The great game of baseball is quite simple in its ruling and execution, and yet it has seen many tweaks and adjustments to the elements of the game itself and equipment over the years. In the 1860s, players would forge their own bats and balls to play with to suit their style. So, as you could imagine, people would turn up with very long, heavy bats under the assumption that the greater mass that was behind the swing would result in bigger hits.
From 1870 onwards, ash became the preferred wood for the sport, with the length of the bat limited to 42 inches and 2.5 inches in diameter, which is very similar to the regulation sizes in the modern MLB, according to the Smithsonian. So, how have baseball bats changed over the years, and why?
Cricket leading the way in bat sports evolution?
All sports, including motorsports like the Indy 500, are continually looking to hone their equipment to give players an edge. By way of comparison to baseball, though, the cricket bat has significantly changed over the years to produce greater top scores, and yet the size of the bat hasn’t changed. Cricket may not be overly popular in America, like other sports favored on the other continents, such as rugby, but the two are very similar in their goals. Where the baseball bat has significantly shrunk, and the type of material used has varied, cricket has kept the same size of bat and material. It was found that the size or shape of the bat didn’t really influence the recent surge in big scoring batsmen, but it was instead how the bats were being pressed, according to experts in an interview with Betway Insider. In fact, it’s not even the pressing methods that have changed a whole lot, but the tighter-grain willow wood sourced from trees that has allowed for the created bats to be harder and be immediately explosive. Although these changes that have greatly upped the amount of boundaries scored in the sport, they haven’t had an impact on the weight or size of the bat.
Evolution of the baseball bat and sport
Likewise in baseball, with the sport becoming more popular and there being more and more on the line in each game, players, teams, and equipment developers have continued to try to get the edge by using better bats. As ash became more popular with players, it became the go-to wood for a long time.
One of the most famous bats is the Louisville Slugger, originally created by John ‘Bud’ Hillerich. After watching his local team, the Louisville Eclipse, he witnessed Pete Browning, who was in a slump, break his bat. Hillerich offered to make him a new one. In Browning’s next game, he went three-for-three with what became known as the Louisville Slugger. Since the crafting of that first bat, Louisville Slugger has sold more than 100 million bats and is still a leader in the market, according to their official website, Slugger.
The development of aluminum bats started to change the game. In 1924, William Shroyer was given a patent for the first metal bat, but they weren’t seen in the game until nearly 50 years later. This later developed into high-grade aluminum and titanium bats – Louisville Slugger forged an incredibly strong but light-grade aluminum bat. However, due to continuity and player safety, the MLB will not allow the use of anything other than wooden bats. There was also a surge of maple bats coming into demand. In 2001, Barry Bonds smashed a record 73 home runs in one season, for which he used a maple bat. This led many other players to ditch their ash bats and switch to maple.
As we have advanced in science and technology, it was only natural for the incredibly competitive market of sports to do so as well. As was the case for many sports, baseball was shrouded in illegal gambling practices as well as performance enhancing drugs being taken in the earlier days of the sport. But nowadays players know to promote a healthy lifestyle and to avoid the likes of alcohol and smoking due to the long-term effects to become the best athlete that they can be. These advancements have enabled the equipment to become even more specialized to give players an edge as well as promote healthy practices and better athletes.
So, as baseball continues to develop its equipment, the sport should take a leaf out of the cricket handbook. Instead of changing the material or weight of the bats, culture trees that will produce a better quality of wood for the purpose. They likely already do this, but the practice can undoubtedly be furthered.