The official supplier of American Major League Baseball (MLB), the Louisville Slugger company, allows the public to discover the production secrets of their bats, but also to put themselves in the shoes of MLB players. Extension visited the museum dedicated to baseball bats. A fascinating discovery.
You can not miss the location of the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, in the heart of Kentucky’s largest city (USA). A bat with baseball over 36 m high and 31 tons actually signals the entrance. A giant sculpture of steel and carbon that symbolizes the importance of the Hillerich & Bradsby company in the American sports landscape.
An institution for discipline
Founded in 1855 by JF Hillerich and still run by one of his descendants, John A. Hillerich IV, the company designs and manufactures the bats for the majority of MLB (Major League Baseball) players, to become an institution for discipline, just like Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs, Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox or Yankee Stadium in New York.
However, nothing determined this modest timber company to achieve such recognition. But the founder’s son’s passion for playing baseball decided otherwise. In 1884, 17-year-old Bud Hillerich left his job as quickly as possible at the end of the day to attend training for the local team, says museum director Andrea Davis. Her idol was Pete Browning, a drummer called “Louisville Slugger”. At the end of a meeting, he went to see him to offer to make his bats and give them the nickname.
Despite his father’s opposition, Bud’s talent for variety of forests (ash and maple), their size and the balance between the bats quickly ensured his reputation. At the beginning of XXe century, the first sports stars called for his services: Honus Wagner signed a representation contract in 1905, soon imitated by Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb or Lou Gehrig. The latter arouses the enthusiasm of the audience and never fails to praise the benefits of their equipment.
The company then invests in new department stores, buys a forest of 2,800 acres of white ash on the border of the states of New York and Pennsylvania, and has several thousand employees (there are only 350 today). A staff and a reserve of wood that will be used later during World War II to make rifle butts.
Today, the Louisville Slugger is the reference index for bats and boasts of having the largest, from Joe DiMaggio to Yogi Berra, including Cal Ripken Jr., Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter or Ken Griffey Jr. Names found with plaque and bronze copy of their bat, Louisville Walk of Fame, between the company and the stadium, along Main Street.
But to learn more about this history and dive into the heart of a sport that is a religion in the United States, nothing beats a visit to the Louisville Slugger Museum. Past the giant bat and front door, a circular wall with the signatures of thousands of players equipped by Hillerich & Bradsby for 130 years. No names are missing, not even those convicted of doping.
While the uninitiated may be confused, the playful aspect of the experience-based venues, as well as the interactive exhibits, make the visit fascinating. You do not have to be a baseball fan or nerd to appreciate the galleries and collectibles we have, Andrea Davis continues. With anecdotes, videos or trying out bats, everyone can have fun.
In fact, between presentations of jerseys, models representing the players, photos or press clippings, everyone can trace the history of this sport and the habits of the stars, like that of Babe Ruth who notched the bat every time he hit a home run. And to treat yourself to some excitement, just go into the cage’s cage to meet a ball driven at 145 km / h by one of MLB’s pitchers.
300 bats, 8000 varieties
But the museum does not forget to showcase its knowledge. In addition to the purely sporting aspect, a review through the production facility is proposed, or how to unveil a rather surprising process. We show the audience which types of wood are used and chosen by the players, how the bats are balanced at the request of the athletes – some want more weight at the top of the bat, others prefer a more massive grip -. In total, we offer more than 300 basic models, but with the details that each other asks for, we reach more than 8000 variations.
Knowing that MLB has almost 900 players who each use an average of 120 bats per year, never stops the factory: 1.8 million bats come out of the workshops every year, at a rate of 3000 per day. We can not mass produce because of everyone’s needs. But it’s still easier than before. Today’s bats are lighter, with larger barrels and thinner handles. In the past, players used very different models. Babe Ruth’s bat weighed almost 1.2 kg, Hank Aron’s only 935 g, Johnny Goodman was limited to 850 g, while Ed Roush played with a 1,380 kg bat. Al Simmons then used a 37-inch long bat, but Willie Keeler’s bat was only 77.
However, the league ended its differences by limiting the variations. Now a bat does not exceed 1,067 m and weighs about 1 kg. When the discovery of the factory is over – with the presentation of a free minibat as a souvenir – visitors will therefore know everything about the production processes. All they have to do is try to understand the baseball rules!
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