Revealing: Wood Baseball Bat Clouded Misinformation
WARNING: a wooden baseball bat can be harmful to your health. But it is one of the main ingredients in baseball, consider the following:
"There are three things in my life which I really love: God, my family, and baseball. The only problem - once baseball season starts, I change the order around a bit." -Al Gallagher, 1971
"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." -Rogers Hornsby
Like warm & witty baseball humor above, a wood baseball bat is the marrow of artistic poetry, and at the same time controversy, for the world of baseball.
Today we're going to answer the bleeding questions, boa-constricting every admirer and young player of the game,
- What's the strongest wood?
- How to hold and swing wooden bats properly?
- What's the best and most durable wood training bat?
- What's the secret to making wood last longer?
Now for our Q&A section...
What's the strongest wood for a bat?
This deserves a brief history lesson...
Hickory seemed to be the wood bat of choice back when Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were dropping 500 foot shots over baseball's confines. Hickory's dense, heavy, and durable nature proved well amongst the ranks,
Ted Williams came along swinging a lighter bat made from Northern White Ash, its light weight features were great for end-of-the-season fatigue. Teddy Ballgame made hitting a science, after the release of his hitting gospel book, down to the selection of a bat.
He often looked for wood baseball bats having gnarly knots on the barrel, so as to reinforce the impact of a batted ball. All players would "bone," also known as "boning," Northern White Ash bats, which meant taking an animal bone and rub it length-wise along the grains to pack them down.
Players continue to do this today, whether it holds biological credence, who knows, but I sure followed suit and took The Splendid Splinter's word for it myself.
We then moved into a new age of wooden bats, Maple...it's light like White Ash, but dense, similar to old school Hickory. The difference is, since its mass is less, they break a lot easier than its heavier vintage counterpart.
Now you see players experimenting with Bamboo Bats, which what I hear from former professional players I played alongside in college, is too porous and doesn't last as long. I've hit with it, and the feel is okay to me, but I haven't used it in a long season like they have.
Returning to our original question, hickory is by far the strongest wood available for swinging, however a short search on Google will land you frustrated...there's a company called Old Hickory Co., which manufacturers, ironically, Ash bats and surprisingly, the only positive life for old Hickory is a Don Mattingly endorsed hickory youth "training" bat.
Other than that, companies are spending their marketing dollars pushing their Maple models, thanks to guys like Barry Bonds shattering the home run record, steroids and all, with a SamBat Maple.
How to hold and swing a wood baseball bat properly?
Like Ted Williams said, the hardest part of the bat is the back of the branded label, so he would make sure during contact, he could see it, NOT literally, but he said the label should be opposite contact with the ball.
To set this action up right I would make sure the label was facing me in my stance, and then after a few hits, look at where the ball marks were ending up and adjust the bat accordingly.
Wooden Baseball Bat UPDATE: I Stand Corrected -- I just received an email from a reader detracting my analysis above, here's what Dr. Michael Visconti so elegantly shared with me:
"In your article you said that Ted Williams said to hit opposite from the label but that is not the case. He said he didn't want distractions so he pointed the label down away from him so he couldn't see it. The label is placed on the flat of the grain which is the weakest part of the wood as opposed to the edge of the grain. It's like hitting on the flat part of a piece of plywood vs the edge of the plywood. The way to orient the bat is to hit 90 degrees from the label (Label up or label down). Thanks for writing to help everyone out. Doc V"
Thanks Doc for sharing, this information on how to hold the wooden baseball bat makes more sense to me. I'm more ready these days to say I don't know it all, and am in a good position to learn from my readers!
What's the best and most durable wood training bat?
Most composite wood baseball bats will work, but brace yourselfbecause they ARE an investment...typically running over $100!
My favorites are Mizuno's Composite Wood and BaumBats. BaumBats are significantly more durable than any other composite, they hit mostly true, and the company is on the leading edge of training bat research. They make their wood comps with a foamed-plastic core, covered by a fiber-resin material, then with an Ash wood outer layer. We used to hit with these in semi-pro wood bat college summer leagues, and loved them.
BaumBats also have a 6 month manufacturer's limited warranty, which says a lot for any other wood bat.
The only drawback, they'll run you $150 on up, unless you order 1 box (6 bats) direct from the company, then they'll run $135/bat including shipping. Take it from me, they're worth the investment in training for the serious athlete.
What's the secret to making wood last longer?
Here are the 9 TOP tips for making a wooden baseball bat virtually immortal:
- Using the "boning" technique above with White Ash bats,
- Keep wood away from extreme temperatures and liquids,
- Make sure to make contact with the label facing away from the ball,
- Select a bat with a gnarly knot on the barrel,
- If buying a wooden bat with a pro cup, make sure there are NO air pockets/gaps showing in the cup grains,
- Look for long loopy wood grains, or rings, running length-wise along the barrel...stay away from short choppy ones,
- Use the Balance Test - if you're a power hitter, you're looking for a bat model with a balance point farther from the handle (C-243 & C-261), and closer to the handle for more of a contact hitter (C-271, M110, & C-72 "pea shooter"),
- Get a good composite or BaumBat, and last but NOT least
- Make sure to soak in the Swing Smarter principals of how to operate your weapon correctly.
The latter being crucial to wood baseball bat longevity and performance. Wood is one of the three most powerful training tools out there, the other two being a hitting tee and digital camcorder.
I heard an old sage in a far off country say once, to invest good money in two things: a good mattress and shoes...it's the same with baseball. I hope you enjoyed the Q&A about wood bats, please feel free to subscribe to our RSS feed above, and keep in stride with future articles. We really appreciate your time with us!
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