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    

#1/1 Roberto Clemente / Hank Greenberg 2014 Triple Threads Dual Cut Auto Bat 1/11909-11 T206 Ty Cobb Bat Off Shoulder Psa 3.5 Vg+ (pwcc)Derek Jeter Hand Signed Authentic "retirement" Baseball Bat SteinerAlbert Pujols Signed Game Used Batting Glove Auto Psa/dna Coa Cardinals AngelsDerek Jeter 24"x28" Autographed 3000 Hit Photo & Game-used Batting Glove SteinerFine 1880's A.g. Spalding Black And Gold Ring No. 0 Baseball Bat Nice! 36" Long Mike Trout 2014 Topps Tribute Game Used Bat Knob 1/1 Hot Mvp! Angles ***wow***2014 Triple Threads Carlos Gonzalez Bat Barrel Name Plate Logo Patch 1/1 Booklet2014 Immaculate David Ortiz Game Worn Batting Glove Card 8/8 Sweet!!Ivan Rodriguez Game Used Bat Detroit TigersMike Trout Single Signed Baseball Auto Mlb Hologram + Psa/dna Coa AngelsKirk Gibson Game Used Bat Detroit Tigers Arizona Diamondbacks Chipper Jones Signed 2012 Game Used Batting Glove Auto Psa/dna Coa Braves Upper Deck Derek Jeter Signature Materials Bat,jersey & Signature .99 Starts Bid1909-11 T206 Ty Cobb Bat Off Shoulder Sgc 4/50 Vgex (pwcc)Mike Trout Signed 33" Old Hickory Bat Pro Maple Mt27p Auto Psa/dna Coa AngelsDerek Jeter Autographed Game Used Batting Glove And Stadium Dirt! Steiner SportsDerek Jeter 2004 Game Used Autographed Bat Steiner Sports AuthenticatedSigned Derek Jeter 3000 Hit Ticket. Psa Letter. Rare. Jersey, Bat, BallPsa Dna Steiner Derek Jeter Silver Baseball Bat Autograph /222 Perfect AutoMike Trout Signed 33" Old Hickory Bat Pro Maple Mt27p Auto Psa/dna Coa AngelsHank Aaron 2012 Topps Triple Threads Mvp Game Used Bat Autograph Auto /66 BravesChipper Jones Signed 2012 Game Used Batting Glove Auto Psa/dna Coa Braves 2008 Ultimate Collection Derek Jeter New York Yankees Auto Bat Barrel #17/99Joe Dimaggio Autographed Full Size Louisville Slugger Baseball Bat Jsa LetterYankee Stadium Give Away Sga Derek Jeter Black P72 Bat Day Bat May 19, 20022006 Topps Sterling Stan Musial Cardinals 1948 Quad Jersey Bat Patch 1/1 Derek Jeter Signed 2002 Opening Day Baseball Auto " 100/500 " + Steiner HologramGiancarlo Stanton 2014 Immaculate Collection "bat Knobs" Bat Knob #1/11909-11 T206 Ty Cobb Bat Off Shoulder, Polar Bear Psa 1.5 Fr (pwcc)Albert Pujols Single Signed Baseball Auto W/ Mvp Coa Angels CardinalsDerek Jeter Autographed Auto Yankees Full Size Batting Helmet Baseball Jsa CoaMickey Mantle Single Signed Baseball Auto Jsa Loa Ny Yankees Hof Deceased 1995Sandy Koufax + Nolan Ryan & Bob Feller Multi Signed Baseball Auto Jsa Loa Hof1969 Wsc Ny Mets Team Signed Baseball 20 Auto 's Swoboda Agee Clendenon Jsa LoaClayton Kershaw Game Used 2011 Batting Practice Jersey Size 50 Baseball BobbleWil Myers Signed Signed Auto Game Used Bat Tampa Bay Rays Mlb AuthenticatedJoe Dimaggio Single Signed Baseball Auto Psa/dna Loa Yankees Hof Deceased 19991909-11 T206 Ty Cobb Bat On Shoulder Sgc Auth (pwcc)Rare! 1921-31 Hof Heinie Groh Game Used H&b Louisville Slugger Bat W/ideal UseDerek Jeter 2000 Ws 2000 Mvp Double Logo Autographed Bat By SteinerHank Aaron Autographed Full Size A99 Model Baseball Bat 755 Added & Jsa Letter Albert Pujols Single Signed 2011 World Series Baseball Auto Psa/dna Coa AngelsBo Jackson Signed/auto'd Rawlings Big Stick Blonde Baseball Bat W/pic - Psa ItpDerek Jeter Signed Cooperstown Bat Co.1999 World Champs Series Steiner & Mlb CoaMike Trout Single Signed Baseball Auto Psa/dna Coa Los Angeles Angels Of AnaheimMike Trout Single Signed Baseball Auto W/ Mlb Hologram Los Angeles Angels Albert Pujols Signed Game Used Batting Glove Auto Psa/dna Coa Cardinals Angels2012 Triple Threads Clayton Kershaw Matt Kemp Gordon Triple Auto Jersey Bat /27Mike Trout Uncracked Game Used Bat Angels MvpYankee Stadium Give Away Sga Derek Jeter Black P72 Bat Day Bat May 19, 2002Rare Vintage 1920's Spalding Black Betsy 33" Baseball Bat Shoeless Joe JacksonPsa 10 Derek Jeter / Mickey Mantle 2005 Ud Dual Game Used Bat Sp Ud Employee !New York Yankees Derek Jeter Louisville Slugger P72 125 Ash Game Model Bat UsedRobinson Cano Autographed 2009 World Series Game Used Rawlings Freddy Guzman Bat1887 Billy Sunday N172 Old Judge Baseball Card Chicago Rare Pose * Bat At SideWillie Mays Single Signed Baseball Auto W/ Say Hey Hologram New York Giants Hof Derek Jeter And Robinson Cano Signed Official Bat Steiner CoaBig Red Machine Multi Signed Baseball 8 Auto 's W/ Rose Bench Morgan Psa/dna LoaWillie Mays " Say Hey " Single Signed Baseball Auto W/ Hologram Giants Hof