Hitting, it's considered the single hardest skill in all of sports. If you fail 7 out of 10 times (a batting average of .300), you are a star. Whether it's raw power or the uncanny ability to control the bat, fans are drawn to the players who make a living driving pitchers crazy. Fans don't go to the ballpark to watch Greg Maddux spot his curveball, they go to watch the hitters show their stuff.
Collectors feel the same way. If you look throughout the hobby, it's the hitter who receives most of the accolades. It is part of human nature. While some fans dream about throwing a fastball by a hitter or snapping a curveball to make a hitter look silly, most of us dream of being at the plate with the game on the line.
The winning run is on second and the count is now full. The fans roar with each pitch, you're down to your last strike. Here it comes, a fastball right where you like it. You connect and the ball explodes off your bat, the connection is so perfect that you almost cannot feel it. You can choose your own ending here. A line drive in the gap, a long home run over the wall in left. It's all the same; you stand alone as the hero.
Players come and players go but a few batsmen become legends along the way. It is this select group of men who represent the dream. At some point in their careers, they were the players who the little leaguers emulated across the nation. For collectors of game-used bats, these players represent the top of the legendary lumber.
It is interesting to compare bats of different eras. In days past, players used heavier bats made of higher quality wood, which held up much longer than today's bats do. Today, the bats are lighter, much lighter, and they are made with thinner handles because of the focus on bat speed and power. "Slap" hitters of yesterday would often use bats much heavier than McGwire's modern stick. It tells the collector and baseball fan a lot about the changing techniques and styles of hitting, it's a real educating process in itself.
The Top 20 list is based on a combination of factors. Offensive accomplishment, popularity and, to a lesser extent, rarity. For instance, there are only two known Monte Irvin game-used bats but, as great as Monte was as a hitter, his offensive statistics fall short and cannot justify inclusion on this list. Here are, in my opinion, the 20 (5 Modern and 15 Vintage) most desirable game-used bats in the hobby (in no particular order).
Vintage Era - The Top 15 of All-Time
Babe Ruth - A game-used bat from this legend is one of the most prized collectibles in the sports hobby. Imagine holding the lumber that once belonged to Sultan of Swat. Ruth was known to use a monstrous piece of wood, ranging from the mid-30's to the upper-40's in terms of ounces. For example, could you imagine using a bat that's 36 inches and 42 ounces? Amazing.
As a player, what can you say? Babe Ruth is the greatest player who ever stepped between the lines. Ruth had a slugging average of .690 (1st all-time), scored 2,174 runs, his home run percentage is 2nd all time at 8.50 (2nd only to McGwire), has 2,213 runs batted is (2nd all-time), 2,056 walks (1st all-time for the moment - Rickey Henderson will pass Ruth soon), has a career batting average of .342, and he hit 714 bombs. Here's the key; Ruth did this much damage even though he had nearly 4,000 fewer at bats than Hank Aaron did. Wow! Why did Boston make him pitch?
Earlier in his career, Ruth used bats in the heavy end of the range but, as he got older and his body started to show signs of dramatic deterioration, the bats became lighter but they were still a force to be reckoned with. There are only four known pre-1921 examples in the hobby. These early bats, even up to the mid-1920's, were very balanced with a thick handle but eventually Ruth went to a thinner-handled, top-heavy piece of wood.
Ruth bats are not as rare as some other bats on this list but, in comparison to other collectibles, it would certainly be considered a rare item. According to bat experts, there might be around 50 Ruth bats in existence. This is the same number used when estimating the number of Honus Wagner T206 cards in existence. During a very brief period of his career, Ruth would carve a notch into his bat, around the center label, to keep track of every home run he hit. It sounds like stuff of legend and it is but it's confirmed legend. In fact, four such bats are known to exist with one on permanent display in the Hall of Fame (28 notches) and one in the Louisville Slugger Museum (21 notches). The other two are privately owned, with 8 and 11 notches respectively.
Hank Aaron - We all know that "The Hammer" is the all-time home run leader with 755 long drives but what most fans and collectors don't know is that Aaron is amongst the best ever in other key categories. Most collectors don't realize that Aaron is 3rd all-time in career hits with 3,771. Are you kidding me? Aaron is also tops in runs batted in with 2,297 in addition to being ranked high in many other career categories like runs scored and at bats.
Aaron was known for using both H&B and Adirondack bats. His final year came in 1976 when he used the popular Bicentennial H&B bats. Early in his career, Aaron was not known for using heavy pine tar but that changed in the early 1970's. Some of his 1970's examples are found with very heavy tar. Due to his approach on Ruth's home run record, many bats were either taken from the locker room or given away during this time period. This is the main reason why you see many early 1970's examples with little to no use, people knew Aaron was going to break the record so his bats became a hot commodity.
One of the toughest bats to find on this list would be a game-used Aaron bat from the 1950's, I have kept nearly every major auction catalogue over the last several years and I have only found one publicly offered example. They are extremely tough. Another rare Aaron bat would be the elusive home run bat. What could be better than a home run bat from the home run champ? I have seen only two regular season examples and one All-Star Aaron home run bat in circulation. These are great pieces to own but make sure you have rock-solid documentation to accompany the bat.
Aaron bats may be the most undervalued ones on the list considering his phenomenal numbers. By the way, Aaron's 755 looks safe for now. Griffey and McGwire are chasing it but, to put this number in perspective, you would need to hit 35 homers for 20 straight seasons and then smash another 55 to tie Aaron. Albert Belle was a dominant hitter for a decade who put up great power numbers but, with 381 career bombs, he barely made it half way to Aaron's 755. Aaron's career numbers are incredible; he was a model of consistency.
Willie Mays - The greatest all-around player the game has ever seen, Mays bats are in very high demand. In fact, during the last couple of years, his bats have more than doubled in price. Why? How about a .302 average, 660 homers, 338 steals, 3,283 hits, 2,062 runs scored, over 1900 runs batted in and a slugging average of .557. Mays could do it all. Oh, by the way, Mays was perhaps the greatest centerfielder in baseball history with a record 11 straight Gold Gloves under his belt.
In reality, according to most true baseball experts, Mays is the only five-tool player to ever reach such lofty heights. He could hit, hit with power, run, field and had a cannon for an arm. Many players have excelled in a couple of areas but Mays could do all five with maximum ability. Bonds does not have Willie's arm, Mantle did not have Willie's glove, did have Willie's speed and DiMaggio did not have Willie's power. Mays has no real equal as an all-around player.
When it comes to his bats, Willie was split. He used bats of the H&B variety as well as Adirondack examples throughout his career. Many of his H&B bats are block letter and most only reveal his last name "Mays" because he did not have a contract with them. On the other hand, many of his Adirondack bats show his full signature. Today, Adirondack bats only use block lettering on the barrel. I have seen photos from early in his career as well as photos from late in his career with each brand in the hands of the great Mays while he was at the plate.
One thing that did change, much like Aaron, is the use of pine tar during his career. Early in his career, Mays was inconsistent with his use of pine tar but, later in his career, you can find Mays bats with a heavy layer of tar on the handle and up to the center label. Also, more authentic Mays examples have the number 24 on the knob than not so keep an eye out for this detail.
Ted Williams - He wanted to be known as the greatest hitter who ever lived, who's going to argue that he wasn't? If Ted Williams had not missed roughly five seasons in the service during his prime, his numbers would be absolutely astronomical. Williams finished with a .344 batting average (he is also the last man to hit .400 in a season with a .406 mark in 1941), the highest on base average of all-time at .483, the second highest slugging average at .634 and he hit 521 career homers.
All the way around, he certainly looks like the best hitter to me. His numbers have to be taken in context; those 521 homers could have easily been near 700 without the lost time. Williams hit for an average higher than modern batting champs Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs but also powered the ball over the fence at a faster rate than guys like Mickey Mantle and Mike Schmidt. His hitting legacy is nearly unbelievable.
As for his bats, they are amongst the most desirable examples in the hobby. Who wouldn't want a bat from baseball's most legendary hitter? Williams was one of the first players to use a lighter bat (for more control and bat speed). He would occasionally score the handle for grip and the knobs of his bats are interesting. The batboy for the Boston Red Sox used to hand paint the number 9 with a line underneath it on the knobs of Williams gamers. If your bat doesn't have this distinguishing mark, no need to worry but it is common feature on many of his authentic gamers.
According to Williams, he used H&B bats exclusively even though he did order a few Adirondacks along the way. Finally, Williams has been known to charge as much as $5,000 or more for autographs on game-used bats. The high price for Teddy's pen makes signed Teddy gamers highly prized.
Ty Cobb - One of the toughest bats on the list and the lumber used by a man whose career batting average may never be approached. Could you imagine anyone hitting .366 for his career? I can't imagine most players hitting .366 for a season or two. Cobb is also the all-time leader or amongst the all-time leaders in several key categories. Cobb is second (only to Rose) in career hits, among the best in runs scored, doubles, triples and, surprisingly, runs batted in. Cobb was not a "slap" hitter by any means; he could drive the ball when necessary.
Cobb may not be the most likable player in baseball history but he was a fierce competitor. Despite his rough approach to people and life, Cobb is still one of the most collectible names in all of baseball. His performance on the field helped to overshadow his mean streak as a person. Cobb was even considered, by some, to be the best player of the first half of the century. That says a lot for a man who played in that first half with a guy named Ruth, a man who would eventually take baseball by storm.
Cobb bats are usually characterized by spike marks along the barrel. Cobb used his spikes is more ways than one and the infielders weren't too happy about that. Luckily, his bats had no feelings. Cobb was also known for occasionally using a unique taping method along the handle, leaving occasional space between the taped portions of woods. This is probably due to his unique hitting style, one that had his hands separated on the grip area. Regardless, Cobb bats are very difficult to obtain and much more scarce than Ruth examples.
Pete Rose - Forget about the gambling and the ban from baseball, people love this guy. Rose wasn't blessed with a powerful arm, blazing speed or tremendous power but he was one of the most intense competitors this game has ever seen. Those headfirst dives and determination made "Charlie Hustle" a hero for the average guy. As the all-time leader in hits, Rose is an automatic choice for collectors. Rose is also the all-time leader in at bats and games played as well as ranking high on the all-time list for runs scored, doubles and total bases.
Rose used a variety of bats throughout his career including many orders of H&B bats and some Adirondack specimens. Later in his career, Rose would use Mizuno bats for the most part. The Mizuno company would eventually print bats with the number 4192 on the barrel (the number needed to break Cobb's record for career hits - though Cobb's hit total has now been reduced to 4,189).
Early Rose bats sell for a major premium but they are very tough to obtain. His 1980's bats are much easier to acquire in comparison to bats from earlier decades. Like Aaron before him, everyone knew it was a matter of time before Rose broke the career hit mark so bat requests were coming in at an unbelievable rate by the early 1980's. With 4,256 hits under his belt, a mark that almost seems unreachable, it's easy to see why Rose bats make this exclusive list. If you entered the major leagues at the age of 20, you would need to bang out 200 hits per year for 20 straight seasons and then add another 256 just to reach Rose. Good luck!
Stan Musial - You say you want a consistent hitter, how about 1,815 hits on the road and 1,815 at home for a total of 3,630 career hits and a .331 batting average? If Ted Williams is the greatest hitter who ever lived then Stan "The Man" is certainly a close second. Playing in St. Louis didn't help his popularity (although it is climbing) but this guy would be a god if he played in New York. He is generally regarded as not only one of the best all-around hitters in baseball history but also a great human being.
Musial didn't just hit for average either. He clubbed 475 career homers and drilled 725 doubles as well. Musial was also a fine run producer. With over 1900 runs scored and runs batted in, Musial ranks as one of the best in history. Throw in a .559 slugging average (better than Mays or Mantle) and you have one of the most complete hitters ever.
Musial bats, as you might expect, are a very hot commodity in the game-used bat market. Musial was primarily a H&B user with a few Adirondacks used in his career. One interesting thing about Musial bats is the fact that Musial actually had a signature model bat produced at the beginning of his career but, for the most part, his bats are labeled in block letters "Musial Model." Musial has also been known to occasionally score or groove the handles for extra grip.
Mickey Mantle - Quite simply the most beloved player in baseball history. Like Williams, Mantle lost time over the course of his career. In Mantle's case, it was due to injury and not military duty though. Virtually every young boy in America wanted to be Mickey Mantle during the 1950's and 1960's, who wouldn't want to be the starting centerfielder for the New York Yankees?
Mantle was the most powerful hitter of his day. He could hit shots into the far reaches of stadiums across the country, areas that no one else could reach. Mantle is credited with the longest home run in baseball history; a 565ft shot that might still be traveling. Mantle tape measure drives left fans and teammates in awe; he just had an explosive bat. Mantle came very close to hitting the only ball out of Yankee Stadium. His blast was still climbing when it struck the faÃ§ade at the top of the stadium in deep right field.
Mantle's power is very evident on his well-used bats. I have handled many bats over the years from Ruth to McGwire but of all the bats I've seen, the Mantle gamers exhibit the most deeply embedded ball and stitch marks. It really helps the collector appreciate the power that Mantle had; it truly is a sight to see. Like Mays and Aaron, Mantle seemed to alternate with his use of Adirondacks and H&B's. According to most experts and photo studies, Mantle seemed to use Adirondacks for a fair amount of time in the late-1950's and early 1960's but he primarily used H&B's throughout his great career.
Mantle would also alter his use of pine tar. Mantle seemed to use very little tar, if at all, during the 1950's but then, sometime in the early 1960's, he started to show a pattern of pine tar use. Many authentic gamers have "caked" tar about 8-12 inches up from the knob in a concentrated area. This is certainly not true of all Mantle gamers but the pattern does exist. In addition, like Williams, autographed Mantle gamers are especially prized.
Another interesting aspect to Mantle gamers is the fact that most authentic examples don't show his number 7 on the knob. Other players were religious about this, but not Mantle. Some have a number 7 and some don't, there's no need for concern either way. Last but not least, because Mantle was a switch hitter, most of the use should be located on the left-handed hitting surface (there are many more right-handed pitchers in the league than lefties).
Yogi Berra - With three MVP's under his belt and a vault filled with championships, Yogi Berra remains a top 20 selection. Mantle may have been the marquee star for the New York Yankees but Berra was the team leader. He handled a pitching staff that routinely placed them in World Series contention and was a serious threat at the plate with 358 career homers. When you add his unmistakable charm to his baseball accomplishments, you have a real fan favorite.
If you look throughout baseball history, very few catchers have been able to excel offensively. The wear and tear on the body is nothing to underestimate. Berra, on the other hand, was an exception and catchers who can hit really stand out in the history books. They also gain a lot of respect from bat collectors. Berra, as a member of the Yankees, made it to the World Series 14 times and won the title in 10 of those appearances. It's no wonder that Berra is the all-time leader in Series hits and games. Berra's combination of popularity, offensive prowess, World Series records, leadership and position make him an easy choice.
When it comes to his bats, there are some interesting aspects to note. Some of Berra's bats were purposely made with reverse grain on the barrel, an oddity among professional bats. Remember that this is only true for some and not all of his gamers. Berra bats from the 1950's and earlier are valued higher than bats from his last few years in the 1960's. Berra won all three of his MVP's during the 1950's decade making gamers from that decade very popular.
Lou Gehrig - The "Iron Horse" was overshadowed by Ruth and even overshadowed by his own consecutive game streak but he was an awesome hitter. He could hit with major power and for average. Unfortunately, his career was cut short by a disease that now bears his name. Otherwise, his career numbers might rival the best in almost every major category.
A .340 career batting average, 493 home runs, a slugging average of .632, 1995 RBI's and the highest RBI per game average in baseball history has Gehrig at the top of the hitting legends. Fans forget these numbers because they focus on Gehrig's streak so intently but, regardless of the streak, he was one of the best all-around hitters ever.
Gehrig game-used bats are amongst the true rarities in the bat hobby. Less than 20 examples are known to exist for his entire career, a number that may shrink if they keep cutting old bats into pieces for modern cards. Some Gehrig gamers have been found with a unique taping method along the handle. The tape is bunched and then spread apart so some areas of the hand touch wood and some touch tape when the grip is in place. Not all Gehrig gamers have this taping method. Most Gehrig bats, in fact, do not.
In addition, due to his declining strength, Gehrig's bats were gradually made lighter so a weakening Lou could handle the weight. With so few authentic examples in existence combined with his undeniable legend, Gehrig bats are extremely desirable.
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 wasn'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 sights 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 accomplishments, 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 himself was amazing. Wagner 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.
The Modern Era - Top 5 of Today
Mark McGwire - Arguably, the greatest pure home run hitter ever. Now, I am not saying Mark McGwire is anywhere near the overall hitter that Ruth was. The numbers are clear in that regard but, as a pure home run hitter, McGwire is the guy. This guy can launch baseballs into areas of the stadium that are reserved for group discounts. When other top power hitters stand in awe of this guy, you know that Mac is something special. A bat used my Big Mac is a must for the serious bat collector.
From the mean goatee and the massive forearms to the 70 home runs in 1998, McGwire has become a part of baseball lore. If you were to design a power hitter, McGwire would be the prototype. Could you imagine if McGwire would not have lost so much time to injury in his career? He would be chasing 1,000 homers instead of 755. It's mind boggling!
When it comes to his bats, there are a few things to note. McGwire has used the same bat for almost his entire career, Adirondack. Big Mac used a few Louisville Sluggers during his first year or so in the majors but he has been a model of consistency since. Look for fairly consistent pine tar near the center label as well as grip marks near the base of the handle.
I have seen McGwire examples that were used nearly 8 years apart and the usage characteristics are frighteningly similar. Surprisingly, Big Mac's bats are not excessively large either and no where near the small trees Ruth used to swing. Finally, autographed gamers are tough to obtain due to Mac's very limited signing habits. For authentic game-used and signed St. Louis bats, charities are a good source like Tony LaRussa's Animal Rescue Foundation.
Ken Griffey Jr. - Along with Bonds, probably the best all-around player since Willie Mays and a guy who, at this point in time, has a real shot at Aaron. Griffey just makes everything look so easy, especially when he has a bat in his hands. His fluid swing looks effortless as he propels baseballs into the bleachers time and time again. Griffey is so graceful at the plate and in the field that people forget that he is actually a big guy. At 6'3, 225 pounds, he breezes through the outfield like a hawk riding the gusts of the wind.
Only in his early 30's, Griffey has the chance to put up some phenomenal career numbers but he has already done enough to warrant Hall of Fame induction without question. He has already accumulated well over 400 home runs, won several Gold Gloves, an MVP and he has filled highlight reels with some of the most amazing catches you have ever seen. Again, the great thing is that he is along way from done.
When it comes to Griffey's choice of bats, like McGwire, Griffey has been very consistent. Unlike McGwire, Griffey has been Louisville Slugger user for the vast majority of his career. In fact, I have never seen him use another brand personally. Griffey's earlier models were made with block lettering on the barrel, as with most rookies or young players, and they sell for a fairly significant premium. Since then, Louisville Slugger has produced signature contract models.
Many of Griffey's earlier models were made with natural colored wood while his later models, for the most part, are made in a solid black color. One unique characteristic of most Griffey gamers is the crisscross tape job found on the lower to mid portion of the handle. Brooklyn Dodger legend Duke Snider was also known for using a similar taping method. If I were looking for a classic Griffey bat, especially one used in the last few years, I would make sure I found one with this taping characteristic.
Griffey, like Bonds, provides game-used equipment direct to the hobby. These bats come with a letter, signed by Griffey, to ensure authenticity. These bats usually sell for a premium but, as a reminder, this fact does not render bats without Griffey letters bogus because most authentic Griffey gamers do not come with such documentation. Griffey has also been known to occasionally mark his home run bats with an inscription but this is a practice that Griffey has only done over the last few years. These bats are also offered with letters signed by Griffey and provide a rare and historically important collectible for fans of the home run. With so much accomplished already and so many years ahead of him, Griffey bats are a very popular choice for bat collectors.
Cal Ripken - Where do I begin with this guy? We all know that Ripken will forever be linked to his incredible consecutive game streak, but that is not where his appeal ends. Ripken's appeal is extreme on almost every level; he excelled in almost every facet of the game on top of being one of the most personable players in the game. There's a lot more to this "Iron Man" than the fact he broke the record held by the "Iron Horse."
From the beginning, Ripken was a standout. In 1982, after drilling 29 homers and driving in 93 runs, Ripken was named the American League's Rookie of the Year. The very next year, Ripken was named MVP of the league after hitting .318 with 27 bombs and winning a World Series title. In 1991, he would win the MVP again with even more impressive numbers. Ripken hit .323 with 34 home runs and 114 RBI. Along the way, besides reaching the 400 home run and 3,000 hit clubs, Ripken has been recognized for his exceptional fielding with a few Gold Gloves. He's a first ballot Hall of Famer with or without the streak.
When it comes to Ripken bats, there are a few things to note. First, by modern standards, Ripken bats are fairly tough to obtain. Rumor has it that Ripken is very protective of his equipment and it is difficult for people to grab them from the locker room. Unfortunately, this is how many modern bats are obtained; they are taken from the clubhouse.
Second, Ripken primarily uses Louisville Slugger bats; however, he also has used a fair amount of Adirondacks over the years. Look for cleat marks on the upper barrel, Ripken is known for banging his cleats with his bats. It's one of his trademarks. As you can see, there are plenty of reasons why Ripken bats are so popular, he is an easy choice for the list.
Barry Bonds - I know what some readers are saying, "How could you include this guy on the list, we don't like him." In the card and autograph world, his collectibles suffer but not in the bat community. His bats are one of the most valuable from the modern era and for good reason. Whether you like him or not, Barry Bonds is going to go down in history as one of the most devastating offensive machines and best all-around players ever. Statistics do not lie and Barry's numbers are simply phenomenal.
At this point in his career, Bonds has already reached and surpassed 500 home runs, he has won three MVP's, he is a fine outfielder with Gold Gloves galore, he is on his way to 500 stolen bases (he is already the only 400/400 player - 400 homers and 400 steals - and easily on his way to 500/500), was the first National League player to have a 40/40 season (second ever after Jose Canseco did it in the AL in 1988) and has a career average in the .290 range. I don't care how much people dislike him, he's a great, great player.
His bat of choice over the years has been Louisville Slugger but, in recent years, he has also been using quite a bit of SAM bats and Pro Stix bats. The maple wood Sam bats are very popular because of their unique designs and feel, most bats are made from white ash. Bonds is fairly consistent with his use characteristics. He will usually place a coating of pine tar, sometimes light and sometimes heavy, on the upper handle and grip marks near the base of the handle are often noticeable from his batting gloves.
Bonds actually sells his bats directly to the hobby with his own hologram and authentication system. This ensures that collectors are getting the real deal. You might have to pay a premium but, in my opinion, it is worth it. Earlier bats sell for a premium due to the increased population of Bonds bats in recent years; he started the company around 1997. Forget about what you've heard about him, his bat is must for a representative collection.
Mike Piazza - This slugging catcher is a long way from done but, when it is all over, he will go down as the greatest hitting catcher who ever lived. He can hit for average, power and drive in plenty of runs. His uncanny knack for hitting the ball the other way with authority has made him one of the most dangerous hitters in the majors.
Most right-handed sluggers pull the ball quite a bit but Piazza, with his almost freakish strength, can hit the ball out from foul pole to foul pole. Piazza credits his high school field for the skill. You see, the fence in left was basically unreachable but the fence in right was indeed a short porch. Constantly taking aim at that short porch produced a habit that helps make Piazza a standout at the big league level.
Another facet of his game that fans enjoy is his great intensity. Great intensity is basically inherent when you are talking about a catcher but Piazza takes it to another level. He has taken a beating behind the plate but Piazza is resilient and strong. That's what makes his numbers so amazing. I can tell you from experience that, when you are behind the plate, it takes a lot out of you. When the game goes into the later innings and you have to come to bat, your legs feel a little weak and you are drained from the time squatting behind the plate, especially if it's hot.
Piazza's bat of choice has been Mizuno over the years but he has also been known to use some Adirondacks in recent years. He has also used Worth (which no longer exists) and Louisville Slugger bats at times during his career. Autographed gamers are extremely tough because Piazza is just not a frequent signer, these signed gamers do sell for a premium. Many of his well-used bats have a coating of pine tar on the upper handle area but not all Piazza bats exhibit this characteristic. Fine hitting catchers are extremely rare and Piazza might be the best of the group.
Players Who Just Missed the Cut
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. He lost too many years to the Negro Leagues and had 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 - His gamers are so rare that I chose not include him. As you may or may not know, his famous "Black Betsy" sold this summer for $577,610, setting the all-time record for a game-used bat price. There is no question that his bats are very desirable but they are nearly impossible to find and out of price range of most collectors. 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 NL 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.
The Most Undervalued Bats (not on the list above)
- 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.
- Eddie Murray - For the love of all things holy, this guy is one of only three players in history to accumulate 3,000 hits and 500 home runs (Aaron and Mays are the others) but poor Eddie's bats are treated like those of average Hall of Famers at best. The guy was never very outgoing with the media but he wasn't a bad guy, just ask his teammates. With numbers like his, his bats should sell for much more in the future than they do today.
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 takes 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.