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    

500 Home Run Club Multi Signed Baseball Auto Mickey Mantle Ted Williams Jsa Loa2014 Topps Museum Collection Nolan Ryan Jumbo Lumber Bat Nameplate Patch 1/1Jimmie Foxx Single Signed Mini Baseball Auto Jsa Loa Hof Deceased 19672014 Topps Museum Collection Duke Snider Hof Jumbo Bat Patch Signed Auto 1/12009 Topps Triple Threads Legends Babe Ruth Multi Bat Jersey Patch 2/27 YankeesKen Griffey Jr Signed 34" Louisville Slugger Bat Auto Psa/dna Coa Mariners Derek Jeter Signed Batting Helmet New York Yankees Left Ear Flap Steiner 1920's/1930's Tris Speaker Louisville Slugger H&b Decal Bat-rare!Ty Cobb 1/1 $2500+ Tigers "what A Peach" Baseball Bat Logo Patch Triple ThreadsEric Hosmer Game Used Autographed Pre Rookie Baseball Bat Kansas City Royals2004 Ud Ultimate Signature David Winfield Jumbo Bat Barrel Patch Auto 3/51958 Topps Mickey Mantle & Hank Aaron Batting Foes #418 Bvg 8.5 Nm-mt+ (pwcc)500 Home Run Club Multi Signed Baseball Auto Mickey Mantle Ted Williams Jsa LoaPete Rose Autographed Rawlings Black Bat Hit King Jsa W688305Chipper Jones Signed 34" Rawlings Black Bat Auto Psa/dna Coa Atlanta BravesKolten Wong Cardinals 2012 Game Used Chandler Bat! Auto Signature Model Nlcs!!Lorenzo Cain Game Used Signed Bat, Kansas City Royals Alcs Mvp2014 Topps Triple Threads Ken Griffey Jr. Auto Bat Relics #1/18 T206 Roger Bresnahan With Bat St Louis Hof Carolina Brights Rare Back Psa 3 Vg Anthony Rizzo 2014 Game Used Worn Batting Helmet Tbc Mlb Hologram Chicago Cubs C1921 H&b 125 "circus John" Byers Negro League Baseball Bat~36" Inches~game UsedDerek Jeter Red Sox At Yankees Game Used Autographed Baseball Steiner/mlb CoasJorge Posada Signed "yankee For Life..w/ Stats" Le 11/20 Baseball Bat Jsa#k549521958 Topps World Series Batting Foes #418 Mickey Mantle Hank Aaron Hof Psa 62011 Topps Tier One Babe Ruth Game-used Memorabilia Bat Card /399 YankeesDerek Jeter Signed "final Game In Yankee Stadium" Le 1/2 Baseball Bat Jsa#y022212014 Topps Triple Threads Bryce Harper Gu Jersey/bat Auto #5/18Andruw Jones Game Used Rakuten Eagles Mizuno Pro Bat, Brace & Wristband W/ Coa!Babe Ruth Louisville Slugger 125 Vintage 1935 Genuine Game Model Bat Yankees Hof2008 Topps Triple Threads Joe Dimaggio Hof Multi Jersey Bat 3/3Yankee Stadium Give Away Sga Derek Jeter Black P72 Bat Day Bat May 19, 20022014 Baltimore Orioles Team Signed Baseball Batting Helmet 27 Auto Manny MachadoOld Vintage H&b 250 Pro Model Stock George Babe Ruth Baseball Bat Yankees Hof Mike Trout Autographed Baseball Bat. /10! Only 10 Made. Mlb Coa "3 Inscriptions"Jayson Werth Of The Washington Nationals Game Used Bat And Autographed Ball2013 Gypsy Queen Mike Trout Bat / Mark Trumbo Jersey Dual Auto Relic /25!Ken Griffey Jr Signed Autographed Bat - CoaAlex Rodriguez Signed Jersey And Bat FramedDerek Jeter Signed 1998 Yankee World Series Bat2011 St. Louis Cardinals World Series Wood Baseball Bat By Coopersburg SportsGeorge Brett Kc Royals Autographed Full Size Batting Helmet & Baseball Jsa Cert!1973-1975 Hank Aaron Game Issued A 99 35" Game Bat Signed - No Reserve1963 Topps #2 Al Batting Leaders W/ Mickey Mantle Psa 9 *486287Miguel Cabrera Autographed Game Used Batting Glove Jsa Framed Matted Tigers RRickey Henderson 2014 Topps Museum Quad Bat 3 Color Patch Auto #8/10 Booklet 1958 Topps Mickey Mantle & Hank Aaron Batting Foes #418 Mike Moustakas Rawlings Game Used Bat Kansas City Royals Auto PhotomatchedWillie Mays Signed 34" Adirondack Bat Psa/dna Coa2014 Immaculate Baseball Mike Trout Bat Relic Auto #15/49 Ssp (kd)2002 Flair Derek Jeter Ny Yankees Sweet Swatch Jumbo Bat AutographStan Musial Signed Autographed Stats Bat - Limited Edition - Stan The Man CoaPete Rose Hit King Autographed Big Stick Adirondack Bat. Jsa Certified.Ruben Sierra 2006 Signed Game Used New York Mets Bat & Batting Glove W Coa!Prince Fielder Game Used Broken Cracked Shattered Bat Milwaukee Brewers Freeship2014 Immaculate David Ortiz Game Worn Batting Glove Card 8/8 Sweet!!Jeff Francoeur 2010 New York Mets Game Used Bat Miguel Cabrera Autographed Game Used Batting Glove Jsa Framed Matted Tigers LTris Speaker H & B Co. Louisville Slugger 34" Decal Bat Circa 1910 - 19192014 Panini Immaculate Authentic Bat Name Plate Relic Jacoby Ellsbury Rare 1/1Derek Jeter Autographed Bat