
Founder of Warstic Bats and former MLB player Ben Jenkins believes picking the right bat is based on superstition.
“Baseball is such a feel sport,” he said. “Everything has to be perfect — just so.”
Jenkins grew up playing the game. He attended Mississippi State University and was later signed as a free agent to the Philadelphia Phillies in the mid-’90s. At the time, the bats he and other players used were custom Louisville Sluggers.
“I still have the first Louisville Slugger I used on my wall,” Jenkins said.
Picking a bat can difficult for a player. It’s more about the feel when they grip it. It has to look a certain way, and when they take a cut, it has to slice the air with a certain smoothness.
“Baseball players are as superstitious as they come,” Jenkins claims. “Guys write their numbers on the bottom of the handle; some have to put the pine tar just so. It’s a very OCD type of thing.”
Baseball superstitions are no secret. Certain rituals and beliefs that have been notorious in the way they affect a player’s performance at the plate or in the field. For instance, R.A. Dickey names each bat he hits with, and Wade Boggs was as superstitious as they come. Every time he’d come to the plate, he would write the Hebrew word “chai,” which means “life” in the batters box. Moises Alou would urinate on his hands before each game, so he could bat without batting gloves. He believed this helped prevent calluses from hitting without them.
Today, there is one all-around shape to a bat. After experimenting with various styles, by 1879 it was said that the long and slender is the common style of bats. In addition, the handle had a carved knob for better control. Its thickness is no more than 2.75 inches in diameter and no more than 42 inches long. It weighs no more than 33 ounces, but varies player to player.
The Official Major League Baseball rules regarding bats states:
(a) The bat shall be a smooth, round stick not more than 2-3/4 inches in diameter at the thickest part and not more than 42 inches in length. The bat shall be one piece of solid wood. NOTE: No laminated or experimental bats shall be used in a professional game (either championship season or exhibition games) until the manufacturer has secured approval from the Rules Committee of his design and methods of manufacture. (b) Cupped Bats. An indentation in the end of the bat up to one inch in depth is permitted and may be no wider than two inches and no less than one inch in diameter. The indentation must be curved with no foreign substance added. (c) The bat handle, for not more than 18 inches from its end, may be covered or treated with any material or substance to improve the grip. Any such material or substance, which extends past the 18-inch limitation, shall cause the bat to be removed from the game. NOTE: If the umpire discovers that the bat does not conform to (c) above until a time during or after which the bat has been used in play, it shall not be grounds for declaring the batter out, or ejected from the game. (d) No colored bat may be used in a professional game unless approved by the Rules Committee.
On a side note, MLB also does not permit bat handles to be less than 16/19 of an-inch in diameter. But, of course, there have been exceptions throughout league history. The longest bat in MLB history was that of Hall of Famer Al Simmons, who used a 38” inch bat. The heaviest bat, 48 ounces, was used by Edd Rousch of the Cincinnati Reds. The shortest bat ever used for regular play was a 30.5 inches by “Wee” Willie Keeler, and he used it his entire career (1892-1910).
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