Batter' Up! - West Wind Hardwood

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LouisvilleSluggerMusem
Louisville Slugger Musem

Admittedly I didn’t play baseball growing up.  I was into more ‘girly girl’ sports such as shin-splitting grass hockey.  Needless to say all things wood is of interest now, and when NPR Weekend America played a program on the qualities of wood for baseball bats, it was duly noted.

Historically, the majority of baseball bats were made from hickory, a durable but heavy wood.  Today’s professionals are using northern white ash and maple.

The lighter the bat in weight, the faster the ball can be batted; makes hitting that line drive or home run a little easier.  Using a denser/heavier wood bat during practice and warm-up offers the batter better swing action.  Warming up with a weighted bat means the bat in ‘game play feels lighter; slugger is ready.

Where does this leave the weekend warrior or those budding “Larry Walker’s”?  And I guess this is my opportunity to ‘toot’ a little family horn and lay out my claim to fame.  What baseball fan doesn’t know who Larry Walker is these days???!!!  Larry Walker‘s father and my father, Ralph Godson are cousins!!  That would make Larry and I somewhat ‘diluted’ cousins J

And where does that leave us, if not wondering which wood to make your baseball bat from.  It seems all wood bats are not the same.  Are you looking for reliability and durability; or preferring lightness and swingability?

Hickory
In the early days of baseball, hickory was once the most popular type of bat in the game. It’s extremely hard and strong; but simply too heavy for many ball players. It’s worth noting that Babe Ruth used 47 ounce hickory bats.

White Ash
Ash is approximately 1-2% less dense than hickory and is popular because of its combination hardness, strength, weight and long-term durability.  If not making your own, ensure you buy from a reputable manufacturer……there’s nothing with worse than poor white ash.  Somewhere I picked up this statistic:  ‘bat’ trees are often 50+ years old, and of the lumber harvested, the top 10% is saved for pro bats.  Word to the wiseAsh bats often snap just above the handle and can cause the barrel to fly.

Maple
Maple baseball bats have seen a dramatic increase in popularity. Improvements in kiln-drying have resulted in lighter wood due to lower moisture content; making an easier swing. Eastern hard rock maple is a good choice.  Maple bats tend to break (shatter) creating a potential danger on the infield; still it offers 2 or 3 seasons of good play for the weekend warrior.

Aluminium
Today, playing baseball no longer means you may experience that wonderful crack of the bat sound that brings back countless memories.  In fact, wood bats are rare at most levels other than with the pros, and I’m not even going down this road.

Bamboo
Can bamboo even be classified as ‘wood’ since bamboo is technically a grass?  In any case, it’s late arrival to the baseball scene.  Bamboo stalks are hollow, ‘solid’ lumber is made by pressing bamboo strips into bat blanks. We know of bamboo in our flooring world and it is known for having a tensile strength greater than steel. Bamboo has a Janka rating of 1650, whereas ash is 1320; maple is 1450.  Due to potential bat tampering, bamboo bats have been deemed ineligible in the Major League.

Baseball bat 1

The reality of wood bats is that any one of them can be broken. The first thing to reduce breakage is to understand that no two trees are alike; no two bats are alike either.  Know your bat; learn how pitching techniques affect breakage.  Secondly, understand that the movement of your hands…with a little help from the front knee…will always start the swing. With wood, it generally takes a bit more to get the bat through the contact zone, so start your swing earlier.  If nothing else, this offers great training with your aluminum bat, and you should notice an improvement in the speed of the ball.

It goes without saying that wood is alive.  Care and good handling is necessary.  Extreme temperatures are not a good idea. Wood bats should be stored in the house and not an unheated garage. Simply store them in the back of your closet to keep them out of the way in the off season.

What about cricket bats?  Any thoughts on what they are best made of??

photos provided by Wikimedia Commons

4 Comments

  1. I believe you will find that although Hickory is about 10% heavier in weight than the woods you have mentioned it is not the reason for it’s declining use in baseball bats.

    Hickory possesses superior toughness and strength; however the declining supply of trees providing logs meeting the high standard required for bats and it’s consequent scarcity and increasing price are reasons for this decreased usage and not the lack of desirable qualities. Any fan watching the game on a regular basis can attest to the increased breakage of bats made of the substitutes of which you have spoken……

    From our avid reader Bob Pearce!

  2. I just cut a shag bark Hickory . I will have it sawn. The butt is about 30 inches. Then 2 more pieces 9′ long. The top piece will have some knots. Is it worth sawing it for bats? If so how wide and long are the billets? Is it possible to sell them? How much?

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