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Grading bats: Not all game used bats are the same



Over the past several years the game used bat market has taken off.  The average price of most vintage star bats has risen substantially.  However, two seemingly similar player’s bats from the same era can bring significantly different prices.  The reason is…not all game use bats are the same.  Quality is a key issue with determining the value of a vintage game used bat.

Many collectors are happy just to have a professional model bat with a particular players name on it paying little attention to use.  While other collectors want only to purchase bats that they believe (based on shipping records, use characteristics, provenance, etc…) have the greatest likelihood of actually having been used by the player whose name appears on the barrel.

Similar to vintage game used bats, high quality vintage cards have seen a dramatic increase in value particularly for those in perfect condition.  PSA 10 cards command a substantial premium bringing 10x Beckett listed values. Bats should be viewed in the same light.  There are very few super high quality vintage bats of super star players so when one becomes available there is tremendous competition.

What is meant by “high quality” when refereeing to bats.  Well, that is difficult to say because it varies from player to player for one thing.  For another, it is highly subjective and may vary from collector to collector.  In the context of this article will define quality as being based on 1) condition and overall use, 2) player sue characteristics and 3) provenance and history


Condition and overall use

Condition and overall use is the most subjective of the three criteria listed above.  Generally speaking the more use a bat has the more desirable it is.  As a game used bat collector, the thing that excites me the most is to hold a bat that one of my heroes held and used.  To have a bat that was possibly a favorite of was used for a considerable amount of time is the best.  I enjoy looking down the barrel of a bat and identifying seam marks imbedded in the barrel from making perfect contact with a fastball.  Many veteran collectors feel the same way.

Another aspect of condition to consider is whether the bats has been altered over time or features any non-game use related marks on it.  This is basically assessing “use” versus “abuse”.  It is most desirable to have a bat that is unchanged from the day the player stopped using it.  Often time abuse or damage is mistaken for use.  If a bat bears markings that were not created from actual use in a game or put there by the player then it isn’t “use”.  For instance, a bat that has sat in a damp garage may have loss of finish on the barrel or even damage to the wood, this is not use.  Other bats were given out and were continued to be player with in the back yard, this is not legitimate “game use”.  I have seen bats that were used to stir paint, pound nails, or were a chew toy for he family dog.  None of this is “game use”. 

Therefore, just because a bat is beat up does not necessarily mean that it shows good game use.  Any markings on a bat that cannot be attributed the player using the bat is likely abuse and decreases the desirability of the bat and its overall value.


Player use characteristics

Although there have been a couple books focused on determining whether or not a bat is a professional bat and ordered by a particular player, there is very little information available to help the collector determine whether a bat was actually use by a particular player.  (As a side note, this is what I would like to do in the “Feature” page of this site).  While determining for certain that a player actually used a bat is almost impossible unless you actually viewed the player using the bat yourself, you can make a reasonable determination based on the use characteristics apparent on the bat. 

A player’s bat is the tool of his trade.  Many players are fanatical about their bats.  They treat them in a certain manner before using them.  When at bat they may have a ritual such as tapping their cleats or repeatedly adding pine tar.  They may label their bats in a certain manner and may even label different bats they use differently.  Knowing a particular players use characteristics is an asset to the collector.  It allows the collector to look for evidence that links the bat directly to the player.

 Some area sot focus on:

Pine tar: many player use pine tar and some apply in a certain manner or known to always use it.  A good example of this is Harmon Killebrew who almost always used a large amount of pine tar applying it 6-12” up the handle.  George Brett is another example.  Brett would continuously add pine tar to his bats as he used them.  The longer he used a bat the more pine tar.  Therefore, a Brett bat with little use nut substantial pine tar may be suspect.  McGwires pine tar application on the handle and on the middle of the bat has been well documented.

Cleat marks: Some players are known for tapping the dirt off of their cleats between pitches at the plate.  A player who has been known to do this is Cal Ripken.  Does that mean a Cal Ripken bat without cleat marks is not good?  Absolutely not, it simply means that cleat marks on a Ripken bat is somewhat characteristic and helps to substantial that he used the bat.

Scoring:  scoring means to intentionally scratch a area of a bat (usually handle or barrel) to either improve grip on the handle or to put spin on the ball when it connects with the barrel.

Markings:  Players often mark their bats to identify them as theirs in the bat rack.  Since typically only the handle sticks out the knob is the place that is most often marked.  Most players write their uniform number on the knob.  An interesting exception is Don Mattingly who would only write the uniform numbers of retired Yankees on his bats in order to deter people from stealing his bats.  I have several Kirby Puckett bats with his name “KIRBY” written on the knob or inspirational says like “WORK HARD” or “WIN” written on the knob or barrel.  Others will have their nicknames written on the bat such as Chuck Knoblauch who would often write “KNOBBY” on the knob of his bats.


Provenance and History

Over the past couple years shipping records have become a major issue.  Shipping records have become a major piece to authenticating bats and are crucial to a bats provenance.  Although the shipping records can not tell us whether a bat was actually use by a particular player, they can tell us that at least a bat was order by a particular player.  However, it should be noted that bats that are believed to be legitimate have surfaced and so it is commonly accepted that the H&B shipping records may not be 100% complete of accurate.  A margin for error is understandable considering the entries were all made by hand and were not intend to act as a resource for bat collectors.

Bats that come from a reliable source (typically team personnel, player or even family member) add value to a bat because it helps to tie it directly to the player.  A person who helped to pioneer the “letter of authenticity” is Barry Halper.  Mr. Halper would often get documentation or written verification from the individual from whom he obtained an item.  In his case the people where typically either the player themselves or a family member or teammate. 



These are just a few variables that should be factored in when grading a bat or assessing its value.  Unlike baseball cards, it would be very difficult to have a standard grading system for bats since what constitutes a “10” or perfect bat varies from player to player and from bat to bat.  Nonetheless, to determine whether or not a bat was truly used by the player whose name appears on the barrel, the factors listed above should be carefully assessed and evaluated.

I would like to hear other collectors’ opinions on this topic or I invite other collectors to comment on the state of the hobby or any other area of bat collecting.  If you would like to submit an entry please email me at








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