Sunday, March 29, 2015

This Story Might Drive You Batty

By Allen Bacon, The Daily Bosco

When I was a kid and you loved baseball as much as I did, the one sure thing you had in your possession was a Louisville Slugger Wood Baseball Bat.  Or in my case, two or three.

That was in case your favorite Louisville Slugger Baseball Bat got broke.  Or if for some reason one of the three didn't feel right in a certain game situation on a particular day.

Like the days I had to face Chuck Powell who could throw 100 miles an hour (or at least it felt like that) when he was 12 years old.  Not accurately mind you.

So on those particular days you would want to go with a light Louisville Slugger baseball bat signed by Ernie Banks so you could get around on the ball faster and pray to a Higher Being that you made some type of contact with a small piece of the bat before the ball hit you.

You might also consider wearing a football helmet and a lot of padding.

I confess now that the only reason why I took Wood Shop in Junior High School was so that I could learn how to make my own Baseball Bats and Guitars.  And the fact that my Dad made me do it. Other than that I really had no interest in Woodworking when I was a kid.

I had this fantasy ala Roy Hobbs in "The Natural" where lightening would strike and fell a might oak tree in my neighborhood and I would take the pieces of that tree back to the Nicolas Junior High School Wood Shop lathe and craft me the most awesome baseball bat, stain it, varnish it with a couple coats of lacquer and name it "The Business".

That never happened, but I used to think every time I would get a H&B Louisville Slugger baseball bat that some guy in Louisville would go to the back woods of Kentucky, fend off the bad guys from the movie "Deliverance", hand pick and personally chop down an Oak tree, bring it back to Louisville, and hand carve, stain, and varnish my bat.  Then he would hand it to Johnny Bench who would personally carve his signature into my bat.

As when you first find out that there really is (spoiler alert) no Santa Claus, my ideas on where my Louisville Slugger wood baseball bats came from and how they were made was absolutely shattered one day.

It was the day I found out that those bats are actually mass produced at a clip of 30 seconds per bat on computerized super lathes and the wood comes from a forest in North Carolina, not Kentucky.

Once that sunk in, I consoled myself with the fact that at least the Louisville Slugger Baseball Bat is an American Made Product.

Then I found out that much of the production of the bats is actually done in China.

By time my son was playing baseball, wood bats were no where to be found.  Everybody from Little League to College had to use aluminum bats.  The only ones that were using wooden bats were the Professionals.

I bring all this up of course because two of the biggest brands in baseball came together earlier this week as the parent company of Wilson Sporting Goods (Not an American company) announced it was acquiring the intellectual property of Louisville Slugger from its original owner, Hillerich & Bradsby for 70 Million Dollars.

For more than 100 years, Louisville Slugger was the dominant force in the baseball bat industry, with its name on the bats of more than 18,000 Major League Baseball players and amateur players from Little League to College and playgrounds around the world.

But during the past 15 years, Louisville Slugger has faced major competition from the likes of Mariucci and DeMarini brands, which has tripled in size since it was acquired by Wilson parent, Finnish company Amer Sports in 2000.

Sure, Louisville Slugger went to producing Aluminum Bats in addition to their signature wood bats but their sales have steadily declined.

Many people don't realize Louisville Slugger actually created modern day sports marketing.

Louisville Slugger got its big break in 1897 when Honus Wagner made his MLB debut for the now defunct team in Louisville. Bud Hillerich made bats for the team out of his Dad's furniture shop and befriended Wagner.

In 1905, the two made their partnership official as Wagner became the brand's first endorser. The deal put Wagner bats, with his signature on them, in stores and in the minds of baseball players all over the United States.

The rest is history.

I am glad the name will live on but I feel a little sad because it's really the end of an era.

I realize now there may be a whole generation of baseball playing kids that will not have the same nostalgic thoughts and notions of a wood baseball bat that I once did.

It's really hard to romanticize about extruded metal or products made in China and Finland.

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