Hitting a ball with a stick as a sport does not have an exact date; it’s probably been going on since the dawn of mankind. But, in the case of baseball, the stick – aka the bat, has an interesting history of evolution.
Looking back to the origin of baseball, it’s most often being cited as starting in Hoboken NJ in 1846. It was the beginning of the national pastime as we know it. As the game was still in its infancy, the regulations were few to none. There were no sporting good stores to go buy a bat; players often made their own wooden bats and they came in all shapes and sizes. Some were very long, or broad, or even flattened. These flat bats were used primarily for bunting. Quickly though, the most effective shapes started to emerge. Batters leaned towards the classic round barrel shape with a tapered handle.
In 1859, the Professional National Association of Baseball Players Governing Committee voted on the first (of many) limitation on bats. This limitation specified that bats may be no larger than 2.5 inches in diameter but that they may be of any length.
With the 2.5 inch barrel rule, players began to have woodworkers reshape their bats. The taper of the handle was adjusted for better hitting. Woodworkers were finding the best grain for baseball bats was found in quality wood—the favorites included white ash and maple.
Eventually more regulations came for the bats from the baseball rules committee. They increased the diameter of the barrel to 2.75 inches but restricted the lengths. Also gone were the days of sawed off ends, or flat faces. Round was the new rule. Then in 1869, the rule governing bat length was adopted and stated “Length limit on bats, maximum 42 inches long.”
In 1884, one of the most iconic names in baseball was started. A Louisville player had just broken his favorite bat during a game and was visibly upset. Someone in the stands came up after the game and offered to make him a new bat. This woodworker created the first of a long line of bats known as the Louisville Slugger.
Since the games humble beginnings in New Jersey, bats have been sending balls to the bleachers and into the memories of us all. Men like Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, and Joe DiMaggio became legends with a bit of wood and a lot of skill.
(Wondering who used the biggest bat of them all? It may come as no surprise, but legend Babe Ruth holds the record for the biggest bat ever. The 714 home runs he hit were launched with a hefty 52 ounces of swinging lumber. Most players today use bats that are around 34-36 ounces.)
Check out these bats as modern descendants of yesteryears creativity.