Hosted by Red Sox Hall of Famer Rico Petrocelli and collectibles author Tom Zappala, and produced by XM Sirius Sports radio personality Lou Blasi.
This guide should be used for professional model/game-used bats. The term "game-used" has been defined in many different ways over the years by different hobbyists. As it relates to this guide, the definition used here is: A professional model bat that shows evidence of game use by a roster player, during their major league career . The pricing in this guide refers to bats of this nature and this nature only.
Before you read the prices in this guide, it is very important that you first familiarize yourself with all of the valuation factors listed below because each of these factors play a significant role in determining the ultimate value of a bat. Please refer to the professional model bat guide below entitled "A Note about Professional Model/Game-Used Bat Pricing" for further explanation about the valuation and appeal of different bats.
There are many factors that affect the value of professional model bats. Rarity, player characteristics, eye appeal, age, provenance and historical importance are just some of the key factors that can help determine the value of a particular bat. In many cases, it eventually comes down to personal taste. For instance, one collector might prefer the look of a Mizuno model bat to the look of a Cooper model bat. It becomes very subjective. There are, however, some basic elements that need to be addressed. Below is a breakdown of some important aspects to professional model bat collecting.
Autographs - Many professional model bat collectors like to acquire autographs on their prized gamers. The effect an autograph can have on the valuation of a bat can really vary depending on the player. Some players rarely sign game-used equipment while others sign routinely. For instance, the cost of having a Ted Williams gamer signed might have cost a collector around $5,000 when he was actively signing, while the cost to have Hank Aaron sign a bat may have been $150 during the same period. Placement, content and strength of the autograph can also be factors.
Cracked versus Uncracked - There is no rule stating that an uncracked bat is more valuable than a cracked bat or vice versa, it simply is a matter of taste. Some collectors prefer cracked bats because they believe it adds authenticity to the bat while others like uncracked bats for aesthetic reasons. As long as the crack does not affect the overall eye-appeal of the bat, it should not detract from the value. Severe cracks that affect the labeling or bats that exhibit missing pieces can lower the value of the lumber significantly if the eye appeal if dramatically affected.
Deadwood - This term refers to the flaking or raising of the wood grain due to repeated contact of a ball on the hitting surface. Most collectors feel the same about deadwood as they do cracks. As long as the deadwood is not too severe and thus damaging the visual appeal of the bat, it is not seen as a detractor.
Missing Piece or Pieces - A missing piece or pieces to a bat may detract from the visual appeal significantly depending on the size of the piece in question. As a result, these bats are valued less than bats that are fully intact. On the other hand, bats with missing pieces that do not detract from the overall eye appeal will not hinder the value in a major way. For instance, if the missing piece is extremely small or on the back of the barrel where it is not highly noticeable.
Repairs - Many cracked bats or bats with missing pieces are, at some point, repaired in one of two ways. There is professional repair and non-professional repair. When a crack is repaired professionally, most collectors cannot detect it. Unlike the sportscard market, professional repair is not frowned upon in the bat market because the issue of condition is not viewed in the same light. The crux of a professional model bat’s value is in the authenticity and/or the likelihood of use by the player. In fact, professional bat repair can really improve the eye appeal of a gamer. Non-professional repair such as batboy repair or collector repair may also be a factor. Batboys, in days past, were routinely instructed to repair player bats in the dugout by using nails. Many collectors feel that the presence of batboy repairs adds a vintage feel to the piece while others may not like the look. Collector repairs are, for the most part, accepted as long as the repair was not done in a reckless manner.
Usage - The topic of bat usage inevitably comes down to personal taste. Collectors who prefer bats with heavy game use value the fact that the bat was in the player's hands for a long period of time. These collectors look for strong evidence of ball, seam, bat rack, and cleat marks along with unique player characteristics such as shaved or taped handles and grooving. Other collectors, who prefer light use, enjoy the eye-appeal that a virtually untouched bat offers. One important thing to keep in mind is that vintage bats do not show use as clearly as the modern bats do. This is due to the difference in wood type and quality. For example, the old hickory bats simply do not reveal wear like the modern white ash does. Again, it really comes down to personal taste but a clear showing of some use is essential. Remember that these are not baseball cards, they are supposed to have wear from game use. More use or evidence of specific player characteristics can help place the bat, in essence, into the player's hands.
Game-issued bats - Some professional model bats never make it into the game. These bats are simply called game-issued bats. They were made for game use but were left in the locker room or the bat bag. These bats do have value and sometimes significant value if the bat is of a special nature, but they are generally considered less desirable than bats that show signs of game use. For most bats, much of the value turns on the fact that the bat exhibits these qualities.
Postseason and All-Star bats - Due to extreme limited production, bats that were made for postseason or All-Star play command a significant premium over regular issue bats. These bats will exhibit distinctive labeling such as the city the All-Star Game was played in or the year and series the bat was made for. Every bat manufacturer has a different way of labeling these special bats so it is imperative that you familiarize yourself with each company's label design.
Special bats - Some players will mark bats with special notations such as home run bats or significant hit bats. This can be true for vintage as well as modern player bats. These bats usually sell for a significant premium depending on the importance of the notation or rarity of such an occurrence.
Manufacturers - In the older days of the game, there were very few bat manufacturers. H&B (now Louisville Slugger) and Adirondack were among the handful. Today, there are several bat companies and each company has its own distinct style. Some companies have come and gone, such as Spalding or Worth, while others have recently started. The importance of bat brand is two-fold.
First, some players are commonly associated with particular bat companies like Mark McGwire and some are not. McGwire has used Rawlings model bats for the great majority of his at-bats. As a result, many collectors prefer Rawlings gamers over any other brand McGwire may have tried during his career. A great way to check what bat players are using is by looking at baseball cards, photos and game footage. Usually, by doing this, you can get a good idea of what bats the player uses the most. Other collectors like the rarity of a bat not commonly associated with a player but beware, just because a bat was made for a player does not mean the player used it.
Second, and just as important, is the difference in visual appeal between the brands. Some collectors prefer the classic look of a Louisville Slugger while others are drawn to the unique designs attributed to some modern gamers or vintage beauties like the white lettered, caramel colored Adirondacks of the 1950s and 60s. In addition, some bats include the team name on the barrel while others do not. Some collectors prefer bats that include the team name in the labeling for display purposes. Keep in mind that most vintage bats never included the team name as part of the labeling. The bottom line is visual appeal. Each brand offers a different look but some bats are clearly better looking than others.
Rarity - Like most collectibles, bats are judged by rarity. For example, a 1950s Mickey Mantle game-used bat is far tougher to find than a Mantle bat from the 1960s. The same can be said for other players such as Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. Rarity can have a major impact on pricing. For example, Monte Irvin bats are virtually impossible to find, therefore, the rarity is reflected in the price. Even though Frank Robinson was a superior player to Irvin, his bats are more common so the difference in price for an average example can be apparent.
In addition, modern bats are manufactured at a much higher rate than they were in the past. For example, Ken Griffey, Jr. has had more bats made in two years than Mantle received in his entire career. On the other hand, some modern players are very protective of their equipment. Finding a true gamer from these players can be very tough because their bats may rarely escape from the clubhouse. A significant premium is usually applied to those bats that exhibit unique qualities or true rarity.
Side Written or Vault Marked Bats - Some vintage bats, primarily during the pre-war era, may exhibit what is referred to as side writing or vault marks. When players would crack their bats and needed to order more of the same model, they would return the bat to the factory. After arrival, bats were labeled with grease pencil to confirm the order. The player's name, city, and date were usually placed on the barrel in fairly large letters. The side writing pinpoints the time when the bat was returned and what player was returning the bats. In some rare instances, players would return another player's bat in hopes of getting the same model made for them. Vault marks can also be identified on some vintage bats. These marks were made as a result of the handling process at the factory and also indicate its return by a player. Bats that exhibit either of these distinctive marks are valued significantly higher than bats without the marks.
Provenance - Professional player bats, due to the distinct labeling and unique usage characteristics, can be clearly identified by bat experts, but provenance may add a significant premium to a particular bat. Provenance is probably best described as evidence of origin; however, the strength of evidence is what matters. For instance, strong provenance might be shown by the existence of a letter from a former teammate, batboy, umpire, family member or baseball organization. These are just some examples. The fact that a bat once resided in a hobbyist’s collection should not, in itself, play a significant part in the valuation of the piece. The bat must stand on its own merit regardless of who owned it, but if the collection the bat came from can help show a chain of custody or an important relationship that can help explain the acquisition of the bat, it may be a factor.
Teams - Many collectors focus on particular teams or prefer a bat that links a player to a certain team. For example, a Reggie Jackson game-used bat that was used during his stint with the Yankees would sell for a slight premium over a bat used during his time with the Angels. Whether a player accomplished more from an individual standpoint or from a team standpoint, the bat price will be affected. Another example would be Mark McGwire. His Cardinals bats sell for more than his Athletics bats do, even though he won a World Series with Oakland, because of the fact that he emerged as a star as a member of the St. Louis team. In Oakland, he was slightly overshadowed by other star players.
The affect a team might have on values can be dramatic in some instances. Game-used bats from legendary or World Championship teams can be highly desirable even if the bats are from common players. The team factor can turn a common player bat into a highly valuable one depending on the year. For example, any bat from the 1927 New York Yankees is highly desirable due to the historical importance of that squad. Significant premiums for star or common player bats should be added when applicable.
Pitcher Bats - Professional model bats shipped to pitchers can be highly desirable and very rare in many cases. Key Hall of Fame pitcher bats such as Sandy Koufax and Walter Johnson examples are amongst the most valuable in the market. Most pitchers have very few bats made for them and only occasionally make plate appearances. These factors really limit the available number of professional model pitcher bats, especially from the vintage era. Due to the extreme rarity of many of these pitcher bats, much like the special bats listed above, the price guide does not include price listings for these examples.
Authentication/Grading - Like for most important pieces of memorabilia, authentication is key. It is important, before you purchase a professional model bat, that you consult a bat expert that is nationally recognized by advanced sports memorabilia hobbyists. I would recommend that collectors ask around the hobby, at its highest levels, to find the bat expert that is best qualified to authenticate your bat. The reality is that there are very few individuals qualified to render an expert opinion regarding the authenticity of professional model bats, but the experts who are qualified, provide a highly valuable service for collectors. Having your bat properly authenticated and/or graded will help give the owner a better understanding of what they have and enhance the liquidity of the bat when it comes time to sell.
As stated above, there are many factors that help determine the value of a game-use bat. As a result, pricing can be difficult at times. SMR does its absolute best to keep up to date on the game-used bat market and we will add players as demand dictates. Remember that this price list should be used as a guide because each bat is unique in its own way. We hope this information proves to be useful in determining values on professional game-used bats. Finally, and most importantly, this price guide refers to the approximate values of standard game-used bats only and should not be used for any of the rarities or special bats mentioned in the aforementioned guide. Premiums should apply when applicable.