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    

2014 Topps Five Star 1/1 - - Joe Dimaggio Bat Knob D29 - - 1/1 Pure Bad Ass! 1998 Upperdeck A Piece Of History 500 Club Babe Ruth Bat Sp /350 Hof Yankees1920's Original Photo Ty Cobb Detroit Tigers At Bat Watching It Fly !Gorgeous 1930's Original Photo Babe Ruth Yankees Batting By George BurkeGeorge Foster 1977-79 Auto Game Used Cincinnati Reds Ls Bat Hillerich & Bradsby2000 Upper Deck Ny Yankees Master Collection Set Jeter Bat Mantle Signed Le /5002003 Timeless Treasures Babe Ruth 2x Jersey Prime Patch Bat 3/5 Sp 1/1 YankeesSuperb 1960's Original Photo Mickey Mantle Yankees Superstar Slugger W/ Bat !Superb 1930's Original Photo Lou Gehrig With Bat - The Yankees Captain !2014 Topps Five Star Eddie Murray Bat Knob 1/1Awesome 1924 Original Glass Plate Negative Babe Ruth Yankees W/ Bat Hitting !1960's Original Photo Roberto Clemente Pittsburgh Pirates Batting ActionGorgeous Hand Signed Hank Aaron Full Size Baseball Bat W/jsa/coa Letter 101214Pablo Sandoval Signed 34" Game Used Bat Auto + Inscription Psa/dna Coa Sf Giants2012 National Treasures League Leaders Ty Cobb Honus Wagner Lajoie Quad Bat /25Incredible 1930's Original Negative Lou Gehrig Yankees Batting By George BurkeBabe Ruth - 1925 W590 Psa Authentic - "king Of The Bat" - Super Rare!Gorgeous Hand Signed Kirby Puckett Full Size Baseball Bat W/jsa/coa Letter1012142009 Dustin Pedroia Game Used Louisville Slugger M9 S318 Model Bat Red Sox 1958 Topps #418 World Series Batting Foes Mickey Mantle Hank Aaron Psa 7!Gorgeous Hand Signed Yogi Berra Full Size Yankees Baseball Bat W/jsa/coa 101214Todd Frazier 2013 Auto Game Used Marucci Bat Cincinnati Reds Coa All Star Oscar Taveras Signed Game Used 2014 Cardinals B421 Lvs Bat & Recent Photo W/ LoaLarge Hillerich & Son Antique Vintage Baseball Bat 37 Inches Long2014 Topps Museum Collection Jumbo Lumber Bat Nameplate Troy Tulowitzki 1/1Important 1938 Original Photo Lou Gehrig At Bat Exploding From The Box !1910 Piedmont Cigarettes T206 Nap Lajoie (with Bat) Graded Sgc 45 ... CenteredVintage Hanna Batrite Baseball Bat Ca 1930,waner Model, Unbroken, 34", PiratesDavid Wright Game Used Bat New York Mets Vladimir Guerrero 2004 Anaheim Angels Game Used Sam Bat Auto Mvp Heavy Use Tar Pedro Martinez Autographed Game Used Louisville Slugger H238 Model Bat Red Sox 2014 Topps Museum Collection David Wright Bat Barrel Plate #1/1 Alex Rodriguez 2014 Topps Five Star 1/1 Bat Plate Insane True 1/11929 Original Photo Babe Ruth New York Yankees Signing Boxes Of Bats !Brandon Belt Signed 2012 Game Used Broken Lvs T141 Bat W/mlb Hologram GiantsBabe Ruth Roger Maris 2014 Five Star Dual Legends Gu Bat Relic Yankees 3/10 Hof2013 Panini Pastime Michael Conforto Rc Rookie 1/1 Bat Knob Usa Baseball Ny MetsDerek Jeter Signed Baseball Bat. Mint Autograph In A Silver Paint Pen. SteinerSan Francisco Giants Team Signed 2002 World Series Team Signed Bat Rodriguez CoaOzzie Smith Game Used Signed Rawlings Professional Model Bat Rare Cardinals1887 N172 Old Judge William Klusman Sgc 70 Ex Batting Pose Outstanding!2007 Topps Triple Threads Albert Pujols Auto Multi Jersey Bat Patch 6/92014 Topps Five Star Evan Longoria 1/1 Bat Barrel Nameplate Tampa Bay RaysDavid Ortiz Autographed Game Used Louisville Slugger B9 C243 Model Bat Red Sox 2005 Absolute Black Curt Schilling 4x Jersey Patch Prime Glove Bat Auto 1/1 SpLorenzo Cain Game Used Signed Bat Kansas City Royals Milwaukee Brewers2012 Adrian Gonzalez Game Used Trinity Psalm 27:1 Model Bat Red Sox Mlb1930's Associated Press Photo Lou Gehrig New York Yankees BattingCal Ripken Jr Signed Louisville Slugger P72 Two Tone Baseball Bat Steiner & MlbBaltimore Orioles Cal Ripken, Jr. Signed 2632 Consecutive Games Bat Ichiro Suzuki Mizuno 2012 Game Used Bat Yankees Mariners Rare!Wade Boggs Tampa Bay Devil Rays Signed Game Used Lvs Bat With Wade Boggs LoaMike Trout Autographed Baseball Bat W/ Coa Los Angeles Angels Roy Mlb Mvp!Mike Trout Autographed Batting Glove W/ Gai Coa Los Angeles Angels Roy Mlb Mvp!1955 Brooklyn Dodgers Reunion Signed Bat Psa/dna Loa Sandy Koufax Duke Snider Jose Fernandez Autographed Miami Marlins Game Used BatDerek Jeter 2001 Fleer Platinum Autograph Bat Relic Lumberjacks Auto Sp Yankees 1961 Yankees Team Signed 34" Bat 19 Auto 's Berra Ford Skowron Turley Jsa LoaAdam Dunn Game Used Bat Signed Autograph White Sox Reds Nationals A'sMiguel Cabrera Autographed Bat And 2004 All Star Game Ball Jsa Authenticated