A vault record direct from the company can be a huge assist when authenticating game used bats.
By Jim Caravello
Collecting game used equipment can be very challenging at times. Whether it is bats, jerseys, gloves, cleats, helmets, etc., provenance and authenticity has always been a big concern for most collectors in the hobby.
With the tremendous growth of the game used equipment hobby in the 1990’s, we saw many professional teams from all major sports sell their equipment either directly to the consumer, or through a third party memorabilia dealer. Obtaining items through these channels often give collector’s some piece of mind as to the authenticity of their item.
Vintage game used collectors (pre-1980) are not that fortunate and have to perform a great deal of research to feel comfortable about adding items to their collection. One of the great advantages to vintage game used bat collectors is the availability of a portion of the entire archive of Louisville Slugger’s shipping records which, although not public, have been obtained by a few collectors and authenticators in the industry. These records, which initially appeared on ledger cards, reveal the ordering patterns of major league players and sometimes allow collectors to even pinpoint the exact order their bat is from.
My colleague, Mike Specht, and I answer questions regarding those shipping records on GameUsedUniverse.com in the Forum section of that website. The thirst for knowledge in this area by the collector is clearly evident today, as both Mike and I receive numerous e-mails from collectors on a weekly basis asking questions about the records, bats they have in their collections and bats they are considering purchasing.
What is a Shipping Record and when did Louisville Slugger start recording in ledger form the actual bats ordered by major league teams and players?
Prior to 1920, Louisville Slugger kept a very informal notebook on individual player’s bats. This pre-1920 information is fairly sketchy. From 1920 to 1929, Louisville began using journals to record bats being ordered by players and these journals were the predecessor to the ledger cards referenced above. Although the journals are not complete, they are often sufficient to provide information regarding the ordering patterns of many players. We started seeing formal Ledger Cards in the early 1930’s that were hand written by Louisville Slugger craftsman through the summer of 1981, when they were converted to computerized record cards.
In addition to the informal notebook and yearly journals kept by Louisville Slugger prior to 1930, there are also other data that can help collectors in their efforts to determine if a bat was used by a particular player. This includes: 1) diagrams of many models ordered by the players that instructed the Louisville Slugger craftsmen in what dimensions to make the bat, and 2) side written and vault marked bats that have surfaced in the hobby which provide valuable references to the ordering patterns of players.
A typical hand written ledger card has the player’s name listed at the top along with his team’s name(s), as well as whether the player had an endorsement contract with Louisville Slugger. In instances where the player had an endorsement contract, the word ‘auto’ would be referenced at the top indicating that Louisville Slugger would produce a signature model bat for the player. The body of the ledger card has columns for ‘Date’, ‘Model’, ‘Weight’, and ‘Number’. Each entry shows a date ordered to the left, followed by the model number and finish and any other special characteristics of the bat. This information, in addition to the length of the bat, is all included in the ‘Model’ column. Moving to the right on each ledger card, the weight is then listed and then the number of bats ordered (including the wood requested) for that particular dated shipment.
In 1981, when ‘computerized records’ were introduced, more columns and more information were recorded than the hand written ledger cards. There is now a specific column for ‘Finish’ - how the bat was to be finished - as well as specific columns for ‘Weights’ and ‘Lengths’ and a specific column for the ‘Customer Name’ of who actually ordered the bat which may, or may not, be the player himself. These computerized records are still used today.
This fall, Vince Malta will be publishing a new book entitled the "Complete Reference Guide to Louisville Slugger Professional Player Bats". Vince Malta is one of the world’s foremost authorities on game used bats and this book will educate collectors on every facet of game used bats. The book will include up-to-date information regarding the science of bat labeling, as well as provide complete factory records of Hall-of-Fame player bat orders and will include over 140 player charts based on factory records. This book is destined to become the most indispensable book on game used bats ever written.
Louisville Slugger factory records provide a great resource for the authenticator and collector and open the door to understanding the ordering patterns of major league players. These records provide the best possible source and method to authenticate Louisville Slugger vintage game used bats.
You can buy a copy of Vince Malta's book, A Complete Guide to Louisville Slugger Bats, through the Amazon link below.
Jim Caravello has been collecting and examining vintage game used bats for over 25 years. He serves as a game-used bat expert for Game Used Universe.com.