One bat expert with access to factory records says bats sometimes attributed to a particular player– and selling for big bucks at auction– may have been ordered for an entirely different purpose.
Understanding Team Index Bats
a column by Jim Caravello
Through the years of collecting Louisville Slugger game used bats, I have been fortunate to acquire bats that accurately match factory records of shipments ordered by the individual player. In the early 1990’s, I wanted to learn more about how players actually ordered bats and I started researching this with Louisville Slugger. It took a few phone calls, but I found the right person within the company to provide me with shipping records of mainly players I collected at the time.
In speaking with representatives at Louisville Slugger, I started to learn a few things that were quite fascinating: 1 ) Teams ordered signature model bats (“Team Indexed”) of various players (usually stars) in different weights and lengths, and 2 ) Individual players were able to order other players signature model bats upon request. A great example is Bobby Richardson of the New York Yankees. He ordered and used many Nellie Fox bats during his career, which has led to a lack of his signature model game used bats in the marketplace today.
I was hooked on shipping records and I began to obtain as many as possible to continue to learn about other players ordering patterns during their careers. Fortunately for me, all the gamers in my collection matched individual factory orders by the player themselves. Other collectors haven’t been so lucky. Even today, I know many collectors have bats in their collections which they think were used by the player, when in fact, their bats were likely not used by that player at all but instead were ordered by the team for use by another player.
In the past couple of years, we have seen many major auction companies list Team Indexed bats with descriptions that have unfortunately been misleading to the collector. The practice still exists today where a bat that is Team Indexed is listed AND described as game used by the player with no mentioned that the bat is Team Indexed. These bats also receive a grade from an authenticator that is very high, such as a “7”, “8”, or “9”. Some of these authenticators do not state the bat is Team Indexed. Some do state this fact – but still produce certificates of authenticity with high numerical grades that confuse the collector. Someone who is new to the hobby that reads these auction descriptions and sees the very high grade on the certificate may very well believe that they are bidding on a game used item of that player when in fact, the player never even touched the bat.
You may say that it is the responsibility of the collector to ascertain what they are really bidding on. I contend that the auction companies and authenticators are not performing their function in the open marketplace correctly. I think they are both at fault. Let’s start with the authenticator. If a bat is Team Indexed and measures 34” in length and we know from viewing the personal player’s ordering records that he never ordered anything under 35”, why would you even grade this bat?
We then find out that the bat does match the Team Indexed records. Well that’s fine, but, in my opinion, the bat doesn’t deserve a numeric grade at all. A nice one paragraph letter indicating that the bat is Team Indexed would suffice. That letter should also state the fact that the individual player’s personal factory record shows they never ordered anything remotely close to this length and the chance of it being used by the player is less than remote. Now, the auction company receives this bat with the proper letter from the authenticator and can accurately describe the bat as Team Indexed. In instances such as these, I believe it would be proper for the auction company to include a footnote to say that the bat was likely not used by the player whose signature the bat bears. Conservative you say? No – I say this is accurate and is what should be occurring in the market.
In recent years, I have seen two Roberto Clemente Team Indexed bats that were very similar in nature sell for over $7,000 and the other sell for under $2,000. Why did this happen? Well, I can tell you that the first sale in auction was created by two uninformed buyers bidding against each other and not knowing the facts of what they were truly bidding on. Other star name players Team Indexed bats that have surfaced recently include Eddie Mathews ( S2 model – 34” bats ), Hank Aaron ( R43 bats from the 1973 – 1975 period ) and Pete Rose ( S2 bats from the 1977 – 1979 period ).
This is a topic that very few dealers, authenticators and auction houses like to discuss but we need to help educate the collecting community so collectors don’t make thousand dollar mistakes. Game Used Universe offers access to all Hall of Fame player bat shipping records which can help you understand these nuances. My colleague, Mike Specht, and I are always available to answer questions for you through the site.
A collector with over 20 years of experience, Jim Caravello has handled hundreds of Yankees and vintage Hall of Famer bats from the 1950’s through the 80’s. He is a regular contributor to GameUsedUniverse.