Arguably the most crucial piece of equipment in baseball and softball is the bat, as this is the vehicle through which runs are scored and games are won. The right bat can make all the difference between a solid hit and a disconnect with the ball, and continued innovations see baseball and softball bats becoming more powerful with each passing year.
Softball bats as we know them today were greatly influenced by the centuries of bat evolution. Follow us through the history of bat technology and find out exactly what’s gone into the creation of your softball bat as you know it today.
The Early Days
In the early days of baseball and softball, bats were created following an “unstructured structure.” Players were allowed to select or create their own bats, and this resulted in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, as there were no restrictions regarding length or width.
As experimentation occurred, players determined that wagon tongue wood created the most solid round bat, and a trend towards the now traditional round bat picked up steam.
The Changes of the 1860s
The first limitations on bat size came in 1859, when The Professional National Association of Baseball Players Governing Committee voted that bats could be no larger than 2.5 inches in diameter. The 1860s saw players wrapping strings and cords around the handles of their bats to find a better grip on the larger bat handle.
By the end of the 1860s, a new rule limiting the length of bats was set at a maximum of 42 inches–a limitation which still stands today for baseball. For softball, regulations require bats not be over 34 inches in length, regardless of association.
Cue John Hillerich…
In 1884, the course of baseball and softball bats would be changed forever. A young John Hillerich–promising woodworker and amateur baseball player–watched Pete Browning break his bat.
Afterwards, Hillerich claimed that he could shape a new bat according to Browning’s specifications, and legend has it Browning used that special bat the next day to hit three for three.
By 1887, Hillerich and his father were selling these bats to the major Leagues, and marking each with the Louisville Slugger trademark. By the year 1923, Louisville Slugger was the country’s top bat manufacturer.
The Wooden Touch
Wooden bats have seen their fair share of mediums, including maple, ash, willow, pine, spruce, cherry, and even chestnut. As time went on and bats experienced redesign upon redesign, ash bats found themselves on top. From the 1870s and onward, ash was the most popular wood choice for the major league players. Once Barry Bonds used a maple bat and started his famous record breaking streak, players started making the switch, but to this day, no studies have found maple bats to present an advantage over their ash counterparts.
An Aluminum Introduction
In the 1970s, aluminum bats were introduced to America’s pastime. At first, they were considered to be inexpensive, metallic copies of their wooden counterparts, but as innovation continued, it was found that the thin walls of the metal bats flex when hit, with some of that energy resulting in elastic bounce that helps batters hit the ball faster and farther.
Their hollow quality allows them to be swung faster, and the hardness offered means a much faster speed when the ball bounces off the bat.
The Multi-Wall Bat
In 1993, DeMarini developed the first multi-wall bat, called the DoubleWall. This bat increased the size of the so-called “hitting sweet spot”, enabling inexperienced players to hit like the pros–or at least a lot better than they had previously.