Pete Browning got the first finely crafted Hillerich & Bradsby hardwood bat in 1884, and ever since, many super stars of major league baseball have made that manufacturer’s Louisville Slugger their weapon of choice.
H & B Louisville Sluggers are still carefully made from fine hardwood, but the process has evolved over the years. It frequently begins in H & B’s own timberland in Pennsylvania and New York. There, northern white ash and maple trees that have reached the age of 60 or more are harvested. The finest logs are then selected at the mill. After hand sawing into square billets, the wood is vacuum dried.
A proprietary machine, built for the sole purpose of making Louisville Sluggers, compresses the grain of the barrel to achieve optimum hardness. Next, filler is applied to close the grain. The filler is topped with several layers of a topcoat seal. The resulting finish is said to be the hardest of any wood bat on the market.
Over the years a variety of hardwoods have been used to make Louisville Sluggers. At one time, hickory was very popular, but it’s too heavy for today’s players who emphasize bat speed. Ash was the most popular wood through most of the modern era, but in recent years, maple has achieved equal status, as many players experienced success with maple bats in the 1990s.
Babe Ruth swung a mammoth hunk of H & B timber. It was 36 inches long and weighed a whopping 42 ounces. Mickey Mantle’s Louisville Slugger was considerably lighter at 32 ounces. While Major League Baseball rules allow bats up to 42 inches in length, no one has ever used an H & B bat of that size. The longest was a 38-inch stick used by Al Simmons in the 1940s.
“Wee” Willie Keeler, a right fielder of the 1890s, stepped to the plate with a Louisville Slugger that measured 30½ inches. That’s the length prescribed today for a 120-pound little leaguer who stands just over 4-feet tall. Willy, who had a .341 career batting average, wasn’t a lot bigger at 5 foot, 4 inches and 140 pounds. He is said to have been the first to say, “Hit ‘em where they ain’t.”
Both that strategy and the Louisville slugger Wee Willie swung remain key parts of the game.
-Home Run Hitter
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