The Axe Bat

The Axe Bat has been floating around the baseball world for a few years now. If you’re not familiar, the handle of an Axe Bat is shaped like the handle of an axe.

The idea behind this handle is that it will fit the hitter’s hand better, which thus makes it more ergonomic. The axe handle is more oval-shaped than round, allowing the hitter to get a better and more comfortable grip on the bat. Additionally, the knob of a traditional round-handled baseball bat can sometimes slide into and bang up against the palm of the hitter’s hand, while the shape of the axe handle helps prevent this. Manufacturers of the Axe Bat claim that this feature also helps the barrel of the bat to progress through the strike zone unhindered, thus allowing the batter to generate more bat speed.

The creation of the axe-shaped bat handle came from Bruce Leinert, who filed a patent application for the ‘Axe Bat’ in 2007. But the original inspiration of Leinert’s invention came from a line in a book by one of the game’s greatest hitters, The Science of Hitting by Ted Williams. According to Williams, “Swinging a bat is like swinging an axe.”

Over the years, use of the Axe Bat has spread throughout college and professional baseball, and permission from Major League Baseball for in-game use of axe-shaped handle bats came starting the 2015 season. MLB players who have adopted the new bat handle have included Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, George Springer, Kurt Suzuki, and Dansby Swanson.

Players who use the Axe bat speak highly of its benefits. It takes a few swings to adjust to the differently-shaped handle, but the adjustment happens quickly. According to Mookie Betts, “I was able to take it out for BP one day, and the next day, I was using it in the game. And from that point on, I’ve used it in every at-bat.” Perhaps the first player to really use the Axe Bat in MLB was Dustin Pedroia, who stated, “It feels good in your hand. And then I read up all the studies they did on injury prevention. Supposedly, the way the grip is set it increases bat speed. Just grabbing it feels comfortable. You don’t feel like you have to turn it before you swing. I like ’em.”


Baseball during World War II

Several years ago, I wrote about baseball during World War I with the intention of following up with a post about the game during World War II. It has taken longer than I intended to circle back, but today, I finally make the return to what I started.

WWII recruitment poster

World War II began in September 1939, though the United States did not enter the war until December 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan. During the 1941 season, prior to the U.S. entering the war, Ted Williams batted .406, Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 consecutive games, and Lefty Grove earned his 300th career win. These led Major League Baseball to enjoy one of its most popular seasons to date, with its fifth-highest attendance total of 9.6 million spectators. As the war raged on through the 1942 and 1943 seasons, baseball would see a decline in attendance to 8.1 million and 7.4 million respectively. However, attendance would rebound during the 1944 season to pre-war levels, and by 1945, the league experienced an all-time high of 10.8 million people attending baseball games.

At first, there was some speculation as to whether or not baseball would even continue during the war. On January 14, 1942, baseball commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis wrote a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt asking if baseball should stay in operation. FDR’s response to Landis became known as the Green Light Letter, stating, “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. […] And, incidentally, I hope that night games can be extended because it gives an opportunity to the day shift to see a game occasionally.” Roosevelt did also stress that any ballplayer capable of joining the military should absolutely do so, but he felt the popularity of the sport would not be diminished as a result.

Over 500 major leaguers and 4,000 minor leaguers saw action during World War II. The first major leaguer drafted into the war was pitcher Hugh Mulcahy, and the first to enlist was pitcher Bob Feller. Other major leaguers involved in the war included stars like Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Yogi Berra, and Hank Greenberg. As a result of so many major leaguers joining the war effort, many players who previously did not see a lot of action on the diamond and a lot of minor league players now had the opportunity to play big roles on major league ball teams.

joe-army

Some players were classified as 4-F during the draft, meaning that they were not fit for military service. There was some criticism of the fact that there could be some individuals identified as unfit for military service, yet still in good enough condition to play baseball. Others noted that 4-F status was determined by Army and Navy doctors, and therefore was not related to their status as baseball players. Furthermore, while some 4-Fs may not have served in the military, many of them did serve in defense industries, and thus still contributed to the war effort.

During the war, military personnel showed overwhelming support for the continuation of baseball. Myriad service men’s teams formed across all theatres of war, and equipment was even made available to these teams. Exhibition games were put on by military teams for the entertainment of the troops, and pickup games were aplenty among deployed servicemen and in POW camps during the war.

Some known baseball stars were deliberately kept out of harm’s way, such as Joe DiMaggio, who spent most of his military career playing for baseball teams and in exhibition games against fellow major leaguers and minor league players. But this wasn’t the case for all major leaguers. Warren Spahn, for example, served as a combat engineer in Europe and was decorated with a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and a Battlefield Commission for action at the Battle of The Bulge. Hoyt Wilhelm also earned a Purple Heart fighting in Europe.

Warren Spahn - WWII - medium.com

Warren Spahn (medium.com)

In the fall of 1942, many minor league teams disbanded, as many minor league players found themselves being drafted to serve in the war. This plus the concern that major league teams might be in danger of collapsing prompted Philip K. Wrigley to begin the All-American Girls Softball League. Before long, the rules were changed and the name of the new organization was updated to the All-American Girls Baseball League. 280 women were invited to tryouts in Chicago, where 60 were ultimately chosen to become the first women to play professional baseball. Teams consisted of 15 players, a manager, a business manager, and a woman chaperone, and salaries ranged from $45 to $85 per week. League play began May 30, 1943, and each team played 108 games in the season. The league peaked in 1948, when a total of ten teams attracted 910,000 fans. However, following the war, the league began to break down and eventually folded in 1954. In the end, the AAGPBL gave over 600 women the opportunity to play professional baseball.

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The end of World War II finally came on September 2, 1945, when U.S. General Douglas MacArthur accepted Japan’s formal surrender aboard the U.S. battleship Missouri. Over the course of the war, two MLB players lost their lives in battle: Captain Elmer J. Gedeon (Washington Senators) died during a bombing mission over France on April 20, 1944 and First Lieutenant Harry O’Neill (Philadelphia Athletics) was killed by a sniper on Iwo Jima on March 6, 1945. Hundreds of men who served in World War II played Major League Baseball, with even more having spent time playing for minor league teams. Most survived the war, and continued their careers on the field, but a small number paid the ultimate sacrifice, and never returned to the field.


Quote of the day

I’ve found in life the more you practice, the better you get. If you want something enough and work hard to get it, your chances of success are greater.

~Ted Williams

ted-williams


Quote of the day

There’s only one way to become a hitter. Go up to the plate and get angry. Get mad at the pitcher.

~Ted Williams

ted-williams


“A Fisherman’s Tale,” Anonymous

This piece was published in 1942 and it references Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. In the novella, the main character, Santiago, idolizes DiMaggio and is a big Yankees fan. To Santiago, DiMaggio represents an ideal, and he compares himself against the ballplayer as a way to measure his own success and worth.

*

Ernest
Hemingway
Immortalized
Joe
DiMaggio
and
Joe
DiMaggio
Immortalized
Himself
And
So
Did
Ted Williams
that wonderful slugger from Boston.


Quote of the day

By the time you know what to do, you’re too old to do it.

~Ted Williams


Quote of the day

Ted Williams was the greatest hitter I ever saw, but DiMaggio was the greatest all around player.

~Bob Feller

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Bob Feller (Wikimedia Commons)


Quote of the day

If you don’t think too good, don’t think too much.

~Ted Williams

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Wikimedia Commons


“Railroads and Baseball,” by Dudley Laufman

I have never seen nor heard anything like the story about Ted Williams in this poem, but I do like the idea behind it. As the author comments, it makes for a great story. This piece by Dudley Laufman appeared in Sptiball Magazine in January 2010.

*

That time there in Warner, New Hampshire,
game between Bradford and Warner,
someone clouted a drive across the railroad tracks
just in front of the afternoon run
of the Concord to Claremont commuter.
Ump made it a ground rule double.

I think I told you this one,
Arlington – Waltham.
Spy Ponder hits one over the tracks
in front of the 6:15 to Lexington,
Watch City outfielder scoots through the underpass,
comes back waving the ball,
wants a ground rule double,
ump says home run.
Yeah, I told you that one.

But get this.
I don’t know if this is true or not,
but it makes a good story.
The Red Sox are enroute Boston-Providence
for an exhibition game in Pawtucket.
Train passes through Sharon or
some little town like that.
Train whistles along the edge of the ball field,
sandlot game, mix of grubby uniforms,
and someone lines one towards the train.
Ted Williams is standing out on the back platform,
reaches out, snags the ball, and keeps it.
Train rumbles on to Pawtucket,
Williams clutching their only ball.

Next day (the Sox stay over),
train headed back to Beantown.
The boys are out on the field
(they found another ball).
The Kid is out on the platform again,
and he throws the ball back,
autographed by all the Bosox.


History of Fenway Park

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Wikipedia

Fenway Park is the oldest Major League Baseball stadium currently in use.  The ballpark has hosted World Series games in eleven different seasons, with the Boston Red Sox winning six of those Series, and the Boston Braves winning one.

Construction on Fenway Park began in September 1911 in Boston, Massachusetts near Kenmore Square.  The ballpark opened on April 20, 1912, having cost $650,000 to build.  It had a capacity of 27,000 and featured a steel and concrete grandstand extending from behind home plate down the baselines, with wooden bleachers placed in the outfield.  The Red Sox played their first Fenway ballgame on that date against the New York Highlanders (Yankees), winning 7-6 in eleven innings.  The opening of the new ballpark found itself overshadowed in the news, however, by the sinking of the Titanic just the week before.

In 1914, the Boston Braves played their home games during the World Series at Fenway Park, due to the construction on their own new stadium, Braves Field, still being in progress.  The Braves would get the opportunity to return the favor before too long.  As any baseball fan will know, Babe Ruth played with the Red Sox prior to his time with the New York Yankees.  During his stint in Boston, Ruth helped the Red Sox to World Series titles in 1915, 1916, and 1918.  The 1915 and 1916 Series, however, were not played at Fenway Park, but rather at Braves Field, in order to accommodate a larger crowd.

Throughout the late-1910s and into the 1920s, the Boston team struggled financially, a situation that resulted in the sale of Babe Ruth to New York and led to the disrepair of various features of Fenway Park.  In 1926, a great fire engulfed the wooden bleachers in left field of the ballpark.  However, these bleachers hadn’t seen much use leading up to the incident anyway, due to their dilapidated state.  Finally, in 1933, the Red Sox were sold to millionaire Tom Yawkey.  Yawkey invested in renovations to Fenway, including the blue, wooden grandstand seats that remain in the stadium to this day.

The Green Monster in left field actually began as a mere ten-foot fence.  When he came into ownership of the team, Yawkey opted not to replace the fire-destroyed wooden bleachers in that part of the stadium.  Instead, during the 1933-1934 off season, Yawkey rebuilt much of Fenway, including the erection of a 37-foot left field wall, initially covered in advertisements.  A scoreboard was also added to Fenway Park in 1934, at the base of the great wall.  At the time, the new board was considered a type of advanced technology, and the scoreboard remains at Fenway to this day, with scores continuing to get updated by hand.  The wall would actually become the “Green Monster” in 1947 when advertisements were removed from the wall and it received a dark green paint job.

The “Williamsburg” area of the ballpark in right field was named for the legendary hitter, Ted Williams.  It is said that the right field bullpen area, constructed in 1940, was built specifically to accommodate Williams’s left-handed swing, pulling the right field wall in closer to home plate.  Also found in the right field stands sits a lone red seat.  This seat is a nod to the 502-foot home run Williams hit in 1946 — the longest homer in Fenway history.

Light towers were then added to Fenway, and the Red Sox would host their first night game on June 13, 1947 against the Chicago White Sox.  It wouldn’t be until 1976 when Fenway saw its next big change, when a $1.5 million electronic scoreboard was added above the stands in center field.  Also in 1976, the Green Monster was refurbished, tearing down the old, tin wall and replacing it with a steel reinforced wall of hard plastic.

Private luxury suites were added to the ballpark’s upper deck from 1982 to 1983.  Bleacher seats were also replaced with individual seats in order to allow season tickets to be sold to fans for those parts of the stadium.  In 1987-1988, a color video board was erected above the center field seats, replacing the old scoreboard, and in 1989, the media level was added.  Also in 1989, the 600 Club was constructed, featuring luxurious seats, climate control, and a great view of the field.  The 600 Club would be renamed the .406 Club after the passing of Ted Williams in 2002, in honor of his historic batting average from the 1941 season.  It would get renamed yet again in 2006 to the EMC Club.

The dugouts in Fenway are the only ones remaining in baseball with support poles in front of the players’ benches.  Throughout the stadium, support beams can also be found, even though other clubs around the league have made a point to no longer have these kinds of support beams in their own stadiums.  The beams at Fenway result in obstructed views for some fans, yes, however, the vertical poles have remained as a way to maintain Fenway’s old-time aura.

Just prior to the 2003 season, the Green Monster had bar-style seating added to the top of it, which became a major fan draw.  That year, box seats were also added right behind home plate.  In 2004, another two hundred seats were added to the roof high over right field, featuring tables at which fans get to sit during the game.  During the early-2010s, the blue, wooden seats that fill the ballpark were systematically repaired and waterproofed.

From May 15, 2003 until April 10, 2013, the Red Sox sold out 820 consecutive home games at Fenway, which makes it the longest home sellout streak in Major League Baseball history.  Fenway has also played host to many other sporting and cultural events, including: professional football games for the Boston Redskins, the Boston Yanks, and the Boston Patriots; music concerts; soccer and hockey games (including the 2010 NHL Winter Classic); and political and religious campaigns.

On March 7, 2012, just ahead of the stadium’s centennial, Fenway Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

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Wikipedia