You cannot play the game of baseball without a bat. Baseball bats, per major league rules, are to be solid pieces of wood with a regular 2.61 inch width but their length and weight can vary but cannot exceed 42 inches in length. Most wooden bats have been made of ash but some others are made from maple, hickory and more recently bamboo.
While maple tends to shatter easily it has become more popular with hitters like Barry Bonds who shattered records using them (and other things as well). Seeing maple’s popularity beginning to soar despite the dangers Major League Baseball began to look at the grain slope of the maple wood and has used an ink test to determine if the grain is safe to use. Since then injuries from shattered bats has dramatically decreased. Hickory is viewed as too heavy to use so despite its strength and durability it has disappeared in bats. Another wood, bamboo, is growing in popularity owing to its fine grain, increased strength and lightweight.
Since a bat has to be one solid piece of wood hollowing it out and placing a lighter material inside is illegal. That has not stopped players from trying though. Cork tends to be the most popular substitute and small balls and sawdust have also been tried and cheating is typically only discovered when the bat shatters. Six players have been caught using a corked bat, most recently longtime Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa in 2003, who famously claimed he used the bat to put on a show during batting practice and it “accidentally” ended up in his game bat rack. One has to wonder how many players were not caught. Baseball’s all time hit king Pete Rose was found to have used corked bats after a collector X-rayed one of his bats and found the incriminating evidence and Phil Garner admitted to using a corked bat to hit a homerun with it. The old adage of if you’re not cheating you’re not trying seems to ring true.
For the hitter his or her bat is an extension of themselves and some players have very strange rituals with their bats. Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams cleaned his bats everyday with alcohol and took them to the post office to weigh them to make sure they didn’t pick up anything while lying on the ground. Rod Carew of the California Angels stored his bats in sawdust believing that the sawdust would absorb any moisture. Pete Rose would soak his bats in motor oil to harden them. More recently longtime Seattle Mariner Ichiro Suzuki stores his bats in a humidor to keep moisture away. He also has a portable humidor for road games.
The most iconic manufacturer of baseball bats is Louisville Slugger based in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. Opened in 1855 by J.F. Hillerich as a woodworking shop, legend has it that while watching a Louisville Colonels’ game the owner’s son Bud invited the star player to his father’s shop to get a new bat after the player broke his during the game. In the midst of a slump the player, Pete Browning, accepted and he got three hits in his next game with his new lumber. Players began to flock to the shop and though Hillerich was initially not interested in making bats he eventually relented. After taking over the business Bud called his product The Louisville Slugger. Future Hall of Famer Honus Wagner became the first player to endorse the bat in 1905 and other early greats like Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig used them. The company produces or has produced other products like wooden rifle parts, baseball gloves, hockey sticks and golf equipment. The Louisville Slugger division was sold to Wilson Sporting Goods in 2015 but still produce bats to this day. The factory is located in downtown Louisville and the Cincinnati Reds top minor league affiliate, the Louisville Bats, play in Louisville Slugger Field. The company runs a museum and the world’s largest baseball bat sits outside of the building.