MEARS is offering an impressive group of game-used bats in its current auction. Tucked among early Louisville Sluggers from Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb is a bat with some dictatorial history behind it.
Smuggled from the Dominican Republic, a1936-39 Era De Trujillo game used bat was presented to MEARS Auctions as having been used by the Dragones de Ciudad Trujillo National baseball team. The consignor lived in fear for many decades as he was afraid to offer the bat for public sale. By understanding the history, political and military climate of the region during the 1930s, his reason for concern becomes understandable.
The 1937 Dragones team can be considered one of the greatest All Star teams ever. Featuring Negro League greats Josh Gibson, Sam Bankhead, Bob Griffith, James Cool Papa Bell, Leroy Matlock, Cy Perkins, and Harry Williams, this bat would have been the team bat, made available for all players to use.
On January 28th, 1937, it was decided that the Dominican Republic would host a National Championship. Named by acting dictator Ciudad Trujillo, the team was called “Dragones de Ciudad Trujillo”. As it is now, baseball in the Dominican Republic was a national obsession, and the dictator Trujillo needed a championship to fill his lust.
As a child Trujillo played baseball and collected bottle caps. His passions led to the formation of one of the greatest barnstorming teams of all time. Much like his bottle caps, he set out to collect some of the game’s greatest players. He would turn to America’s Negro Leagues to build his collection.
Rafael Leonidas Molina, nicknamed “El Jefe”, (translated as the “Boss”, same as Castro), ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 until his assassination in 1961. History branded Trujillo as one of the worst dictators of all time. Early in his career he enacted racist policies against Haitians, and ordered the massacre of 20,000 to 30,000 citizens.
Trujillo monopolized the countries industry, controlling tobacco, salt, sugar, beef, media, and gaming. In 1958, his net worth was estimated at $500,000,000. During his reign, the only thing he wasn’t in charge of was baseball, and that was soon to change.
Trujillo had plans to control baseball as early as 1936. During spring training, agents for Rafael Trujillo enticed Satchel Paige with offers to play in the Dominican League the following season. Cool Papa Bell recalled, “Satchel was the type of guy that if you showed him money or a car, you could lead him anywhere. He was that type of fella.” Once the money was right, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, and four other Pittsburgh Crawfords were signed to play during the 1937 season.
In his autobiography, Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever, Paige wrote that the Negro League players were treated like heroes when they arrived in the Dominican. During a party at one of Trujillo’s plantations, the pitcher was pulled aside by a reporter and told to be careful because “Trujillo won’t like it if his club goes around losing”. Soon Paige and his teammates became afraid of the armed soldiers that constantly shadowed the ballclub.
The 1937 season ran from March 28-July 11. Ciudad Trujillo finished in first place, going 18-13. Josh Gibson led the league in average, hitting at a .453 clip.
The Championship series between Ciudad Trujillo and the Aguilas was epic. Trujillo’s team was down 3-0 in the best of 7 series. The army’s guns were pointed as Satch’s and the rest of the boy’s heads. With that type of motivation, the Dragones rallied and forced a seventh and final game.
The tension was so thick and the pressure so immense, Trujillo had the team jailed the night before the Championship game. Paige wrote later that the team got an interesting pep talk from its manager. “You’d better win”, he said. “Whaddya mean, we better win?” I asked. “I mean just that. Take my advice and win”.
In 1953 Paige said he believed that if they lost the game that they certainly would have been executed, receiving the same fate as the 20,000+ massacred Haitians.
In the 7th inning of game 7, Ciudad Trujillo was down by 1 run, a precarious position to be in if there was ever one. “You could see Trujillo lining up his army, “ Paige wrote. “They began to look like a firing squad. In the last of the seventh we scored two runs and went ahead 6-5. You never saw Ol’ Satch throw harder. I shut them down the last two innings and we won. I hustled back to our hotel and the next morning we bowed out of there in a hurry. We never did see Trujillo again.”
Originally sourced from an umpire who worked directly under Trujillo, the bat is stated to have been used during the 1936-39 era. The consignor, a native of the Dominican says family legend was the offered bat was used during the famous 1937 season, but there are no markings on the bat to substantiate the exact dating.
Measuring 34 ½ inches in length and weighing 33 ounces, this bat is consistent with what would have been used in the professional leagues at the time, as both the length and weight of this bat would be considered average.
Inspection reveals the wood not to have been ash or hickory, as commonly found in the United States. It appears the wood is exotic and most likely grown in the Dominican.
MEARS examination reveals exhibits heavy game use, with heavy clusters of ball marks, deeply embedded stitch marks, and various areas of cleat marks. The handle remains uncracked.
The consignor recalls the umpire stating this bat was used by the famous 1937 team.
Minimum bid on the bat is $1,000.
Examination has led the company to believe it may have been one of the first signature model bats offered for professional use, which would be quite fitting considering Honus Wagner was the first to endorse Slugger bats.
Other bats being offered include a 1927-28 Ty Cobb, a 1932 Harry Heilman and a 1926-41 Paul Waner.
Hundreds of other lots are in the auction, which can be viewed here.