For years, collectors and authenticators have referred to an article written by Babe Ruth for Louisville Slugger that discusses his use of their bats and his thoughts on what constitutes a good gamer. In the article, Ruth talks about the pros and cons of the length and weight of the bats he used during his career. Surprisingly, he mentions he used bats of shorter length than most collectors associate with Ruth. This comment has fueled great debate on the lengths of bats that Ruth could have used. As a result, over the past few years, we have seen bats from 33 to 36-inches being sold as "Babe Ruth Game-Used Bats".
This month, we will examine the content of Ruth's article and compare the information provided by Ruth (and the writers at Louisville Slugger) to his factory ordering records. Our goal is to identify what we should consider to be a genuine Ruth gamer as opposed to a professional model bat produced for other purposes, such as promotional use by Ruth, or the Yankees team use, such as spring training or minor leagues, or a bat that Ruth was just trying out.
Here is the copy from Ruth's article that was written and published after his professional career. The copy itself has a Ruth revision, in his hand, and is signed: "OK Babe Ruth".
"After thinking back to my playing days, it seems that when it came to batting, about the only thing I gave particular attention to, was the bat itself. Blessed with strength, two good eyes, and, I guess, a pretty fair share of natural ability for baseball, the bat was the one other thing I needed, and it had to feel right.
|A Babe Ruth games-used
1920/21, 36-inch, 44-ounce bat
Since I gave bats quite a bit of thought, you might profit from an account of my experiences and the opinion they left with me.
In my first three years as a fielder, following five or six years of pitching, I used bats 36 inches long and anywhere from 40 to 54 ounces in weight. I then began experimenting with the length, and found out what I should have known all along, that I could do better with a shorter bat. So I switched to 35 inches and sometimes slightly less in the twelve or thirteen years that followed.
Going to the shorter bat was one of my best moves, and I have wondered many times since why any player would bother with swinging a stick an inch or two longer than was absolutely necessary.
My idea on weight is that you should use a bat as heavy as you can handle. If you can swing a bat weighing, say, 38 ounces as fast as one weighing 35 ounces, you're bound to get a longer hit. What's more, you get real solid timber in the heavier bats, and that, too, adds to driving power.
I learned recently that according to the records of Hillerich & Bradsby, who made every bat I ever used, more Louisville Sluggers were made up for my personal use than for any other single player. That no doubt is true. However, compared with most other players I really broke very few, all because mine were heavier and could stand a whole lot more punishment. I gave away dozens of bats each season to friends as souvenirs.
As I have said, bats were always important to me, and it is no wonder that I like to recommend Louisville Sluggers every chance I get. Every hit and every hitting record to my credit speaks for the oval Slugger trademark.
I hope someday to get around to writing for you other things I learned about batting, both from the mound and at the plate."
I'm sure you'll agree the article offers an interesting insight into Ruth's bats from the "Sultan of Swat" himself. Of course, we are aware, that the staff at Louisville Slugger, Inc., wrote the article, based on information extracted from Ruth's ordering records. However, we do believe the article was read and approved by Ruth. Let's break down the points Ruth discusses, relating them to the information we have at our disposal.
|A 1928/30 Ruth gamer in hickory
with dark Hornsby finish coming
in at 35.25-inches and 40-ounces
In the third paragraph, Ruth states that during his first three years as an outfielder, he used bats that were 36-inches in length weighing between 40 and 54-ounces. If we take the article literally, Ruth's first years "as a fielder" would be 1918 to 1920. Referencing his career records, we see that in 1918, the Babe played 59 games in the outfield and 13 games at first base as well appearing in 20 games as a pitcher. In 1919, Ruth played 111 games in the outfield, five games at first base and pitched 17 games. In both years, Ruth led the Major Leagues in home runs with 11 and 29 respectively. After the 1919 season, the Red Sox sold Ruth to the Yankees and he became the Yanks every day right fielder for the 1920 season. The rest is history, as Ruth finished the 1920 season with what was then an unheard of 54 home runs and, for the next 15 seasons, established himself as the most prolific home run hitter in baseball history.
A review of Ruth's Professional Bat Ordering Record (PBOR) for the 1920 season, (prior records are not available) document bats weighing between 40 and 47-ounces as being ordered by Ruth. Lengths are not recorded, but we can see that his early bats measure 35.75 or 36-inches. We have authenticated Ruth's first model, the vault marked R2, which is 36-inches in length. We have also authenticated a rookie era Ruth, block-lettered bat, dating to 1916-1918. It matches the R2 barrel, handle and knob specs perfectly and is 36-inches in length. With this information in mind, we are confident that Ruth's pre 1920 bats are also 35.75 to 36-inches in length. As a point of accuracy, bats measuring 35.75-inches appear in the PBOR's as 36-inch bats. It's apparent, when referring to his early bats, that Ruth's statement as to length and weight is accurate.
We now come to a gray area in the article. The Babe goes on the say: "I then began experimenting with the length, and found out what I should have known all along that I could do better with a shorter bat. So I switched to 35 inches and sometimes slightly less in the twelve or 13 years that followed". He then says he continued to "use heavy bats", never going to anything under 40-ounces till the last two years of his career when he favored bats 37 to 38-ounces. (He did in fact use lighter bats, 35 to 39-ounces, from 1929 till the end of his career.)
"Shorter and slightly less", are the words that have opened Pandora's box when it comes to Ruth bats. We know 35-inch bats are as good as gold, but what did Ruth mean by "slightly less". Was it a ¼-inch, ½-inch, 1-inch or more? Let's take a look at the records, beginning with the 1921 season, and see what lengths shorter than 35-inches can be assumed, and more importantly, confirmed.
Ruth's PBOR for the 1921 season consists of one order on March 14. As with all the pre-1930 PBOR's, the number of bats shipped and length are not noted. However, the order is referenced by, "His Model". "His Model" is the R2 model that is 36-inches in length. Additionally, all orders through the 1923 season, with the exception of two, have references to "His Model". One of the two orders that does not reference "His Model" is a side written bat dated 3-27-23. We have authenticated this bat and know it to be 36-inches in length. All orders from 1921 through 1923, list weights that range from 40 to 51-ounces. Based on Ruth's PBOR's, and the bats we have authenticated from the beginning of the 1921 season through the 1923 season, we believe it's safe to say that, according to the records, Ruth did not experiment with shorter, lighter bats until after the 1923 season.
|A 1932, Ruth, game-used bat in
white hickory that measures
34.75-inches and weighs 37-ounces
The first reference, to a bat shorter than 36-inches appears on Ruth's PBOR on June 5, 1925, where we see an order with the notation: "His #1 Small Model 43oz." There are also two orders noting a model change, on March 5, 192 and April 11, 1925. These models are recorded as "His #2 6-21-24 and "His #2 10-14-24". (We also need to mention that, to date, the 1924 records have not been found. Therefore, we do not have a record of bats ordered by Ruth in 1924. However, the model "His #2 10-14-24" does appear on the back of Ruth's PBOR. The model's length is 36-inches. The only difference in the 10-14-24 model and the 6-21-24 model is the wood. The October order calls for Hickory. Therefore, we consider the June order to also be 36-inches in length). With the absence of length and the inclusion of the weight, 43-ounces is definitely not a lighter bat, it's safe to assume the June 5, 1925 order is the first order of bats shipped to Ruth less than 36-inches in length. It is our opinion that the length of the bats in the June 1925 order is 35-inches. This corresponds to Ruth's words where he says he switched to 35-inch bats, but continued to use heavy bats, weighing at least 40-ounces.
The 1926 season saw Ruth ordering lighter bats, weighing 36 to 40-ounces. Lengths of bats ordered during 1926 are 35 to 36-inches. According to Ruth's PBOR, his lightest order of bats in the 1920's takes place on May 1, 1926. The order calls for "His large #2 model 6-21-24, 36-38-ounces". Surprisingly, the lightest bat turns out to be 36-inches in length.
For the next five seasons, 1927 thru 1931, all bats on record ordered by Ruth, are 35 to 36-inches in length, weighing between 38 to 42-ounces. The lighter bats are ordered in 1929 thru 1931. Then, early in the 1932 season, for the first time, we have bats that are recorded as being less than 35-inches in length, being shipped to Ruth.
In addition to the shorter length, Ruth departs from his standard handle and tries a few bats with a special Hack Wilson handle. For those readers unfamiliar with the Hack Wilson handle, it's best described as a broomstick (see photo). Similar models are Rod Carew's F147 and Joe Carter's B343. This model was recorded as his April 26, 1932, having a length of 34.5-inches. We have also seen a 35.25-inch Hack Wilson model, which appears on Ruth's record as "His 4-18-32". Twelve bats, two of which were white hickory, with the special Hack Wilson handle were shipped to Ruth. The other model, that is recorded as being less than 35-inches in length, is "His 5-4-32", which is also noted as 34.5-inches. Four of these bats, two of which are white hickory, were shipped to Ruth.
From Ruth's order on May 25, 1932 till the final order of his active Major League career, May 9, 1935, all bats shipped to Ruth, according to models appearing on his PBOR, measure 35-inches in length.
To summarize, according to Ruth's available factory records, the only bats shorter than 35-inches were used by Ruth during the 1932 season. All of these bats will have the "Bone Rubbed" stamped on the barrel with "Powerized". With this information in mind, what can we say about the Ruth bats, from the early and mid 1920's, that are less than then 35-inches?
Over the last few years, we have seen at public auction, and been asked to authenticate several Ruth bats from the mid-1920s that are less than 35-inches in length. The bats are generally 34 to 34.5-inches in length and weigh 35 to 39-ounces. Are they Ruth gamers, pro stock bats made for the Minor Leagues, or some of the dozens of bats Ruth states he gave away each season? According to the records, Ruth's shorter bats (less than 35-inches) first appear in 1932. Are the records correct? This is the first question many will ask based on a number of "holes" that are known to exist in the PBOR's of other players. A perfect example is a 38-inch, 40-ounce Joe DiMaggio rookie era bat that was auctioned a little over a year ago. The bat possessed great player characteristics but was nowhere to be found on DiMaggio's record. As luck would have it, while researching the bat for authentication, we found, in a copy of the "The DiMaggio Chronicles", a reprint of a newspaper article where DiMaggio is being interviewed and asked why he is using a 38-inch, 40-ounce bat. Bingo! We were able to authenticate the bat as being a genuine DiMaggio gamer. Another example is a Johnny Bench bat form 1976. This perfect A99 model matched the lengths and weights of bats being ordered by Bench in 1976. The bat has Bench's familiar #5 on the knob and displayed excellent player characteristics from his trademark pine tar application to red bat rack paint form the Reds bat rack. Keep in mind that Bench's bats measured an odd 35.5-inches in length. We cannot recall a team ordered, or pro stock bat with a ½-inch measurement.
|A 1932 Ruth gamer with
a Hack Wilson handle
These are two good examples of holes in the record, but can we apply them to Ruth?
What the holes do show is that bats that the players experiment with are not always logged in the records. Ruth says he began to "experiment" with shorter and lighter bats. It is quite possible that these bats were never recorded. Today, many bats are delivered to players that are recorded under the name of the pro player's representative. These bats may be models the company is promoting, such as a maple bat to replace an ash bat, or a model the player wants to try. They appear on the player's record, but do not appear as being shipped to the team. The vintage records, 1920 to 1980, contain no reference to these types of orders. If Ruth was experimenting with shorter bats, a 34-inch bat is not out of the question.
Speaking of holes, consider this: Ruth wrote that he gave away "dozens of bats each season". If we look at the Babe's records from 1930 to the end of his career, (pre 1930 records do not include the number of bats per order) the average number of bats he ordered per year is 34.3. Ruth said he didn't crack many bats because his heavier bats could take more punishment. Our opinion is that Ruth ordered fewer bats per year in the 1920's. For argument sake, let's keep the average number of bats the same at 34.3 per year. During the 1920s, was The Bambino giving away dozens of bats per season as he claims? If you doubt he was as generous with his bats as he says, where is the order that would indicate a large number of bats being delivered to Ruth or the Yankees for promotional purposes? If we ever find it, we'll let you know!
Even if we take into account the possibility of holes in the record, and the reference on June 5, 1925 to an order for "His #1 small model 43 oz." the majority of Ruth's small barrel R2 models, 34 to 35-inches, weighing 35 to 37-ounces, from the 1920s, can be considered professional model bats, but in our opinion, are not worthy of a high grade because the use of these bats by Ruth, though possible, is unlikely. As with any game-used bat, our final grade is rendered by the bats appearance in factory records, provenance, condition, and identifiable player characteristics. Outstanding characteristics, if present, will outweigh the shortcomings of bats that are not considered to be of "Ruthian" proportions.