Americana: Louisville Slugger

We're not sure who J. Fred Hillerich of Louisville made his first Slugger for, but we know it's been used by the greats from Babe Ruth to Derek Jeter. Uploaded by farm3.static.flickr.com.

J. Fred Hillerich of Louisville, Kentucky, wanted nothing to do with baseball bats. On that, everyone agrees. He focused his woodworking shop on more profitable things, such as bedposts, tenpins, and a swinging butter churn. A patented swinging butter churn, no less.

His son, Bud, had other ideas. Maybe he made the first bat for a local pro named Pete Browning. Maybe he made it for a visiting player, Arlie Latham of the St. Louis Browns. Or maybe he made it for a little green man from Mars. Does it matter? What America knows is that baseball players all the way from Babe Ruth (Great American Things, Aug. 3, 2009) to Derek Jeter have relied on Louisville Sluggers.

Uploaded by apwa.net.

One factor in the company’s success has been that amateur players could swing a bat endorsed by the top Major Leaguers. Honus Wagner was the first to sign a sponsorship contract, which was also the first product endorsement in American sports history.

Of course, each Louisville Slugger is unique. The heaviest ever ordered was 48 ounces, used by Ed Roush of the Cincinnati Reds. The lightest came in at only 30 ounces – Billy Goodman of the Boston Red Sox used it in 1950 to win the American League batting crown. And Al Simmons used the longest bat, at 38 inches.

It’s with a heavy heart that I report that Hillerich & Bradsby (the corporate name of the manufacturer) also makes – it really pains me to say this – aluminum bats as well. No doubt the aluminum bats make the profit that allows the company to continue making wood bats, when few amateur groups still use them.

I still remember using Louisville Sluggers in my youth baseball days. Ah yes, the many home runs that…oh, all right, the many doubles I hit with my Al Kaline and Richie Ashburn models…

Oh, and Carrie Underwood reminds us of another use for these bats:

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