At some point, primordial creatures dragging large clubs with them for protection and for the hunt, became less stooped over. Gradually they became a little less coarse.
In time they found ways to amuse themselves, such as by throwing a stone in the air and whacking it as far they could with that club, and in time throwing a rock from one to the other, to then thwack it with that big club.
Through the marvel of time and happenstance, this play time became a form of activity we know today as baseball. But, you may wonder: Why did they make the clubs much slimmer? Why not a huge head at the end, like the very large golf drivers we see today? Why not an actual gigantic club?
Before we go there, can I ask: Has it ever bothered you – seriously, let’s not try to sweep this completely under home plate – that the bat is notoriously hostile to the ball, that the bat’s main interest is in swatting the vulnerable, defenseless ball in a manner that makes it soar through space at a very high velocity, to bounce past others, to crash without mercy in the grand stands, to clunk against a wall, to be beaten into the dirt, to elude reach, to go sharply and if possible an endless distance?
Does anyone ever worry about the ball?
Maybe the ball has feelings. Maybe the ball gets seriously hurt being smashed by a baseball bat, time after time…
No one has anything to say? Nothing? Hello?
All right, I will table that discussion for a bit. Let’s get back to the bat.
One word: Evolution.
In the wild west, players used whatever scrap wood they could get their hands on. This could mean an ax handle or a wagon wheel, which was transformed into a “striker’s stick”. The wagon wheel wood was particularly common. Some shaped it into a flat hitting stick, with a modest taper at one end to facilitate the grip. Of course, at this point in time we’re talking about underhand pitching.
Invariably there was experimentation, with one common thread: Round bats. Short, heavy on one end, then long, light, and slender. There also were bottle bats which became quite popular, with a very sizable, round hitting surface.
But one particular issue: Splintering. The harder the throwing, which progressed to over hand, the more that batting could be a “shattering experience”.
Then 1859 brings us a rule for the first time officially to limit the size of bats. This rule was promulgated by the Governing Committee of the Professional National Association of Baseball Players. They agreed upon dimensions:
“Round, not be more than two and one-half inches around in its thickest part, and to be of any length, to suit the striker.”
And then (insert drum roll here), the visionaries. The entrepreneurs. Yes, some might say the opportunists. I like to think of them as the professional bat makers, wood workers, who utilized lathes, and also sought out choicer sources of wood. This…this… is inventiveness. Creativity. Imagination. Determination. Patent applications. Competition. Private enterprise! Resourcefulness. So often the bedrock of what works in our world, including baseball.
And so we pause and offer up a major motion picture of the remarkable story of the Louisville Slugger.
Oh, wait, I have not written that screenplay yet.
All right, briefly: In 1884, John A. Bud” Hillerich reputedly took a little break from his dad’s woodworking shop in Louisville, Kentucky, to watch a local baseball game (the Louisville Eclipse to be exact). The star of the team, Pete Browning, broke his bat, and had been slumping, Bud offered to make him a new bat, and this was done to Browning’s specifications . Lo and behold the next game Pete started hitting again. Well, that caught on with other players, and they wanted similar bats, except Bud’s dad was not keen about taking on this work, didn’t see it as the future of his company, by any means , and figured bats were basically a novelty.
Bud Hillerich kept after dad, and was able (thankfully) to convince him “baseball bats are good business, pops!”
By 1923, the Louisville Slugger was the country’s top manufacturer of the baseball bat.
Note, at one point in history there was a banana bat, and a mushroom bat, but let’s just footnote those. Over time the knob has changed, ash is a staple when it comes to bats, maple to some degree, bamboo is gaining in popularity, and the MLB has issued a definitive rule:
“1.10. (a) The bat shall be a smooth, round stick not more
than 2 3/4 inches in diameter at the thickest part and not
more than 42 inches in length. The bat shall be one piece of
Not metal, not aluminum. Wood.
And what about the sweet spot? Bottom line, that’s a key focus. Thus, we turn to Popular Science magazine, and an article from March of this year written by Sara Chodosh aptly entitled The Physics Behind a Baseball Bat’s Sweet Spot:
“When one object collides with another, some of the energy from the impact goes into vibrational waves that travel through each object. These are effectively the same as the vibrations that travel through the air and reach your ear, where you hear them as sounds. Different materials have different natural vibrational frequencies, and depending on how large or small the waves are, there are nodes at evenly spaced intervals along any object where it won’t vibrate at all if struck. We call the point where a baseball bat has its nodes the sweet spot.”
All right, of course, you already knew all that. So, let’s get back to the ball and the bat.
Isn’t each indispensable to the other? Is there not a symbiotic relationship between the two? It is not as if the bat is always striking the ball. The ball knows when it comes into existence it likely is going to get hit, and slugged, and punched at, and swung at, and clobbered… at least on occasion. I wonder if balls are more uptight when Aaron Judge is batting, or Mike Trout.
The thought has crossed my mind that maybe we should convene a summit, you know, like at Camp David or similar, invite a variety of bats, so we have adequate and ample representation from a variety of places and kinds, and have a whole set of balls there, major league baseballs, which themselves have gone through changes over the years. Have the two sides talk things out, seek to get on the same page, you know, and –
Wait a second…
They’re fine with each other? And you know this because, why?
Oh… Well ok then. Ok. I stand corrected, Mr. DiMaggio. I didn’t know you were involved in these things, or, quite, well, I mean, I thought you know, you were in the Hall of Fame upstairs, but I hear you, I mean I definitely hear you, and I think I even see you, though it’s a little vague, but the image does look like you, and yes I see the pinstripes, so ok, ok. Fine. Glad it’s all good. Great… great…. Really!
As they say: Play ball!
Your bat is ready.