Bat expert Michael Specht says collectors need to do their homework before they accept claims about some game-used bats and Louisville Slugger’s factory records.
a column by Michael Specht
Recently my colleague, Jim Caravello, examined and explained the documented factory records that have been retrieved from Hillerich & Bradsby and used to assist in the authentication of game used Louisville Slugger professional bats. Those records, though available to only a few people within the hobby to date, have been used by authenticators during the last 10 years to help collectors determine the answer to a very specific question:
“What is the likelihood, or probability, that a specific bat was used by the player whose name appears on the barrel?”
Following the physical examination of a bat, authenticators have generally written a Letter of Authenticity, or Letter of Opinion, in an attempt to answer that vital question. Often, the letter contains the phrase “Matches Factory Records,” and offers little or no additional information or explanation about the records themselves. Until recently, collectors believed that the phrase was self-explanatory. That is, if a bat was said to “match factory records”, logic and reason dictate that the authenticator, claiming access to those records, could match the model, length, and weight of a specific bat to a specific order within an individual player’s factory shipping records during the period of manufacture.
For the collector, this claim that a bat “matches factory records” has an enormous impact on their opinion that a bat was used by a particular player. In fact, it is fair to say many purchase decisions were influenced by the collector’s belief that “matching factory records” was, indeed, self-explanatory. Now, it appears, this phrase may have been used more liberally than collectors believed.
Recently, one of the more noted entities in the hobby has proclaimed that, if a player ordered a certain model bat at any point in his career, and had, at some point in his career used a specific length of any model of bat, and had, again at any time in his career, used a certain weight of any model of bat, then the subject bat of that model and with those dimensions may be said to “match factory records,” regardless of the actual date of manufacture.
In over thirty years of collecting game used bats I have never encountered any collector who has accepted that to be an accurate description of the term “matches factory records.”
To illustrate, let’s examine a H & B Hank Aaron signature model R43 Louisville Slugger that measures 36 inches in length, 33 ounces in weight, and was manufactured between 1973 and 1975. Aaron’s factory shipping records indicate that no orders of R43 bats for his professional use are documented as having been shipped to him after April, 1963 and he was never shipped any 36 inch bats (of any model) for his professional use after August, 1960. Use of 33 ounce bats, however, was common throughout his career. Noting that R43 is Aaron’s pro stock model, common sense says that this bat is a team ordered index bat that, based on Aaron’s ordering pattern during the 1973-75 period, has virtually no chance of having been used by the Hall of Famer. Yet, according to one industry entity, that bat, in some convoluted manner of reasoning, can be said to “match factory records.”
What does this mean to the collector? Basically it means an inflated purchase price for a bat that is not, in the collector’s mind, what it was represented to be at the time of purchase.
The publication of Vince Malta’s book, A Complete Reference Guide to Louisville Slugger Professional Player Bats, which contains charts based on all existing H & B factory shipping records for each Hall of Fame player, now gives an individual collector the ability to determine for himself whether a specific bat does, in fact, “match factory records,” and whether or not the bat was accurately represented by the seller and/or the authenticator. When it is determined by a collector that he spent significant amounts of money on what he believed to be high end Hall of Fame bats, but which ultimately are found to have little or no chance of being game used by the Hall of Fame players, what happens next?
It appears some collectors may soon have a big dilemma on their hands.
Mike Specht has been a serious baseball hobbyist and collector of game-used memorabilia since the early 1970s. In 1995 Mike was one of four co-authors of the groundbreaking game-used bat book entitled "BATS: Professional Hillerich & Bradsby and Adirondack, 1950-1994". He authored numerous stories on Major League Baseball as a writer during the 1970s.
A Complete Reference Guide to Louisville Slugger Professional Player Bats by Vince Malta is exclusively available on-line at www.GameUsedUniverse.com. You can read more on the research that led to the book by clicking here.