- Written by Doris Montag Doris Montag
The first official game of baseball was held in 1846 in Hoboken, New Jersey. The evolving rules of the game govern the materials, form, and dimensions of a regulation baseball bat and ball.
Major League Baseball (MLB) requires wood bats, typically made of white ash, maple, or hickory. American bat manufacturing has been dominated by Hillerich & Bradsby Co. and Adirondack.
Hillerich & Bradsby and the Louisville Slugger
Andrew “Bud” Hillerich was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1866. His dad had a woodworking shop, where Hillerich became an apprentice.
In 1884, at 17, Hillerich made his first professional bat for Pete Browning, a megastar for the Louisville Eclipse. Browning’s nickname was the “Louisville Slugger.” In 1894, this logo became the registered trademark for the Hillerich bat.
In 1905, Honus Wagner, “The Flying Dutchman,” signed a contract with Hillerich as the first player to endorse a bat (or any athletic product). Wagner was a shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1897-1917.
Frank Bradsby joined the business in 1911 to add sales and marketing expertise. In 1916, the company was renamed Hillerich & Bradsby Co. (H&B).
During World War I, H&B retooled to make equipment for the armed services. During World War II, H&B produced M-1 carbine gunstocks, track pins for tanks, and billy clubs.
The Louisville Slugger bat was the stick of choice for many MLB players, including Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr., and Derek Jeter.
In 2015, Wilson Sporting Goods bought the Louisville Slugger brand from H&B. They continue to produce the Louisville Slugger bat in Louisville, Kentucky.
Adirondack and the ‘Big Stick’
Adirondack was developed by Edwin McLaughlin of Dolgeville, New York, who made billets for baseball bats. In 1945, in partnership with George Millard, McLaughlin introduced quality white-ash wooden bats under the name Adirondack. They added the Adirondack logo in 1958.
In 1969, Adirondack introduced the bat-mobile, an Airstream trailer equipped to hand-turn bats at Major League spring camps. The onsite availability converted big leaguers to the “Big Stick” bat. Between 1968 and 1975, the Big Stick logo appeared with the player’s name on the bat.
Personal/signature models were made for recognized players, including Rico Carty, Tommy Harper, Cleon Jones, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Felix Millan, Don Money, John Roseboro, Ron Santo, and Joe Torre.
Adirondack made standard models for Aaron, Alou, Cash, Cepeda, Horton, Howard, Rose, Hundley, Kaline, Mantle, Musial, Robinson, Staub, and Yastrzemski.
In 1971, Rawlings bought Adirondack Industries. The logo was not changed to Rawlings until 1983.
Regulations for Bats and Balls
Regulations for baseball equipment were introduced in 1876. Today, the MLB regulations require each bat to be a round stick made of solid wood with a smooth surface. As of 2010, the maximum diameter of a Major League Baseball bat was set to 2.61 inches.
In 1869, the maximum length of a regulation baseball bat was set at no more than 42 inches. This rule continues to this day in MLB. (Youth leagues range from 26-31 inches; high school and college, 32-36 inches.)
The handle of the bat can be covered with any substance or material, such as pine tar, which improves the grip of the bat. Material for the grip helps to absorb the sting from a hit.
In the early history of the game, pitchers typically made their own baseballs. When standards were defined, A.G. Spalding, a pitcher for Boston, convinced the league to adopt the ball he had been making as the official baseball. His ball was used for the next 100 years.
Today, MLB baseballs weigh between 5 and 5.25 ounces and are 9-9.25 inches in circumference. The center of rubber or cork is wrapped in yarn and covered with natural white horsehide or cowhide or synthetic composite leather.
It is bound together by 108 handwoven, typically red-dyed stitches. That number of double-threaded stitches has been shown to generate the best air pressure for the pitcher’s special throws.
Now it’s April. Let’s play ball!
Doris Montag is a homespun historian and an exhibit curator who researches and displays historical collections of ordinary things, such as can openers, crochet, toy sewing machines, hand corn planters, powder compacts, egg cartons, and more. Contact or follow her on Facebook, HistoryofOrdinaryThings.