Collecting professional model bats can be a lot of fun, but those collectors who are new to this segment of the hobby often have questions about the subject. To assist collectors, we have selected five of the most frequently-asked questions and have provided answers to each of them. Some of the questions are certainly more important than others but we have done our best to help educate collectors by addressing each of these questions below.
Let's get started.
"How Do You Know if a Bat is Real?"
The first step in the authentication process is determining whether or not the bat in question is a professional model bat, ordered by the player during their career. Here, the expert looks at things such as ordering/shipping records, the labeling of the bat, the length and weight of the bat in addition to the quality of the wood. The good news is that most bats can either be positively identified as a pro model bat or eliminated as such as a result of the analysis above. Most store model, replica or counterfeit bats can be spotted quickly by bat experts.
This is where the expert establishes whether or not they believe the bat is authentic.
"Even if a Bat is Real, How Do We Know if the Player Used it?"
Once the expert has determined the bat to be an authentic professional model bat, the next step is to evaluate the characteristics of the bat. There are general use characteristics and specific player characteristics. General use characteristics are best described as things such as bat rack or dugout marks and ball or stitch marks. Player characteristics are those attributes that will help place the bat in the player's hands; they are the closest thing to a fingerprint in the bat world.
Player characteristics can be everything from special handle preparation to the way the knob or barrel end is marked. Handle preparation may include things like taping, grooving, scoring or a specific pattern of pine tar. For example, Bill Dickey, Duke Snider, Pete Rose and Ken Griffey, Jr. all used different styles of taping to enhance their grip. Each application style is unique to them, and the presence of such a pattern helps determine use by the player.
Not every player employed highly-identifiable things like unique taping methods to their bats, but the key for the expert is to make sure the characteristics on the bat are consistent with whatever the known patterns are for a particular player. Furthermore, while some players are consistent about bat preparation throughout their careers, some players will change their patterns.
For example, Willie Mays was not known for using much pine tar during the early stages of his career, but he changed that completely later on, especially during the mid-1960s to the end of his playing days. Mays started using an extremely heavy application of pine tar that was very distinctive. It is very important that experts and collectors become familiar with players and their habits, which sometimes change over time.
Examining video footage, photographs and even baseball cards of players with their bats can be great resources for learning about specific player characteristics. Today, the resolution is so good on some images and video (due to HD) that bats can occasionally be photo-matched to specific games or at bats.
"Is it True that Some Players Would use Other Player's Bats?"
Occasionally, players would borrow or try another player's bats, usually one of their teammates. That said, it is a rare occurrence and something that is sometimes highly exaggerated. Here is a breakdown of why this shouldn't be of great concern.
First, decades ago, players were not issued anywhere near the amount of bats that are provided to the players today. In fact, modern-era hitters like Ken Griffey, Jr. are rumored to have ordered more bats during a two-year stretch than a player like Mickey Mantle did during his entire career. For this reason, players were usually very protective of their bats. Sure, they wouldn't mind letting their teammate borrow one of their bats from time to time, but loaning bats wasn't a practice that occurred frequently since each bat was cherished.
Second, even if a teammate borrowed another player's bat, the trail usually didn't last long and certainly not beyond the use of that one bat.
Once the player realized he liked using his teammate's bat, that player would simply order the same model with his own name on it. There is no reason to continue to use your teammate's bats if you can custom order any bat you want from the factory. This is the main reason why the practice was not only rare, but it didn't last long when it did occur.
In addition, here is another place where specific player characteristics are key. While rare, when it does happen, bat experts can often determine use by another player by examining these attributes. Sometimes, it is easier to determine than other times. For example, another player's number may appear on the knob or another very distinct marking may be present, which is clearly inconsistent with the handle preparation employed by the player whose name appears on the bat.
"Does Condition Impact the Value of a Game-Used Bat?"
This is a great question and one that requires a detailed explanation. The vast majority of a bat's value comes from things like historical importance, scarcity and grade. Unlike other collectibles like baseball cards or coins, the term "grade" has very little to do with condition.
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.
Game-used bats, by definition, should have wear, hence the term "game-used." That said, it is important to understand how condition may impact the value of a bat.
Many bat collectors prefer specimens that exhibit excellent evidence of use. That is part of the attraction to collecting gamers in the first place. It is often about the character of the bat, not just for display purposes, but it is part of the "cool" factor that many collectors are drawn to. That said, there are instances where a bat may exhibit severe damage, which greatly affects the eye appeal of the bat. In many cases, the damage occurred outside of the playing field due to storage issues such as water or fire damage.
Strict condition issues will often have a minimal impact on the grade or value associated with a bat, but it is possible. Restoration is an acceptable practice in the bat collecting hobby, as it is in other collectible fields like antique furniture or classic cars. That said, it is up to the collector to determine what he or she does or does not like. For example, most collectors would accept a repair to a crack or minor condition defect, but some collectors may not want to collect bats that have undergone a more substantial form of restoration. It really comes down to personal taste.
The key to remember is that the restoration performed to a bat should only address condition or eye-appeal issues. In other words, it should be performed strictly for aesthetic reasons. It should never impact the authenticity or enhance the characteristics of a bat in a manner that could be interpreted as bat doctoring.
"How Rare are Professional Model Bats?"
In comparison to most other types of collectibles, professional model bats can be amongst the toughest types of sports memorabilia to find, but it really depends on the bat in question.
As you would expect, modern-era bats are far easier to locate than bats from past eras because players order many times more bats than they did in past generations, and the bats are preserved far more often. Once the hobby became a nationwide phenomenon in the 1980s, players started to realize that their bats were highly-prized collectibles as well. As a result, some players started to provide game-used bats through agents, memorabilia dealers or even their own businesses.
This practice became much more common in the 1990s and beyond. The good news for collectors is that more authentic professional model bats have become available for certain players over the years, but they are not nearly as scarce as they once were. When you start going back in time to the 1950s and earlier, it is not uncommon for there to be less than five or ten known examples of certain player bats, which makes them extraordinarily rare.
Until the hobby blossomed in the 1980s, most players did not keep their bats. If the bat was no longer fit for game use due to a crack or deadwood, the bat was doomed to "firewood" status and lost its purpose. Since bats were not considered a valuable collectible in those days, they were not often saved.
During an interview with Bill Morrow, the son of former H&B (now known as Louisville Slugger) bat company representative Henry Morrow, he told me that his parents had a basement filled with bats that players had given his dad over the years. When the pile grew too large, his parents literally threw the bats into the fire or garbage to get rid of them. There was just no reason to keep such a large mass of bats at the time since there was no market for them as a collectible.
It is sad to think about the treasures that were lost, bats used by Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, but Morrow had a good sense of humor about the whole thing. In the 1930s and 1940s, who knew that baseball memorabilia would become so incredibly popular as it is today? I am sure we have all discarded things over time that we wish we could have back now.
That's the end of our look at the five most frequently asked bat collecting questions. I hope this question and answer format proves to be a useful guide for the collectors interested in building a bat collection or for those who simply want to learn more about this aspect of the hobby. Bat collecting can prove to be a very fun and rewarding hobby, so good luck with your collection.
Here are some additional bat information links, including our free online resource PSA ProBatFacts and PSA's bat grading standards and guide, which can hopefully answer even more questions for the bat enthusiast.