A rare piece of baseball memorabilia is up for bid as MEARS Online Auctions offers an experimental Kork-Grip bat used and likely invented by the Georgia Peach.
After hitting .420 in 1911 and .410 in 1912, you wouldn’t think Ty Cobb would have been all that concerned with his bats. For Cobb, though, there was always an edge waiting to be discovered. In 1913, the future Hall of Famer began experimenting with the tools of his profitable trade.
Making contact with a bat made in the early 20th century could be hard on the hands. Cobb apparently decided he would try to do something about that. His answer was a grip made of a thin layer of cork.
A brief note in The Sporting Life just before Christmas 1913 made mention of Cobb’s “invention”. By the following year, the bat had a name: Kork Grip. It’s patent would come on September 15, 1914. Every bat with the cork grip produced after that date carries a handle marking with the inscription "Kork Grip Patented Sep 15, 1914", making the Cobb bat unique and perhaps tying it to a unique slice of baseball history.
Over 95 years after it made its debut, the earliest-known Ty Cobb Louisville Slugger bat is now up for bid. MEARS Online Auctions has the Cobb bat in its current auction of premium baseball memorabilia. The current bid hovers at around $10,000 with the auction set to close Thursday night.
"We have seen 40K bats of Cobb, Wagner, and Joe Jackson, but none of them have ever had the pre-patent stamp on the bat," MEARS’ CEO Troy Kinunen told Sports Collectors Daily. "It is quite possible this is a one-of-a-kind example, and most likely an experimental bat due to the fact we have never, ever seen this stamp before. Also, the ‘9’ on the knob is not standard on game-used bats from that era and quite an odd mark, but odd in a good sense, as if it represented something special or ‘experimental’."
The Kork Grip bat wasn’t just a one-year curiosity. They were produced until 1930 and a number of players used them, including Joe Jackson, Frankie Frisch, George Sisler, Ed Roush and Mickey Cochrane. Eventually, bat-making techniques improved and the Kork Grip faded from sight.
"Starting in 1930 and ’31, H&B developed the Powerized process, still used to this day, to compress the grain and prevent cracking," said Kinunen. "With the introduction of the powerized process, Kork Grip bats were discontinued by H&B."
It wasn’t the only tinkering that the company would do with its bats, but the grip has always been a focus shared by players who use bats and the company they’ve trusted to make them. "The only other handle modification was in the late 1960s when H&B experimented with a fiberglass handle," Kinunen recalled. "I think it worked so well that handles never broke, so they discontinued the practice, or we would still be using 1960s fiberglass-handled bats."
The 1914 Cobb bat is actually the second Kork Grip Cobb model MEARS has offered. This fall, a 1922-25 Cobb model sold for $2860. "The bat had condition problems, and only graded a MEARS A4.5," Kinunen stated. "The current offered bat is a perfect MEARS A8, with no condition problems, and with the very unique pre-patent date. The December MEARS Elite Cobb 40K is by far a superior bat both in condition and historic importance." MEARS also sold a Babe Ruth bat last February for $13,915.
"From a historical sense, this is the most historic bat offered by MEARS Online Auctions to date. One fortunate collector will have the chance to own the earliest Ty Cobb signature model H&B bat and a pre-patent bat invented by Ty Cobb himself. This bat is historic to both Louisville Slugger and Ty Cobb bat collectors. The Louisville Slugger Museum does not have this early model Cobb in their archives. No collector or dealer has ever seen a Ty Cobb signature model bat from such an early time period."
The Cobb bat won’t be the last major Kork Grip bat offered by MEARS. A Honus Wagner model is slated for the company’s next major auction in April.