“People ask me what I do in the winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”
Every now and then I encounter a book that makes me smile all over. That happened when my friend, Dr. Lou Beccaria, gave me “Balls, Bats & More; Essentials of Professional Baseball” by Norman Mawby & Friends (2013). And to make Lou’s gift even more meaningful, he authored the chapter on baseball bats.
My love of baseball began as a child listening to “my Phillies” on the radio in our old farmhouse kitchen. I was only 7 years old in 1952 when Robin Roberts won 28 games aided by Richie Ashburn, Stan Lopata, Smokey Burgess and Curt Simmons and the rest of those great Phillies.
As the years rolled by, other names such as “Perfect Game” Jim Bunning, Cookie Rojas, Johnnie Callison and Richie Allen emerged as my heroes. Even when we lived in Minnesota, watching the Minnesota Twins win two World Series, I still kept my eye on “my Phillies.”
From this book, I learned all kinds of things about professional baseball that I never knew. For $24 anyone can buy a can of Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud. Ever since 1938 every new professional baseball is rubbed with this muddy substance which is found in a secret location along one of the Delaware River tributaries.
Did you know that in a typical season the Phillies use 3,500 dozen (42,000) baseballs at a cost of approximately $325,000? Did you know that when baseball began in the 1800s, players did not use gloves? Did you know that batters prefer the grass to be cut short but the pitchers prefer the grass to be cut long? Did you know that the Yankees have retired 16 uniform numbers, Dodgers (Brooklyn and Los Angeles) 10, others with nine, Washington 0?
But because of my friendship with Lou, it was the chapter he wrote on baseball bats that interested me the most. From him I learned that because a rule was passed in 1859, all bats could be no rounder than 2.5 inches in diameter.
The Louisville Slugger was born in 1884 when John Hillerich observed the frustration of Pete Browning when he broke his bat. John went to his father’s woodworking shop where John and his father crafted a new bat on the spot. Next day John had three hits at three plate appearances.
The Hillerich bats caught on and before long they were making bats for more and more players. Eventually, the Louisville Slugger trademark was affixed to all of their bats. Today there are over 30 bat manufacturers approved by Major League Baseball.
Baseball bats were originally made of hickory wood. But because the hickory wood is too heavy, bats today are made from either maple or ash. More players prefer ash bats because they are even lighter than maple. Although ash bats crack, maple bats tend to shatter and explode.
From Lou I was surprised to learn that the teams buy the major league bats for their players but the minor league players need to buy their own. There are many different kinds of bats: Game Day Bats which fit the personal needs of each player; Infield Fungo Bats designed for use during infield practice; Outfield Fungo Bats designed to help outfielders during practice; Weighted Warm-Up Bats to help players get ready for their turn at the plate.
Lou goes on to include the care and storage of bats. He even describes the use of broken bats and how they are often sold or donated to charity.
After reading this book and, particularly, Lou’s chapter, I think he and I would agree with George F. Will, who said, “Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.”
Think about it.
Dr. Don Meyer is President of
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA
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