Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory

Along with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, a visit to the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory is a must for any real baseball fan. The Slugger Factory is the factory that produces the majority of the bats used by Major League Baseball players. Since 1884 (made their first bat either for Pete Browning, Louisville Eclipse or Arlie Latham, St. Louis Browns -- still debatable) and through five generations of Hillerich's they have been producing the wooden bats used in MLB. They produce other baseball items like gloves, aluminum bats, etc., but not in Louisville (mainly in China).

The Hillerich & Bradsby Co. facility in downtown Louisville has four parts open to the public: museum, theater, shop and factory. Only the factory requires a fee ($11 on 2/29/12). The factory is the interesting part. For years they made bats by hand: an electric lathe coupled by a series of hand tools. it took a craftsman 25 minutes to make a bat. They would create the bat mold and make very close replicates. Today, it takes 30 seconds to cut the bat. Add to that the time to finish the bat -- logos and shellac (abut 6-8 difference colors including clear).

Approximately one million wooden bats are made in the factory each year, about 1500 per day in peak season. Only 2 percent of the bats produce are for MLB players. Those bats are made from the finest northern white ash and maple from Pennsylvania and New York. While there, I saw bats being made for one of my favorite players today, Joey Votto from the Cincinnati Reds.

You cannot buy a replica of your favorite player's bat. Those bats are licensed to the players by contract. They sign contacts with the Hillerich & Bradsby Co. while in the minor leagues. The firm pays them $5000 over three years (good money for most minor leagues). They could not pay athletes like Nike does for their names and identities mainly because of the limited market for wooden bats.

I am reading books on the players from the Golden Area of baseball, early 1900s. One such book is the biography of Hans Wagner, Louisville Colonels (1897-1899) and Pittsburgh Pirates (1900-1917). In 1905, he was the first MLB ball player to endorse a bat. So he can be considered the father of player endorsements of products.

The thing I find most interesting about the bats used by MLB players is that those used in the Golden Era were huge -- 38-40 oz and 37-40" long with thin handles. Today's bats are 31-34 oz and 32-35" long with thin handles. The Golden Era was all about run generation. Today it is all about the long ball. I prefer the former.

If you like baseball and find yourself in the lower Midwest, a stop into the Factory is well worth it.

11 comments:

scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee, http://EN.WahooArt.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8LT475.
The image can be seen at wahooart.com who can supply you with a canvas print of it.

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