The Batting Cage: The Objective Subjectivity of Grading by John Taube and Vince Malta Taube Malta
John Taube Vince Malta

When it comes to grading game-used bats, the most frequent concern we hear from collectors is that the grading process is too subjective. In response to that concern we thought it would be helpful to offer the following review of our grading criteria. By providing this information it is our hope that collectors will have a better understanding of the tremendous effort we employ to be as objective as possible in determining the final grade on a game-used bat. We will also cover the PSA/DNA grading/authentication process, and what efforts we make to remove any subjectivity.

light use
Light Use
Surprisingly, just three ball marks. Preparation to bat gives the impression of greater use.

We believe our grading criteria is a balanced process, based on authenticity, the amount of visible use, and the number of identifiable player characteristics that establish the likelihood the bat was indeed used by the named player. It is also important for collectors to understand that rarity has little if any bearing on the grade a bat earns.

For matters of discussion, lets look at PSA's grades 5 through 10 and consider the levels of use associated with each grade. We'll then talk about what we consider to be no-use, game-ready, light to medium-use, medium to heavy-use and heavy-use. Provenance, as outlined in the grading criteria, is self-explanatory.


PSA/DNA Bat Grading Standards

PSA/DNA GU 10 – In order to achieve the PSA/DNA GU 10 grade, a game-used bat must be fully documented or possess extraordinary player characteristics, match available factory records and exhibit medium to heavy-use. Slight cracks or minor repairs may be acceptable, provided they do not impair the visual quality of the bat. Vault marks or factory side writing are considered documentation under this grade. Team ordered and index bats may qualify, provided the model number and matching length and weight specifications, appear on the team record while the player was on the roster.

heavy use
Heavy Use
Ball marks are so plentiful they cannot be counted. Pine tar, tape and other player characteristics can be present but are not necessary.

In cases where documentation is not included, if a bat possesses perfect player characteristics, exhibits medium to heavy-use and satisfies all other criteria to achieve a grade of PSA/DNA GU 10, the authenticator, at his discretion, may award the highest grade. Under these circumstances, the bat must be exceptional on its own merit, absent documentation.

In addition, provenance has no bearing on player characteristics. In cases where a bat possesses little or no player characteristics and is accompanied by a letter of provenance defined as first party, a bat of this nature cannot be graded a 10 based on existing provenance since the bat cannot qualify on its own merit. The likelihood of game-use is established by visible use and player characteristics, not documentation alone. Therefore, a bat can receive any numerical grade with or without provenance.

Note: When a bat does not qualify for a grade of 10 based on it's own merit, first party documentation must be provided. Team letters are acceptable.

game ready
Game Ready
No visible use other than bat rack streaks. Player number on knob. Pine tar or taped handle can be present.

PSA/DNA GU 9 – A PSA/DNA GU 9 bat is one that exhibits very similar qualities to a PSA/DNA GU 10 bat. The bat in question must match available factory records, possess identifiable player characteristics and exhibit medium to heavy use. It may also be accompanied by some verifiable form of provenance but the existence of such documentation may or may not affect the overall grade. Slight cracks or minor repairs may be acceptable. Team ordered and index bats may qualify, provided the model number and matching length and weight specifications, appear on the team record while the player was on the roster.

PSA/DNA GU 8 – A PSA/DNA GU 8 bat must matches available factory records, possess identifiable player characteristics and exhibit at least medium use. Slight cracks or minor repairs may be acceptable. Team ordered and index bats may qualify, provided the model number and matching length and weight specifications, appear on the team record while the player was on the roster.

light to medium use
Light to Medium Use
Several well defined ball marks, generally six to 12. Pine tar and other player characteristics can be present.

PSA/DNA GU 7 – A PSA/DNA GU 7 bat must match available factory records, possess identifiable player characteristics and exhibit at least light to medium use. Slight cracks or minor repairs may be acceptable. Team ordered and index bats may qualify, provided the model number and matching length and weight specifications, appear on the team record while the player was on the roster.

PSA/DNA GU 6 – A PSA/DNA GU 6 bat must match available factory records, possess identifiable player characteristics and exhibit at least light use. Slight cracks or minor repairs may be acceptable. Team ordered and index bats may qualify, provided the model number and matching length and weight specifications, appear on the team record while the player was on the roster. Bats used by a player other than the name of the player whose name appears on the barrel will fall under this grade, provided the experts could identify the player using the bat.

light use
Light Use
A couple of well defined ball marks. Pine tar and other player characteristics can be present.

PSA/DNA GU 5 – A PSA/DNA GU 5 bat must match available factory records, possess identifiable player characteristics and will, most likely, exhibit no evidence of use. In essence, this is a game ready bat that did not see action. Team ordered and index bats may qualify, provided the model number and matching length and weight specifications; appear on the team record while the player was on the roster.

Note: Batting practice and coach-era bats, identified by special notations or evidence of a taped barrel, will fall under this grade.

As you can see, if we adhere to our standards, subjectivity can only be applied to the authenticator's definition of no-use, light-use, medium-use, etc. Authenticity is confirmed by the manufacturer's player's ordering record, and player characteristics that are either present or absent. Uniform numbers on the knob, handle tape, barrel and handle scoring and pine tar are clearly self-explanatory. But when we come to the assertion of use, is when we come to where the convergence of opinions begins.

medium use
Medium Use
Several well defined ball marks. Pine tar, tape, etc. can be present.

What is considered to be light-use to some may be perceived as medium-use to others, and so on. We recently read another company's Letter of Authenticity and grading on a game-used bat and was surprised to see a grade of 7 that had been given to a bat that they noted had no ball marks. Additionally, we frequently see bats for sale or at auction that are described as having light or "nice"-use when in fact they are game-ready bats at best. By definition, game-used means just that. Minus ball marks, can the bat be considered game used? Perhaps, if a player struck out without ever fouling one off – but how often does that happen?

In our minds, things such as rack marks, pine tar and player numbers do not define use. A combination of the above, together with the number of clearly defined ball marks, and/or stitch impressions, on the barrel, are what indicate the amount of use.

no use
No Use
Mint bat with no visible signs of game use.

In order to show you examples of what we have discussed, the following photographs depict our levels of game use. Please take specific note of the photos of the Soriano Sam and Palmeiro Worth bats pictured in this article. Both of these bats appear contrary to their amount of visible use at first glance. The Soriano bat, while possessing an ample amount of pine tar and having a generous amount of scuffs on the barrel, exhibits three well-defined ball marks. The Worth bat, while appearing to have moderate use, is heavily used. The barrel is covered with ball stitch marks. Both cases are perfect examples of how player preparation affects the visual appearance of the bat.

Of course, our definitions for the amount of use, are a bit subjective. After all, they are our opinions. However, judging by the number of phone calls we've had from collectors, we believe they strongly agree with our different levels of use.

medium to heavy use
Medium to Heavy Use
Many well defined ball and ball stitch marks. Pine tar, tape and other player characteristics can be present.

Also, please note that vintage bats from the turn of the century through the 1920s, generally do not have clearly defined ball marks and stitch marks. This is due to the quality of the wood used (especially hickory), the finish that was applied, and the baseballs that had been used during that era. Vintage balls were not as hard as they are today as the stitches were not as high as the stitches on today's Major League balls. In many cases, the contact area on a vintage gamer will have noticeable grain swelling from repeated ball contact as well as general abrasions from use and years of being handled.

Subjectivity can never be completely removed from the grading process. However, with our objective approach at defining levels of use, the amount of subjectivity exercised by the authenticator, is minimized.



John Taube is the owner of J.T. Sports. With well over two decades of experience, his expertise on physical attributes of game-used bats and dating have pinned him as one of the world's leading experts in bat authentication and grading. Working in conjunction with Vince Malta, Taube has an ongoing commitment to expand the existing knowledge of game-used bats. With over 35 years of combined expertise, bat experts Taube and Malta are the formidable team for PSA/DNA's game-used bat authentication service. Their reputation and integrity is second to none in the hobby. The duo exhibits strong attention to detail, expertise with labeling variations and insight to restoration. Most importantly, both share a commitment to provide the hobby by adhering to the most standardized and recognized game-used bat evaluation criteria.

You can contact John and Vince in regard to column ideas, suggestions and questions by e-mailing them at: [email protected] For information specifically on having bats authenticated or graded by John and Vince log on to www.psadna.com and click on "Professional Bat Authentication".


John Taube is the owner of J.T. Sports. With well over two decades of experience, his expertise on physical attributes of game-used bats and dating have pinned him as one of the world's leading experts in bat authentication and grading. Working in conjunction with Vince Malta, Taube has an ongoing commitment to expand the existing knowledge of game-used bats. With over 35 years of combined expertise, bat experts Taube and Malta are the formidable team for PSA/DNA's game-used bat authentication service. Their reputation and integrity is second to none in the hobby. The duo exhibits strong attention to detail, expertise with labeling variations and insight to restoration. Most importantly, both share a commitment to provide the hobby by adhering to the most standardized and recognized game-used bat evaluation criteria.

You can contact John and Vince in regard to column ideas, suggestions and questions by e-mailing them at: [email protected]. For information specifically on having bats authenticated or graded by John and Vince log on to www.psacard.com and click on "Professional Bat Authentication" under "Services".