In the early days of baseball, players made their own bats, which meant they came in all shapes and sizes. It was not until 1879 that “long and slender” was cast as the preferred design for baseball bats, though there was no single bat manufacturer. That changed in the mid-1880s when J.F. Hillerich and his son, Bud, began producing Falls City Slugger bats made from hard white ash. Ten years later they patented the name Louisville Slugger, and the largest and most important bat company ever was born.

Although some contemporary bats are still made of ash—maple has since become a popular material—early J.F. Hillerich & Son bats were noticeably heavier than bats used today. However, these very old bats, made before the company began getting stars to endorse them, tended to be the same length as bats used in the big leagues today—approximately 33 to 35 inches.

In 1905, with the company now run by Bud Hillerich, Pittsburgh Pirates star Honus Wagner became the first ballplayer to endorse a bat. His signature was emblazoned on Louisville Sluggers, a tradition that continues to this day. Three years later, Ty Cobb, the game’s biggest name at the time, also signed with Hillerich. Early bats with Wagner or Cobb engravings are popular items among collectors today.

Frank Bradsby, a salesman, signed on to partner with Hillerich in 1911, although the bats were not branded as Hillerich & Bradsby until 1916. Soon Hillerich & Bradsby were manufacturing bats for the biggest stars in the game, and by the mid-1920s, legends like Babe Ruth were swinging Louisville Sluggers—Ruth used a model R-43.

Spalding is another company that produced early baseball bats. Miller Huggins of the New York Yankees was one star to endorse Spalding. Another company was Wright and Ditson. It put out Nap Lajoie bats with double-ring handles, which were designed to give players more control when choking up.

In 1946, Adirondack, a company that would later merge with baseball equipment powerhouse Rawlings, began making bats. One star who loved the Adirondack’s McLaughlin-Millard bat was Willie Mays.

Game-used bats are usually tough to come by because players often used the same bat until it broke. Old game-used bats from the early days of Louisville Slugger, such as a cracke...

Autographed bats, regardless of the vintage, are easier to find. Because bats have a large surface area, they offer plenty of room for an entire team’s autographs. Autographed bats featuring the signatures of older stars such Ruth, Cobb, and Lou Gehrig are even more sought-after, as are Ted Williams autographed bats—his refusal to sign bats in the latter years of his life limited their supply.

Other collectible bats include souvenir and giveaway bats. These were normally made to honor a particular event or milestone. Some were produced in limited runs while others were handed out during stadium giveaways.

Dating a vintage bat can sometimes be difficult. Usually the best clue is the shape of the bat or its logo—for example, the Hillerich & Bradsby oval has varied over time, which helps collectors date their bats.

In recent years, there has been a push to ban maple bats in the Major Leagues because they are prone to breaking and splintering, which can be dangerous for players on the field and spectators in the crowd. That could force players and manufacturers alike to use only ash, which could one day make maple bats footnotes in baseball history.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Old Cardboard

Old Cardboard

Check out this well-organized collection of 500 sets of baseball cards, each over 50 years old. Browsable by type a… [read review or visit site]

The Baseball Card Blog

The Baseball Card Blog

Ben Henry's lively vintage baseball card blog, started in January 2006, offers hundreds of great posts on (and pict… [read review or visit site]

Cardboard Junkie

Cardboard Junkie

Dave Campbell's in-depth blog on old baseball (and some football) cards lives up to it's motto: 'do cards, not drug… [read review or visit site]

Baseball Cards 1887-1914

Baseball Cards 1887-1914

Roll up your socks for this Library of Congress collection showcasing hundreds of players on colorful early basebal… [read review or visit site]

Baseball Hall of Fame

Baseball Hall of Fame

A home run for baseball collectors, this site features special online exhibits, ranging from a baseball-uniforms da… [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Miguel Cabrera Signed Game Used Zinger Bat With Felix Rodriguez Loa!Steiner Sports Derek Jeter Autographed Batting Helmet - Mint Condition!Randy Johnson Rare Pitchers Game Used Bat Houston Astros P72Jorge Posada 2014 Topps Tier One Game Used Autographed Bat Knob 1/1 Ny Yankees1990's Craig Biggio Game Used Houston Astros Baseball Bat Shows Use2013 Triple Threads Legends Babe Ruth 7 Relic Game-used Bat Yankees #11/27St. Louis Cardinals Game Used Bat - Ozzie SmithCirca Antique W. E. Mains Bat Co. Special Vintage Player Model 1900 Baseball BatMickey Mantle Single Signed Baseball Auto Psa/dna Loa New York Yankees Hof Deion Sanders Game Used Baseball BatGame Used Autographed Frank Thomas Bat2014 Topps Tier One Gary Sheffield Game Used Bat Knob #1/1 Bat Knob Rare 500 Hr Used Asa Certified Easton Synergy Softball Bat Cnt Flex 34 In./27 Oz2013 Topps Tier One Relic Babe Ruth Game-used Bat Yankees Hof Sp #43/44Albert Pujols Signed & Inscribed To Alex Cintron Game Used Lvs Cardinals Bat Coa2014 Los Angeles La Dodgers Of 66 Yasiel Puig Game Used Bat Heavy Use Ken Griffey Jr Single Signed 1997 All Star Game Baseball Auto 411/1997 Jsa Coa Derek Jeter " The Captain " Signed Baseball Auto W/ Steiner Hologram YankeesDerek Jeter Auto Bat Home Run Club #250Autographed Mike Trout Old Hickory Signed Bat W/ 2012 Roy And 2 Coas Wow !!!!Ted Williams Uda Bat1909-11 T206 Nap Lajoie With Bat Hof Sgc 40 Vg 3 Piedmont No Reserve $0.99 Start2005 Donruss Diamond Kings Albert Pujols Auto 1/1 Bat Jersey Cardinals2014 Topps Tier One Cody Ross Game Used Bat Knob 1/1 True 1 Of 1Rickey Henderson Game Used Powerized Louisville SluggerDerek Jeter Signed "farewell Captain ..." Le 1/2 Baseball Bat - Jsa Y02309Billy Martin Single Signed Baseball Auto Psa/dna Loa New York Yankees Wade Boggs Tampa Bay Devil Rays Signed Game Used Lvs Bat With Wade Boggs Loa!Mickey Mantle Signed Adirondack 302f Big Stick Autograph BatAutographed Mlb Mike Trout Angels Signed Baseball Bat - Mlb CoaDerek Jeter Single Signed Baseball Auto Steiner Coa New York Yankees Vintage Baseball Bat - A.j. Reach Player Model - Frisch -35" - Circa 1920's St. Louis Cardinals Game Used Bat - Darryl Kile2010 Topps Sterling Babe Ruth Quad Bat Red Sox Yankees Arm Bat Shine Oct. 15/25Circa Antique Vintage Indiana Bat Co. Famous Player Model 1930's Baseball Bat2009 Topps Tribute Babe Ruth Triple Relics Bat/jsy Bgs 9.5 Gem Mint - #40/75Manny Ramirez Game Used, Uncracked Black Baseball Bat 2011 Triple Threads Sandberg Pedroia Kinsler Bats Patches Auto White Whale 1/1 Ted Williams Autographed Signed Bat Jsa *****gem Mint*****Rob Cano Signed Game Used Lvs C174 Yankees Bat With Edgar Diaz Coa!2013 Topps Tribute Babe Ruth Refractor Game-used Bat Yankees #81/992014 Topps Five Star Baseball Loaded 1/1 Bat Knobs 4 Box Sealed Case Trout Auto?2014 Topps Museum Roberto Clemente Momentous Material Gu Jumbo Bat #/50Derek Jeter Rawlings Big Bat Model Auto Bat With Coa By OsaLot Of (16) Onyx Game Used Batting Gloves Signed Auto Logan Morrison Gennett +Vintage Baseball Bat - A.j. Reach Player Model - Burns-34"- Mint -circa 1920's2011 Topps Lineage Honus Wagner 1975 Mini Bat 02/10Huge Lot Of Over 200 Game Used Frank Thomas Cards With #d Patches Pants Bat Look2010 Topps Sterling Postseason Booklet David Ortiz Auto 7/10 Multi Jersey Bat Autographed Mlb Derek Jeter Yankees Signed Baseball Bat - Steiner Sports CoaMichael Bourn Mlb Auth Game Used Baseball Bat Houston Astros Indians 1998 Brad Ausmus Game Used Sam Bat Rideau Crusher Houston Astros Catcher1932 Bill Terry H&b Louisville Slugger Bat& 1953-55 Type 1 Artvue Postcard Ny 2014 Topps Five Star Baseball Loaded 1/1 Bat Knobs 4 Box Sealed Case Trout Auto?Jay Bruce 2008 Uncracked Game Used Bat!!! Cincinnati Reds All Star Slugger2010 Topps Sterling Babe Ruth Multi Bat Yankees Braves 3-shot Day 714 17/25Babe Ruth 2014 Topps Tier One Dual Game Used Bat Relic /25 First One Made 1/1Hector Sanchez-giants Game Used Bat 2012 World Series Team 2010 Topps Sterling Postseason Booklet Mickey Mantle Yankees 5/10 Multi Bat2010 Topps Sterling Pairs Booklet Carlton Kershaw 7/10 Multi Jersey Bat Auto