We cannot see a collection of bats without thinking of wine: So
many bottle-shaped varieties, racked and labeled, cellared in a
dugout (and occasionally corked). Bats, too, are inert objects,
until some pint-sized sommelier--"Batboy!"-- hands one to a
connoisseur near the plate, where latent powers are revealed.
The bats on these pages are from the game's finest vintner, the
Baseball Hall of Fame; some (including George Brett's notorious
Pine Tar bat, below) are on view in the exhibit "Baseball as
America," a 10-city tour that opened last week at New York
City's American Museum of Natural History. Might we commend to
you a 1919 Joe Jackson Black Betsy?
RABBIT MARANVILLE, c. 1914 The 155-pound shortstop brandished a
tree trunk: a 31 1/4-inch Spalding weighing 50 ounces. Maybe
that's why he batted .258.
WILLIE KEELER, c. 1900 To hit 'em where they wasn't, the 5'4
1/2" outfielder fittingly used a wee stick: a 30 1/2-inch
Hillerich & Bradsby that weighed 34 ounces.
SPALDING MUSHROOM HANDLE, c. 1900 Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and
Frank Chance favored this bat, better-balanced than the top-heavy
models of the era.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS, 1990 Who needs a donut when you've got the
Bratt's Bat, a 75-ouncer (including the plastic tube) designed
for swings in the on-deck circle?
ICHIRO SUZUKI, 2001 The Japanese phenom made his mark in the
States with, what else, Japanese lumber: a 33-inch, 32-ounce
Mizuno that banged out 242 hits.
DECAL BAT, c. 1915 Likely a Hillerich & Bradsby salesman's
sample, it features decals of stars in the company's stable.
JOE JACKSON, c. 1911 Shoeless Joe's biographers say it's so: The
original Black Betsy (a predecessor of this one) got its hue
from two coats of tobacco juice.
BABE RUTH, c. 1920 The Bambino liked to keep track of his
taters, so he notched the barrel of his surprisingly light
32-ounce bat whenever he hit one.
LOU GEHRIG, c. 1930 Larrupin' Lou had to be strong as an iron
horse to haul this 36 3/4-inch, 46-ounce Spalding stick to the
plate for 17 years.
GEORGE BRETT, 1983 Slathered in pine tar, history's naughtiest
bat was ejected--and the raging Royal soon followed.
HANK AARON, 1974 Number 44 used this to hammer number 714 off
ANDRE DAWSON, 1993 With his 31-ouncer, the Hawk took the skinny
handle to extremes.
JOHN GANZEL, c. 1915 The good citizens of Rochester, N.Y.,
presented Ganzel, who managed their Hustlers from 1909 through
'15, with this bat wrapped in birch strips and accented with
TONY GWYNN, 1994 After breaking a finger, the contact hitter
went heavy on tape to get a better handle.
PAUL O'NEILL, 1998 Basher of baseballs and watercoolers, he
taped his Rawlings to suit his grip.
DAVE CONCEPCION, 1982 The double knob gave the slap-hitting
shortstop a place to rest his left pinky.
FLAT-SIDED BAT, c. 1880 Used for bunting, this paddlelike
construction was outlawed in 1893.
COLOR PHOTO: BAT LABEL AND BORDER DESIGN BY JOE ZEFF
EIGHTEEN COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID N. BERKWITZ AND JOHN STUART