The PSA/DNA grading standards for professional model bats are best described in the following manner:
On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being best, what is the degree of likelihood that the player in question actually used the professional model bat. After determining that the particular bat is indeed authentic, our experts then consider a host of factors in evaluating the quality of a professional model bat. The core of the grading criteria is based on the strength or weakness of player use characteristics and/or the documentation that accompanies the bat . In the following section, many of the pertinent issues are addressed in detail to help collectors and dealers understand how the grading standards are applied.
This might be the most misunderstood issue for the novice professional model bat collector, especially if that collector is coming from the trading card world. Collectors need to understand that professional model bats, unlike trading cards, do not receive grades like "Mint" or "Near Mint" based on sheer condition. Professional model bats need to show some sign of wear in order for the expert to render an opinion. It is also part of the appeal of collecting professional model bats.
For example, a George Brett bat that exhibits his classic pine tar pattern with clear ball marks would be more attractive to most collectors than one that exhibits very light use and no signs of that desirable "Brett" characteristic. In other words, if no wear is present (meaning no game-use), it would be very difficult for an expert to conclude that the bat shows any serious probability or likelihood of use by a particular player. While a bat does not need to exhibit heavy use in order to achieve a high-grade, some showing of use is imperative.
Keep in mind that the condition of the bat may have an affect on the value if the condition enhances or detracts from the overall eye appeal, but the issue has to be taken in context. These are professional model bats, not trading cards.
When it comes to professional model bats, most notably bats that may or may not achieve high-grade status, this is the most crucial element in the process. In order for any bat to achieve a grade at/or above a PSA/DNA GU 8, the bat must show some signs of game-use that are attributable to or known for that particular player in the absence of acceptable documentation. This is likened to a hitter's "fingerprint" in the world of bat authentication.
For example, a Duke Snider bat that exhibits his unique criss-cross taping pattern on the handle, a late-in-career Willie Mays bat that exhibits his classic caked pine tar or a Stan Musial bat that exhibits vintage grooving on the handle are examples of characteristics so unique to those players that the presence of those characteristics dramatically improves the likelihood that these players used these exact bats – it places the bats, in essence, into their hands.
There are many players who did not or do not apply what experts would consider to be unique use characteristics. In those cases, while those bats may achieve a PSA/DNA grade level of PSA/DNA GU 8 – without provenance – they may not be able to score higher.
In addition, a bat possessing different player characteristics than those of the player whose name appears on the barrel, will receive a grade that is no greater than a PSA/DNA GU 4 unless the player who used the bat can be identified by the experts. If the player who used the bat can be identified, the bat will be graded as a professional model bat of the identified player. The bat cannot achieve a grade higher than a PSA/DNA GU 6 unless substantial documentation or player evidence exists.
The presence of a player's uniform number on the knob of a bat, or on the barrel end, may or may not affect the overall grade. In some cases, players were very consistent about placing their numbers on the knobs or barrel ends of their bats but many players were not. The experts will consider particular player patterns when evaluating this issue. Keep in mind that the act of placing uniform numbers on bats started around the early 1950's and was not a prevalent practice until the 1960's. Even then, many players were not always consistent, including the likes of Mickey Mantle.
In addition, if an expert concludes that a number was added after the fact or is simply not consistent with known knob markings, its existence will simply not be factored into overall grade. The bat will be evaluated as if the markings were not there at all.
For bats that exhibit more than one player number on the knob, the bat will be graded as a bat used by the player whose characteristics are dominant. For example, a Yogi Berra professional model bat that has his own #8 as well as Mickey Mantle's #7 on the knob will be graded as a Mickey Mantle bat if the use characteristics present link the bat to Mantle. While certainly a rare circumstance, a bat of this nature may be precluded from reaching higher grades (no greater than a PSA/DNA GU 6) since the bat was not manufactured for Mantle by the factory.
The presence of an autograph on a bat does not have any bearing on the grade of the bat unless that autograph, coupled with an inscription, enhances its authenticity. For example, a bat that is merely signed "Harmon Killebrew" would not affect, in any way, the grade of the bat itself because its presence does not validate game-use. On the other hand, if the bat was signed and inscribed " Harmon Killebrew, My 1964 Gamer ," that inscription may enhance the grade of the bat if the bat also meets other pertinent criteria.
The presence of cracks or lack thereof is simply an aesthetic issue and the existence of cracks will usually have no bearing on authenticity or grade. This is an issue of personal, collector taste and nothing more. Some collectors collect uncracked bats, others collect cracked examples and most collect a combination of both. This issue will have no bearing on the grade unless the crack is severe enough to hinder the expert's ability to render an opinion in regards to authenticity or it detracts from the overall eye appeal in a serious manner.
Since the grade of a professional model bat is not based on condition, like trading cards, repairs and restorations made to professional model bats will not detract from the overall grade unless the repair or restoration is extreme or it affects the authenticity of the bat in some fashion. For example, mere aesthetic repairs made to chipped knobs, cracks, deadwood, color, removal of writing (excluding factory side writing), etc will not affect the grade of the bat or its authenticity. On the other hand and as an example, if half of the barrel was professionally restored, the experts may factor the presence of such a dramatic repair into the overall grade.
Additionally, if the center brand, barrel brand or model number are restored or altered, causing the expert to question the authenticity of the bat, the grade will be negatively affected unless the bat is accompanied with before and after photo documentation of the repair or restoration.
To illustrate the general rule, since the grade of a bat is not based on condition, a repair to a chipped knob does not make a particular bat more likely or less likely to be authentic or game-used by the player in question. On the other hand, if someone were to attempt an alteration that would affect the authenticity or grade of a bat – like falsifying use characteristics, altering knob or centerbrand stamping or adding a player number to a knob – that would clearly constitute malicious alteration.
The age or era of a professional model bat will have no bearing on the PSA grade but it may have a bearing on the market value, especially if earlier examples are considered scarce. For example, you may have a 1970's Willie Mays professional model bat that grades a PSA/DNA GU 10 and a 1950's example that grades a PSA/DNA GU 7. Keep in mind that, despite the disparity in grade, it is possible for the 1950's Mays example to have a greater market value than the 1970's Mays bat. This is the same principal applied to and found in the grading and market valuation of trading cards. For example, a 1972 Topps Willie Mays card can achieve a grade of PSA Gem Mint 10 while a 1953 Topps Mays may only achieve a grade of PSA NM 7 yet still be worth more than the 1972 example.
Rarity, no matter what era the bat is from, will have no bearing on the grade. Of course, rarity may have a significant affect on the market value of a professional model bat. Some collectors may prefer scarce models like Bicentennials or rookie-era examples while other collectors prefer bats that were commonly used by the player or uniquely branded bats. This is simply a matter of personal preference, not authenticity or quality.
In addition, keep in mind that certain player bats are extraordinarily rare. For example, the best Walter Johnson professional model bat might only grade a PSA/DNA GU 6 yet, at the same time, that bat might be the finest example known. The fact that a certain player bat is rare, while important from a market value perspective and certainly interesting, will have no bearing on the grade whatsoever.
All Star Game, World Series and special event bats, consistent with available factory records, will be graded based on documentation and the amount of use with respect to the number of at bats the player had during the game or series. For example, Stan Musial's 1955 All Star Game home run bat may have only a handful of ball marks, yet that fact will not detract from the overall grade since light use is consistent with the number of plate appearances or expected use for that event. There are many instances where a player continues to use the bat beyond the event in question, and, so long as the player characteristics are consistent, the bat may still achieve PSA/DNA's highest grades.
This is an issue that the experts scrutinize with extreme care. Provenance can come in different forms and with varying degrees of impact. In order for provenance to have an impact in the authentication/grading process, the provenance must come from a verifiable source. For example, a letter that comes from a source like a player, team executive, family member could have great impact while bats that originate from a particular collection or bats that come with letters from a spectator may not be given much, if any , weight. This is an area that clearly allows for some subjectivity but the rules with be applied fairly and consistently.
While provenance can help a professional model bat achieve top grades, including the highest grade of PSA/DNA GU 10, the key factor to grading any professional model bat is the strength or weakness of identifiable player characteristics. In other words, a bat must warrant the assigned PSA/DNA GU grade based on its own merit.
A professional model bat that possesses extraordinary player characteristics may achieve a higher PSA/DNA GU grade than a bat that is accompanied by provenance, if the player usage characteristics are superior.
For example, a Duke Snider professional model bat that exhibits Snider's unique criss-cross taping pattern on the handle coupled with other strong Snider usage attributes may achieve a high-grade, including the highest grade of PSA/DNA GU 10, without additional provenance. Of course, in order to achieve the PSA/DNA GU 10 grade, the player usage characteristics must be extraordinary. This is the exception to the general rule; however, the experts do reserve the right to assign the grade of PSA/DNA GU 10 in the absence of provenance under these circumstances.
That being said, a Snider bat that is accompanied by provenance may achieve a lower PSA/DNA GU grade if the player usage characteristics, on their own merit, do not warrant top grades. For example, a Snider bat may only grade a PSA/DNA GU 7 despite the fact that the bat is accompanied by a letter from a former teammate. The key to remember is that while additional provenance may affect the overall grade, all professional model bats must be evaluated and graded on their own merit first and foremost.
The reality of provenance is that its affect depends on its strength. In addition, provenance may provide insight or a link to an original source but that in and of itself may not shed light on whether or not the player in question actually used the bat. This is a crucial point to understand when it comes to bat grading. Provenance can also be fabricated, manipulated or misinterpreted. It is, of course, the expert's duty to evaluate the credibility of the provenance or lack thereof when evaluating a bat. When confirmed, provenance can enhance the grade and value of a bat substantially so its importance cannot be underestimated. It is just important to look at provenance in context.
Furthermore, and in contrast to provenance, it is very difficult to fabricate legitimate player usage characteristics, especially on vintage bats. This is part of the reason why player usage characteristics play such a vital role in the grading of a bat. They represent the closest thing to a player fingerprint that a true expert can identify and they may, in certain cases, carry more weight than provenance.
Prior to 1981 and computerized Professional Bat Ordering Records (PBOR), all orders were not recorded on the PBOR's. Orders relating to samples (models, finishes, etc) and promotional models were not entered on the player PBOR. If these orders were recorded, to date they have not been found or per Louisville Slugger Inc. it's possible they were not recorded.
Beginning in 1981 these orders were entered on the player PBOR with the notations 'Baseball Miscellaneous', 'Baseball Promotion' and in some cases the customer name is the pro player representative or an outside retail client. These special entries track all bats being sent to the player or an outside vendor. Orders recorded with the model number, length and weight and having the customer name as Baseball Miscellaneous or the name of the pro player representative are bats being shipped to the player as game bats. This information has been confirmed by Louisville Slugger Inc.
Non-recorded bats will qualify for PSA/DNA authentication and grading, not to exceed GU 9 (automatic 1 point deduction for non-recorded order), provided they are identified as a non-pro stock model. (Pro stock bats were stock models bearing the player name that could be ordered by the team or other baseball entities).
While the grading standards applied to professional model bats are far different than those applied to trading cards and autographs, the meaning of the numbers is fairly similar. For example, if a collector had a 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth #53 or 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle #311 card that achieved the grade of PSA NM-MT 8, those cards would certainly be considered high-grade in the trading cards world. The same "grade" interpretation or meaning should apply to collections of professional model bats. If someone could assemble a collection of PSA/DNA GU 8 bats, that would be quite an accomplishment – much like assembling a complete set of 1952 Topps cards – all graded PSA NM-MT 8.
The grading scale will also include half grades. For example, a Mickey Mantle bat that might grade a PSA GU 8 may receive a half point bonus (resulting in a PSA/DNA GU 8.5) for possessing an excellent "Mantle" use characteristic.