PSA Magazine


The Batting Cage: Why We Collect by John Taube and Vince Malta

This month we thought it would be a nice idea to have a few collectors share their thoughts on collecting game-used bats. As you read their comments, you'll see that they all share a common theme – they are moved emotionally, by the bats they own. Bats of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, and one made by a father for a son, awaken feelings of amazement, history, sorrow and nostalgia.

Our first collector is Joe Verno. An avid collector of antiques and duck decoys, Joe first entered the hobby as a collector of high-grade baseball cards before gravitating to game-used bats.

"I have always collected something," said Verno. "Whether it be antique furniture or duck decoys. About ten years ago, I wanted to start collecting sportscards but I was apprehensive about the market and the dealers. After I did some research, I discovered PSA. PSA authentication gave me the level of comfort I needed to buy high-end star cards."

Joe Verno
Joe Verno began collecting
high graded baseball cards
before gravitating to

game-used bats.

After Joe collected cards for about five years, the market peaked and he sold a majority of his higher priced cards. "I still loved the aspect of collecting sports items and a fellow collector I knew offered to sell me a Ruth bat. I was reluctant to buy the bat because bat authentication as we know it today was not available. Plus, there was the practical matter of knowing that if I bought one bat, I knew I would buy more. Cards were easy to store and display, but what do you do with a bat collection?"

While Joe had some initial reservations about collecting bats, once he got his hands around the Ruth bat, he was hooked. "The feeling I got holding a bat that an American icon held and used excited me to no end. When I let friends swing the bat, I could see grown men get teary-eyed. Bats allowed me to get as close as possible to my heroes. Cards, while beautiful and rare, didn't give me the same rush. Also, cards were hard to share with my non-collector friends. Bats, on the other hand, weren't. My friends could swing them and feel the same rush that I felt. Whenever friends came over it seemed like we would always end up in my sports room before they left. They wanted to swing some bats and feel the rush again."

Mantle bat
Joe Verno's favorite bat
is a 1961-63 H&B model K-90,
Mickey Mantle gamer.

As Joe's daughter, Sarah, and son, Wes, got older, they began to appreciate and enjoy their father's game-used bats much more than the cards he owned. Now his kids always ask him which bat is new, what is on his buy list, or what bat he is working on getting from an auction or privately.

"When I started collecting bats, the market was fairly new or immature. The rarity of bats was not, and is still not, fully appreciated. There are thousands of Mantle baseball cards out there, but how many Mantle bats are there? This rarity factor appealed to me from an investment standpoint. In collecting, we all know that the rarer the item, the more investment potential. I have never made a sports collectable purchase solely on the basis of investment, but I always want to make sure there is some upside to the items I buy just in case I need to sell it or upgrade it. After PSA started authenticating and grading bats, this was never a problem. They have facilitated the buying and selling of bats and legitimized the hobby."

Joe's favorite bat in his collection is a 1961-63 game used H&B model K-90, Mickey Mantle game-used bat. "Mantle was my boyhood hero and my Mantle bat has every player characteristic you could hope for in a bat. It has excellent game use, including deep stitch marks. There are remnants of pine tar on the handle. Mantle's number 7 is painted on the knob in vintage paint. Mantle signed the bat with a perfect bold signature. Plus, coming from the 1961 to 1963 period, the bat was used in Mantle's prime. With all of these great attributes, PSA graded the bat GU 10. Bats are the perfect collectible for me. They are just cool. I love them, my kids appreciate them, they give my friends a rush, and while she won't admit it, my wife even likes them."

• • •

Next up is Kevin Coleman, a bat collector who aims for the best possible examples of player bats that are available. Featured bats in Kevin's collection include Ted Williams' 1955 All Star Game bat, Babe Ruth's documented 1929 game-used bat. And his favorite, a Ty Cobb mid-1920's gamer that is a true one-of-a-kind. All three bats are graded PSA GU 10.

Ty Cobb bat
Kevin Coleman's favorite
bat is one that was swung by
the legendary Ty Cobb.

"I became a collector of game-used baseball bats mainly because of the history associated with each bat," said Kevin. "I particularly enjoy collecting the older vintages because those bats were such an instrumental part of our national pastime when our country longed for recreational relief in tough times. Owning a bat that Babe Ruth used in front of a packed house at Yankee Stadium during the middle of the Great Depression is really awesome. Holding a bat that Hank Aaron used in the 1960's, during the Civil Rights era and amidst racial segregation, is moving.

Kevin's favorite bat is one that was swung by Ty Cobb. "Knowing that Ty Cobb personally applied his trademark tape to the handle of the bat and seasoned the bat with his tobacco juice is incredible. When I bring friends to my home and hand them the Ty Cobb bat, I see their face light up knowing that they are holding the same bat used by this tremendous hitter. Each bat has its own unique characteristics that reflect the personality of the player that used the bat. Being able to hold in your own hands and compare a Babe Ruth game-used bat with a homerun bat used by Barry Bonds is incredible. Ruth's bat is a club when compared to Bonds' bat. It's just fun to say: 'here is Roberto Clemente's bat from the early 1960's, or here is Reggie Jackson's bat from his rookie year, or here is Ted Williams' bat from the 1955 All Star game.' The "wow" factor is a blast. However, for me, when you hold these bats in your hands, you are somehow transported back in time and can almost feel the energy that flowed through the bat as it pounded a baseball to delight of the roaring crowd. That's what makes collecting so rewarding to me."

• • •

Marshall Fogel
Marshall Fogel is the
owner of the largest
collection of Hall of
Fame game-used bats
in existence.

Next, we provide the thoughts of one of the hobby's elder statesmen and owner of the largest collection of Hall of Fame game-used bats – Marshall Fogel. Marshall, Vince and I go back to the primordial days of bat collecting and the "Professional Bat Collectors Club" – a group of passionate bat collectors, who gathered in the late 1980s and early 1990s, to discuss what was then known on the dating, authenticating and restoration of game-used bats.

"Of the many Hall of Fame game-used player bats, the Lou Gehrig bat pictured here is my favorite," said Fogel. "The date of when the bat was manufactured and the inscription on the bat written by Gehrig adds an emotional as well as historical appeal. It would appear that Gehrig wrote the inscription after he could not continue to play baseball. The inscription is written in the past tense: To Jerry, may you use this to better advantage then I did -- Lou Gehrig. When I or any of my guests hold this bat, you feel a sense of sadness at the same time you also feel the power of Gehrig's greatness as a Yankee and as man of integrity and humility. I personally believe that Lou Gehrig best represents the truest definition of a professional baseball player on and off the field of play."

Lou Gehrig bat
Of the many Hall of Fame
player game-used player
bats in his collection,
Marshall Fogel says
this Lou Gehrig gamer
is his favorite.

• • •

Finally, we'll hear from Paul Fortin, a die-hard Red Sox fan from Massachusetts, who shares his memory of a special "one off" gamer, that is truly priceless. I've known Paul for several years and can attest to his passion for the "Saux" and heavy use on his prized game-used bats.

"From its beginning, baseball has been a bat and ball game," said Fortin. "What else do you need? When I was young, we played on every conceivable surface, varying numbers of players, with and without uniforms – the only constant was a bat and ball."

Paul's preference for collecting bats is that there is so much history collected on a bats surface – who made it, for whom, when, model number, length, weight, and especially game-use. "Ball scuff and seam marks, cleat indentations, pine tar, tape, handle scoring, and patina – the blending of all of these over time. I like to think of bats as having what I call 'wall power'. Put them on a wall and people go "wow" when they walk in."

Paul Fortin
Paul Fortin's sentimental
favorite is a 34-inch bat made
from a hickory branch by a
father for his two sons.

As a lifelong Red Sox fan Paul said it was hard to have a truly favorite bat. "How can I possible choose a favorite – maybe a Yaz or a Tony C, a Big Papi, a Doctor Strange Glove Dick Stuart, or a short El Tiante 36-inch M159. Each one of them has so much history."

While a favorite is hard to choose, Paul said that he does, in fact, have one bat that is more special to him than any other. " I do have one bat that is very special, that was never used in the Majors, but is at the heart of why bats are so special. This bat came from a farm in Ontario, Canada. It is made of hickory, exactly 34-inches long and hand carved from a knot-filled, wavy branch. The handle is perfectly round and feels like a pro gamer when you hold it in your hands. It has tons of ball marks. When I look at it or hold it, I can hear two brothers on a remote farm: "Dad, can you make us a bat?" Two boys, a bat and a ball. What a sweet memory."

From documented bats of Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb and Mantle to the gnarled branch of an old hickory tree, these pieces of wood are prized keepsakes that act as doorways to fond memories and places in time where our heroes continue to roam their fields of our dreams.

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