It is generally believed amongst baseball fans that Lou Brock was the innovator of the cup end bat, and, although he did bring what has become a very popular model to the majors; one might easily ask "where did it come from?"
In the mid 1970's, the St.Louis Cardinals embarked on one of many good will trips that ball clubs have taken over the years to Japan, going back as far as the 1913 Giants and beyond. Baseball had originally arrived in Japan along with American sailing ships, as early as the 1860's or 70's. During that trip, Lou Brock played against and met with Saduhara Oh, the immensely popular Japanese superstar.
Mr. Oh, a very big man of Japanese and Chinese decent, practiced the art and science of baseball with a Zen-like precision and focus. His devotion produced, amongst other things, over 800 home runs and the widely used nickname, the "Babe Ruth" of Japan. Given Mr. Oh's desire and determination to become the most finely honed ballplayer he could be, it is not surprising that he would attempt to increase his bat speed in any way possible.
The cup end, while leaving a bat the same length as a normal one, reduced the weight at the end of the bat, giving the batter the advantage of being able to wait longer on the ball, and at the same time have more velocity on impact. The batter then, has more time to gauge movement on the ball and theoretically, the higher bat speed will hit the ball farther. Serious hitters, which of course, Brock and Oh were, are always looking to gain an advantage in the batters box.
As it would happen, Saduhara Oh gave Lou Brock two of his special personal bats, one of which I had the good fortune of obtaining (photo 1, Oh bat autographed by Brock). Oh's bats were Japanese made and, interestingly enough, bear a great deal of English stamping. The barrel stating "Established 1899, Jun Ishii's, Reg. Trademark, Super Grane" (Sp). Also saying "hot and distance" (something is probably lost in the translation). It is likely that the date of 1899, established Jun Ishii's as the earliest major bat manufacturer in Japan. Also of note is the stencil print on the knob which reads "Special Order Made For Mr. Oh".
Now, this being the case, one might surmise that the innovative Mr. Oh, not the industrious Mr. Brock, created the cup end bat. But oh no, guess again. In 1940, Hank Sauer, who had a successful fifteen year career with the Reds, Cubs, Cardinals, and Giants, was using a cup end bat made by the Hanna Bat Manufacturing Company of Athens Georgia. Bats were made from 1926, when Hanna Manufacturing decided to expand from making shovel handles, until the 1960's when a fire totally destroyed the factory. Hanna was probably the fourth or fifth largest bat manufacturing company of its time.
One can observe from the photo's that all three of these cup end bats, are quite similar, with cups that are relatively shallow by today's standards. Perhaps, one of these Hanna cup bats found its way to Japan on one of the good will trips of the 1950's, during the occupation.
It is interesting to speculate about how this popular bat innovation, having been ignored and forgotten here, then imported to the other side of the world, was eventually rediscovered and brought back after decades in obscurity, became the "big hit" it deserved to be. Thanks is due to the vision and savvy of Lou Brock, Saduhara Oh, and it would seem, some unknown fellow at Hanna Batrite in the 1930's.