This weekend I had the great pleasure of visiting Louisville, Kentucky where in addition to a stop a Churchill Downs (and winning $22 on the exacta in the 4th) I spent some time at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. It was pretty cool – like a mini-Cooperstown with over a century of history spanning the game’s best hitters. There was also an exhibit on Negro Leagues illustrations and memorabilia as well as batting cages for use with replica bats.
When a player signs on with the Hillerich & Bradsby-owned brand (as most players do), his signature is lifted from the contract for use on his personalized bats as well as the Museum’s display wall. So on file, you can see the signatures of the greatest hitters to ever swing a baseball bat – Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Richie Ashburn, Mickey Mantle (I got to hold one of his bats), Jackie Robinson, Honus Wagner, the list goes on and on. Some players still use Louisville Slugger bats even if they are not under contract – on those bats the name is printed in block letters. As we walked in, one of the craftsmen from Philly told us the story of how Mike Schmidt occasionally use their bats even though he was not under contract. He would even go so far as to wrap a piece of gold tape around the center to make it look like his sponsored brand.
We had a quick tour of the bat making process but were not allowed to take pictures. It was setup up like a typical small factory with a special $750,000 machine made in Italy that makes major league players’ bats. Placido Polanco had a rack full of bats in production there. All the wood is harvested from Northern Pennsylvania/Southern New York forests and is mostly ash. A few years ago, Barry Bonds sparked the maple craze which increased the share of those bats by almost 40%.
Other Phillies-related stuff included a collection of bats with the lineups from the 2009 World Series. There was also a demonstration of “what a 90 mph fastball looks like” where a life-sized video-projected Cole Hamels fires a real ball at a stuffed dummy behind some plexiglass. Finally of course there was a smattering of Phillies players throughout their record books and signatures including a listing of the 4-year running Silver Slugger, Chase Utley.