The 20 Most Desirable Bats in the Hobby
In part four of a four part series, we take a look at 5 of the 15 most desirable vintage game-used bats.
Jackie Robinson - This guy is a true baseball icon and the popularity of his memorabilia is astounding. Forget about the numbers, you can't measure his impact on the game by his statistics. In 10 seasons with the Dodgers, Robinson helped lead them to 6 pennants and one World Series title. He was also the National League's Rookie of the Year and, two years later, the League's MVP after winning the batting title. By the way, he also broke the color barrier.
I mentioned the batting title above, but Robinson also had some "pop" in his bat for a second baseman; he could hit drive the ball on occasion. He could also steal bases; he had nearly 200 in 10 seasons. Despite his short career, after spending a few years in the Negro Leagues, Robinson ranks very high on the scale of baseball popularity. His bats are arguably the most valuable pieces of wood from his era. The only bats that rival Robinson gamers in terms of current market value are those that once belonged to Mickey Mantle. Extremely high-end examples have fetched in the neighborhood of $30,000-$50,000, a price area reserved for an elite group of batsmen.
I was not alive when Robinson broke the color barrier over 50 years ago and it is hard for me to comprehend the magnitude of the event because I cannot imagine baseball without integration. I also cannot imagine how ugly society must have been at the time; it boggles my mind sometimes. If it weren't for Jackie Robinson, the game wouldn't be the same.
As a player, he preferred H&B bats according to factory records and he used a fairly hefty piece of lumber considering the type of hitter he was. Many of his bats are in the 34-36 ounce range. Bat collectors have spoken; Robinson bats are in high demand.
Mike Schmidt - All I have to say is that this guy was the greatest 3rd baseman to ever play the game. Brooks Robinson may have been a better defensive player (but not by that much) and Eddie Mathews is a match for Schmidt in the slugging department, but no other player in baseball history could combine the strength of both.
Schmidt had a horrible start to his career, striking out often and hitting under .200 in his first year. Things changed quickly for this powerful hitter. Schmidt would go on to win two National League MVP's, six NL East titles, one World Series title, he hit 548 homers, led the league in homers 8 times (only Ruth accomplished this feat more with 9), he was 12-time All-Star selection and won 10 Gold Gloves. Wow!
When it comes to his bats, Schmidt had a few interesting habits. First of all, he generally preferred Adirondack to H&B bats but he has used both over the course of his career. One of the most interesting bats you may find is a Schmidt H&B gamer with red tape around the mid-point of the bat. Schmidt did this to make the bat appear like an Adirondack on television (Adirondacks are known for having a colored ring around the mid-point of the bat). Schmidt most likely did this as a result of a contract with Adirondack. He didn't do this to all his H&B's (now Louisville Slugger), but you can find some with this interesting mark.
In addition, Schmidt, during the tail end of his career, would mark his bats when he connected for a homer. Usually the mark is placed the center label with either the number of the career homer or the number he needed to reach the 500 home run milestone, a sort of countdown if you will. It was usually done in some type of marker and many of the home run bats have a circle or dot near the home run number. These bats sell for a significant premium and not many of them exist. Regardless, any Schmidt gamer is a key to a great bat collection.
Jimmie Foxx - "The Beast," though a very kind and personable man, was one of the most terrifying sites a pitcher could see on the field. Lefty Gomez once said of Foxx, "He wasn't scouted, he was trapped." After shaking off every sign the catcher gave him and refusing to throw a pitch, a meeting was called on the mound. The pitcher whispered to his backstop, "If we stay out here long enough, maybe he'll (Foxx) will just go away." According to spectators, no one, not even Babe Ruth, had as much raw power as Foxx. No wonder so many pitchers were intimidated.
Foxx entered the league as a catcher but was quickly placed at first base; he would eventually become one of the greatest offensive players at that position. He became the first player to win the MVP three times, he slugged 534 homers, batted .325, had 1,921 runs batted in, won a Triple Crown in 1933, had 3 seasons with .700 or better slugging averages and hit as many tape measure home runs as anyone in the game's history. Ted Williams, commenting on Foxx's power, once said, "Jimmie Foxx, with all those muscles, hit drives that sounded like gunfire. Crack! A hell of a lot louder than mine sounded."
When it comes to his bats, Foxx examples are very tough to find. Foxx used hickory bats often, but also used ash bats as well. The hickory bats have a darker appearance and they really give you that vintage feel. With the exception of Mel Ott bats, Foxx bats are the toughest amongst the 500 home run club members. Like most players, early examples, from Foxx's days with the Philadelphia Athletics, sell for premium. With the bat difficulty, his almost cult-like following, and his offensive accomplishment, Foxx was a clear choice.
Joe DiMaggio - "The Yankee Clipper" is considered by many to be one of the greatest all-around players of all-time. This incredibly popular New York Yankee centerfielder is a real baseball icon; a player who is only rivaled by guys like Williams and Mantle in terms of pure popularity. The fact that he was married to an actress named Monroe didn't hurt his popularity either.
When DiMaggio retired, he had three MVP's to his credit and was selected to the All-Star team in all 13 of his seasons with the Yankees. He also led the team to the World Series almost routinely and had an amazing 56-game hitting streak (no one has gone further than 44 games to this day). Perhaps DiMaggio's greatest achievement as a hitter is the fact that he only struck out 369 times in his whole career while hitting 361 homers. In other words, this guy almost homered more often than striking out. Amazing!
DiMaggio bats are highly valued by collectors with early examples fetching a premium. The one aspect of DiMaggio bats that can be confusing is the great disparity between values of his bats. I have seen DiMaggio bats sell for as much as $60,000-$80,000 and I have seen others sell for under $15,000. The earlier bats have more eye appeal in terms of the wood color; his later bats tend to have a duller finish but are still very attractive. Due to time lost in the military, the numbers do not do DiMaggio justice, but his name remains at the top of wantlists.
While game-used items from his days with the San Francisco Seals are rare and desirable, in my opinion, the Yankee bats are more important. That is where DiMaggio did his damage as a major leaguer and where he became a legend. At one time, DiMaggio bats were considered to be one of the rarest bast in existence. While a few more have been found over the last five years, the demand still outweighs the supply.
Honus Wagner - We all know about the rarity of his T206 baseball card, fewer than 50 examples are believed to exist, but did you know that only five Wagner bats are known to exist? Game-used Wagner bats are a major rarity but, as an offensive weapon, Wagner was amazing. He hit .300 for 17 straight years, won 8 batting titles and five stolen base crowns, had a career average of .327, accumulated 3,415 hits, 252 triples, scored 1,736 runs and drove in 1,732. He did this as, primarily, a shortstop. Wow!
Amazingly, he was actually voted into the Hall of Fame ahead of Babe Ruth in 1936. That should tell you a lot about the type of player he was. Wagner was also considered one of he most likable players of his generation. Most of us know the story of how Wagner forced the cigarette company to pull his card from the market because he didn't want to promote tobacco use in kids. He must have had some kind of foresight considering it was in the early part of the 1900's.
As mentioned above, very few of his bats exist. Wagner was known for using heavy taping, at times, during his career. One of the examples that surfaced a few years back exhibits this style of taping that extends from the grip area all the way to the center label. Wagner was known for spreading his hands apart when gripping the bat so it makes sense that he would tape his handles so severely. Not all of his bats exhibit this taping method but all of his bats are in high demand.
It was really hard to limit the list to just 15 vintage and 5 modern bats. There are plenty of players who should arguably make the cut. Here's a quick sampling of vintage and modern player bats that just missed the cut:
- Roy Campanella - Three MVP's, member of the Brooklyn Dodgers and a very tough bat but just not as popular as Yankee Yogi Berra. Lost too many years to the Negro Leagues and a horrible career ending injury.
- Roberto Clemente - One of the most popular and well-rounded players ever, but his offensive numbers just weren't enough to justify inclusion.
- Rogers Hornsby - The numbers are absolutely frightening and his bats very tough. Hornsby is considered the greatest right-handed hitter ever, but his name is just not as recognizable as the others on the list despite his .400 seasons and .358 career bating average.
- Joe Jackson - If one of his authentic gamers ever came up for sale, it would break every bat price record in history, but they are so rare that I chose not include him. Amazingly, two are scheduled to come up for sale very soon so it should be interesting. One of the most significant baseball figures in history, his bats are like Bigfoot. You just never see them.
- Mel Ott - The toughest member of the 500 Home Run Club, but Ott lacked the marquee value and raw power that many of the other members had. Many historians believe that his home ballpark gave Ott a major advantage due to the short fence (257ft.) in right field.
- Johnny Bench - Considered the greatest catcher in baseball history, Bench gamers are extremely popular with collectors. This two-time MVP helped lead Cincinnati's Big Red Machine to six division titles, four N.L. pennants, and two World Series titles. This guy also had a bazooka for an arm. It was very difficult to leave Bench off the list, but his bats are not as difficult as Berra's.
- Derek Jeter - A tough and highly valuable bat by modern standards, his bats sell for more than many vintage player bats do, but his appeal as a Yankee leader is undeniable. The only problem is that it is too early to tell what Jeter's legacy will be. With so many World Series rings and hits under his belt, he should be included in the near future.
- Alex Rodriguez - Many people argue that he is actually the best player in the game today and I will not argue with any of them. A-Rod, like Griffey, offers game-used equipment (including home run bats) direct to the hobby. This practice has been in place only during the last few years, but you can find his bats. Like Jeter, it is just too early to include him on the primary list, but he should be there soon.
- Ivan Rodriguez - When all is said and done, this guy might be considered the best all-around catcher ever. Most fans know about I-Rod's cannon arm and great bat, but this guy can steal a base as well. With loads of Gold Gloves, an MVP, and many years ahead of him, I-Rod will eventually be an automatic choice.
Frank Robinson - With 586 homers and an MVP in each league, Robinson bats are so undervalued it's ridiculous. If you look at his overall numbers, there are very few players that can match him in baseball history. Frank was right there with Aaron and Mays during the 1960's. He could hit, hit with power, run and drive in runs with the best of his generation. Frank's bats deserve some love.
Rickey Henderson - This guy is certainly not the most popular of all baseball players, but his numbers make him the greatest leadoff hitter in baseball history. He is the all-time stolen base leader (a forgotten art in the current game and his record won't be approached for a long time), an MVP, at the top or near it in walks and runs scored and he has close to 300 career homers. Forget about the "I'm the Greatest" speech, he is a first ballot Hall of Famer.
Of course, I could not place all the great batsmen on the list. Great bats used by men like Harmon Killebrew (the most powerful right-handed slugger of his era), Ernie Banks (Mr. Cub, perhaps the most likable 500 Home Run Club member), Duke Snider (the incredibly popular Brooklyn Dodger who hit 40 homers for five straight seasons), Hank Greenberg (one of the baseball's most feared home run and RBI men in history, he nearly averaged one RBI per game over his entire career), and Tris Speaker (one of the top pure hitters of all-time with a .345 career average) were left off the list but they all deserve tons of respect from bat collectors.
Every member of the 500 Home Run Club and 3,000 Hit Club immediately take on extra importance due to the vast number of collectors who assemble their collections by theme. Some collectors simply collect Hall of Famers like Willie Stargell or star players like Roger Maris and Ted Kluszewski. Whatever theme you choose, the bats on this top 20 list are considered the most desirable of their respective eras; these bats are the legendary lumber.