I stumbled across the above image while browsing Pinterest a few nights ago, and it sent me down a rabbit hole looking at the history of aluminum baseball bats. For all the reading I did, I wish I could have found more details about aluminum bat history, but I’ll share here what I did manage to find.
William A. Shroyer patented the first metal baseball bat in 1924 (depicted in the image above), though metal bats were not actually seen in baseball until they started getting produced by Worth Sports Company in 1968 (Worth, Inc. is now a division of Rawlings and Jarden Team Sports). Little League Baseball approved of the use of aluminum bats in 1971, and the NCAA legalized the use of aluminum bats in 1974. By 1975, Worth held the majority of the U.S. aluminum bat market and had produced the first official Little League and NCAA Collegiate aluminum bats.
By today’s standards, however, Worth bats really weren’t that great. According to former Ithaca College baseball head coach George Valesente, “[The Worth bats] made a pinging noise. Grips were not comfortable because they weren’t using the proper leather on the grips. Sometimes, it would start to dent and ding.”
In the late-1970s, Easton introduced a bat made from a stronger grade of aluminum and with rubber grips. Louisville Slugger also soon joined the aluminum bat manufacturing business, and the popularity of aluminum bats skyrocketed, though they were not allowed in major league games. At the collegiate and amateur levels, the switch from wood to metal bats served primarily practical purposes. Because wooden bats were easily breakable, teams would often run dry of bats during games. Aluminum bats essentially eliminated this problem.
In 1993, both Easton and Worth introduced titanium bats, and in 1995 Easton and Louisville Slugger introduced an even lighter grade of aluminum bat. Given the continual improvements of bat technology, it is not hard to understand the popularity of metal bats. Compared to their wooden counterparts, aluminum bats allow for greater bat speed and distance on batted balls, primarily as the result of weight distribution and the ability to make aluminum bats stiffer and lighter. Aluminum bats can even be made to weigh up to 5 ounces less than their length in inches.
Metal bats continue to be banned in Major League Baseball for safety and competitive reasons. For players making the transition from using metal bats in high school or college ball to wooden bats in professional ball, struggles frequently abound. The “sweet spot” on an aluminum bat is much larger and the physics of using a metal bat versus a wooden bat are noticeably different. Players have to relearn their swing and retrain their muscle memory, if they hope to become successful at the big league level. Many purists argue in favor of the classic wooden baseball bat, but one can certainly see that aluminum bats have many appealing qualities for a ballplayer.
Here are some interesting numbers from the Public Lands Council, an organization that advocates for western ranchers. This infographic was posted on the Idaho Wool Growers Association’s Facebook page in November 2019. I did the math on the number hot dogs served, and if we assume that a hot dog weighs 76 grams, that equals over 3 million pounds of hot dogs per MLB season — and that doesn’t even include the bun and condiments!
These numbers definitely made me think back to this comic I posted back in December. Holy smokes, that’s a lot of animal products in our national pastime.
For the first game of a doubleheader played on August 2, 1938, Larry MacPhail had official baseballs dyed dandelion yellow, and the balls were used in the matchup between the Dodgers and Cardinals at Ebbets Field. The inspiration for this yellow ball came from a New York color engineer named Frederic H. Rahr, who developed it after Mickey Cochrane was severely beaned at the plate the previous year.
“My primary object is to give the hitter more safety and there’s no question that this will be achieved,” said Rahr. “That’s simply because the batter will be striking at a ball he can see instead of at a white object that blurs with the background.”
The Dodgers won that opening game with the yellow baseballs by a score of 6-2. The Dodgers went on to use up their yellow balls in three more games in 1939, but the yellow balls would not get used again after that season.
This little documentary is less than seven minutes long, and it is a fun watch. Not only do you learn some things about Nokona baseball gloves, you get to watch the process of a ball glove getting made. And I love the fact that the work shirts worn by Nokona employees are baseball jerseys.
I haven’t had a chance to do much more than skim all the information on this infographic, but what I’ve noted so far is certainly fascinating. Click on the image below for a (slightly) larger version — though even then, you might still need to zoom in on it.
I remember my first pair of cleats. I was nine years old, embarking on my first-ever season of organized ball. My mom took my little brother and me shopping at a local Payless — the only place my folks, understandably, would buy any kind of shoes for our growing feet. I was excited to finally be able to wear a pair of cleats. I had seen the older kids wearing them, and they just seemed so cool. After trying on multiple pairs, I wound up with a pair of black, low-top cleats with royal blue shoelaces and royal blue lettering that announced “Rawlings.”
It turns out, the concept of cleats has been around since the 1500s — and possibly even
earlier than that. King Henry VIII is documented to have owned a pair of “football boots,” created for him by the royal shoemaker, Cornelius Johnson. These special “boots” were created from a strong material (most likely leather) for the purposes for playing “football” (by which Henry likely means some early version of soccer). The earliest cleats typically featured leather, metal, or wooden studs. For those who couldn’t afford to have a special pair made, they would create their own shoe enhancements with the use of metal plates or (cringe) nails.
The process of vulcanization, a chemical process for converting rubber into a more durable material, was developed in England and the United States in the 1840s. Vulcanized rubber proved especially useful in producing shoes intended to protect the wearer’s feet, and, as a bonus, it was a much lighter material. Furthermore, vulcanized rubber proved handy when the concept of studded or spiked shoes emerged. The first known spiked leather running shoes were developed by a British company in the 1890s, and the first soccer-specific shoes were also developed at the end of the 19th century.
In the United States, meanwhile, metal spikes began to appear on baseball shoes in the 1860s, typically in a detachable form, and the first official baseball shoe appeared in 1882 when Waldo Claflin started selling leather shoes with built-in cleats marketed specifically to baseball players. The emergence of American football in the early 20th century led to widespread recognition and popularity of cleats, the first football shoes actually being baseball shoes adapted to the new sport. Over time, as sports in general continued to grow and with the advent of artificial turf, cleats evolved, and different types of cleats developed according to various sports and playing surfaces. With safety in mind, Major League Baseball banned sharp, metal spikes in 1976, leading to further developments in the plastic studs we see on cleats today.
This photograph from the collections of the Library of Congress looks simple enough, but it prompts a lot of questions for me. It is noted that the photo was taken between 1873 and 1916. Given that the catcher’s mask wasn’t invented until 1876 and it wasn’t until a few years later that their use became common among backstops, we can eliminate the first few years of that range. The mitt, meanwhile, resembles the one patented by J.F. Draper in 1899, so I think it is safe to say this photo is likely from the early 20th century.
My questions, however, involve the player himself: Who is he? Where is he from? What team does he play for? Is he really a baseball player, or merely a man off the street the photographer convinced to put on some equipment for a photo op?
And if he really is a ballplayer, what is he thinking? He appears to be standing behind home plate, looking out at the field before him. Is he deciding on what pitch to ask for next? Is he unhappy with how the defense is arranged? Or is he upset because that damned umpire called the last pitch a ball when it was clearly over the outside corner?
Its listing in the Library of Congress catalog doesn’t answer any of those questions, unfortunately. I guess I’ll just have to continue to study the photo and wonder.
I spent much of the last week visiting an old friend who now lives in New York state. Though I was only there for a few days, we managed to cram a lot into our limited time together. We spent a full day in Manhattan — my first time ever in New York City. Another day, we went on a five-mile hike up a mountain in the Hudson River Valley. I also insisted, so long as I was making the trip halfway across the country, that we had to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The day we reserved for visiting the Hall of Fame came the day after our NYC day, and we didn’t get to bed until about 2:00 a.m. that night before. Cooperstown is about a three-hour drive from my friend’s home, and as late as we were out the previous night, there was no way we were going to be on the road by 6:00 am to be there in time for the 9:00 open time. Instead we pulled into town a bit after noon, and we stopped for sandwiches and coffee at a nice little café called Stagecoach Coffee (which I highly recommend, by the way, if you’re ever in Cooperstown).
We finished our lunch and arrived at the Hall of Fame around 1:00, leaving us about four hours to explore before closing time. There ended up being a couple of exhibits we didn’t get to see (pro tip: don’t go out the night before so you can get there earlier than we did), but we did see most of it, and I took an insane number of pictures in the process. For sanity’s sake, I’ll just post a few of the highlights here, but if you are somehow just morbidly curious, I’ve created a public album including all my photos here.
The rule requiring National League batters to wear protective headgear went into effect in 1956, and the American League adopted a similar rule in 1958. However, a number of players began wearing various types of head protection prior to this. Athletics infielder Lamar Newsome, for example, wore a protective insert under his cap in 1939, as shown in the clipping below. Newsome’s insert was made of tape-reinforced felt, but subsequent versions of the insert would be made of lightweight plastic and would become popular with many players.
I have a handful of friends whom I’ve converted into baseball fans just by talking about the game. Fortunately for me, they all already had some familiarity with how the game works, so it was really just a matter of conveying my excitement. However, I know there are some folks out there who are completely unfamiliar with baseball, and I was pretty happy to come across this video. I’ll have to keep it in my back pocket for the day I meet someone who might be interested, but doesn’t know anything about this wonderful pastime.