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    

Ken Griffey Jr Signed Autographed Game Used Late 90's C271 Bat Psa Dna Coa Rare1930's Lou Gehrig Yankees Powerized Bone Rubbed Louisville Slugger Baseball BatEarly 1930's Lou Gehrig Ny Yankees Model 40 L.g. Louisville Slugger Baseball Bat1880's A.g. Spalding Blue And Gold Band Baseball Ring Bat - 36" LongExtremely Rare 1870's Tiger Striped Baseball Bat W/ Great Wood Beautiful StripesEarly 1900's Pennant Co. "mushroom Knob" Baseball Bat W/ Great Wood And LogosJoey Votto Signed 2012 Game Used Bat 34" Autograph Uncracked Psa/dna Loa RedsVtg 1933 Jimmie Foxx Louisville Slugger H&b Bat 35" ... A BeautyEarly 1900's Stall And Dean Baseball Decal Bat - Nice W/ Great PatinaEarly 1900's Jake Daubert Brooklyn Dodgers Louisville Slugger Baseball Decal BatKen Griffey Jr Autographed Baseball Bat Seattle Mariners Signed, Auto 2016 HoferRare 19th Century Wright & Ditson John Morrill Endorsed Multi Ring Baseball BatAntique 1900s Hillerich And Bradsby Baseball Bat - Rare Double Dash Dot Dash BatMint Early 1900's D&m Draper And Maynard Model No. 10 Baseball Bat Nice!Derek Jeter Rookie Signed Louisville Slugger Bat- Jsa AuthenticCirca. Late 1870's-early 1880's "eastern League" Baseball Ring Bat W/ Blue BandEddie Murray Game Used Bat Psa/dnaVintage Baseball Bat Mushroom KnobHillerich & Bradsby 40 J.c. Baseball Bat "joe Cronin" (1926-1945) Hall Of Fame3000 Hit Signed Autographed Baseball Bat Aaron Mays Rose Kaline Brock Jsa Y56438Carlos Correa Game Used Chandler Bat 2014 Astros Rookie Psa Letter Sticker RareKen Griffey Jr Signed Autograph Rawlings Baseball Bat 1992 "mvp" - JsaPete Rose Signed Full Size Blonde Ash Bat - Tristar - Cincinnati Reds - 4256Ken Griffey Jr. Autographed Baseball Bat W/engraving 500th Home Run - Upper DeckManny Machado Signed 34" Marucci Bat Auto Autograph Psa/dna Sticker Only OriolesUnusual 19th Century Baseball Bat W/ Unusual "flower Petal" Lathe Marks 34 1/2"Allen Craig Game Used Baseball Bat Redsox CardinalsMint Derek Jeter Boldly Autographed Full Size P72 Rawlings Bat - Mlb & SteinerDerek Jeter Game Used Batting Glove Collage 20x24" "in The Game" Yankees SteinerClayton Kershaw 2007 Futures All Star Game Autograph Team Bat Mlb AuthenticatedDavid Wright Game Used Autographed Bat1931 Wooden Louisville SluggerKershaw 2007 Futures All Star Game Autograph Team Ball Mlb Authenticated Signed Melvin Upton, Jr Game Used Bat PadresVintage Louisville Bat Co. Model 19 Bat2014 Jon Lester Game Used Rawlings 1110 Maple Model Bat Red SoxCincinnati Reds Adam Duvall Signed Game Style Louisville Slugger Bat Mlb CoaMike Trout Autographed Angels Mini Bat Wood Signed Before Game Ticket ProofPaul Goldschmidt Signed 34" Rawlings Bat Auto Autograph Jsa Coa DiamondbacksDavid Ortiz Boston Red Sox Signed Autographed Fs Rawlings Baseball Bat Ga CoaCarlos Beltran Game Used Bat - New York YankeesBoston Red Sox Game Bat Louisville Slugger Mlb Prime Birch Wood Bat 34/31.5Manny Ramirez Auto Autograph Autographed Big Stick Black Pro Model Bat TristarKen Griffey Jr Signed Auto Mini Baseball Bat CoaTed Williams Signed Limited Edition Bat 9/9 His Exact Model Williams Family HoloKen Griffey Jr Cincinnati Reds Autographed Baseball Bat Ud AuthenticatedJose Conseco Oakland Athletics Game Used/signed BatKen Griffey Jr. Autographed Bat With Coa HofDave Righetti " 1983 No Hitter " Signed 34" Bat Autograph Leaf Coa Ny YankeesDavid Wright Signed 34" Louisville Slugger Bat Autograph Mlb Auth Hologram MetsJhonny Peralta 2013 Game Used Bat 34" Cracked Mlb Auth Hologram Cardinals Ted Williams Autographed #9 Game Bat, Ball And Red Sox Display Case, Steiner CoaCincinnati Reds Game Used Bat Signed Aaron Boone Espn Announcer Yankees Ws HeroMiguel Cabrera Mlb Authenticated Autographed And Engraved Louisville Slugger BatCarl Crawford Game Used Bat DodgersPhillip Ervin Game Used Baseball Bat RedsBoston Red Sox Dominguez Game Bat Maple Louisville S318 Mlb Prime 34/31.5 Darwin Barney Game Used Bat CubsJuan Gonzalez Mizuno Game Used BatHideki Matsui New York Yankees Game Used Uncracked 2003-06 Rookie Mizuno Pro Bat