Louisville Slugger baseball bats are the elder statesmen of wooden bat manufacturing. The brand, which is produced by the Louisville, Ky.-based company Hillerich & Bradsby, has been making bats for professional baseball players for more than 125 years. There is an ongoing debate about the exact date that the company made its first bat for a professional, and who it was made for, but the general consensus is that it occurred somewhere around 1884.
What does the 125 stand for?
The number 125 refers to the bat’s lumber quality. Here is what the website of the company’s museum says: “The ‘125’ refers to the grade of wood used to make the bat. 125 is the highest grade and is reserved for all pro-level bats. All of the 125 lumber is sent to the Louisville factory.”
When did the number first appear?
Collectibles dealers who trade in vintage bats date their pieces by the logo on the bat’s center, known as the “oval center brand.” The first appearance of the 125 falls within 1916 to 1929. In 2009, the company celebrated its 125th anniversary by adding a 125-year logo between the signature line and center brand.
125 years of Louisville Slugger
Hillerich & Bradsby company legend says that the first pro bat was made for Pete Browning, a star on Louisville’s professional baseball team, in 1884. Browning—among whose nicknames was the Louisville slugger—reportedly used the bat the next day and swatted three hits.
Alternate history of the first pro bat
In a 1937 interview for “Baseball Magazine,” Arlie Latham, a 77-year-old former third baseman with the St. Louis Browns of the American Association, claimed the first bat was made for him. Latham claimed that he had broken his bat in Louisville in 1883 or 1884. Unable to find a replacement, he stopped into the Hillerich & Bradsby wood-turning shop, which was near his hotel, and asked the owner, J. Fred Hillerich, to have his son, Bud Hillerich, turn a bat for him. Latham’s story was supported by a 1942 letter in which Bud Hillerich confirmed the story. There is, nonetheless, an ongoing debate amongst the experts on the matter.
Louisville Slugger bats are the standard by which all other bats are measured against. Used extensively, and nearly exclusively, by Major League Baseball players, these bats are truly state-of-the-art. The mythology of the company, and the murkiness of the first pro bat story, add a significant amount of charm to what is already the grand old man of baseball bat manufacturers.
About this Author
Andrew Jeromski is a freelance writer based in Boston. He covered Major League Soccer for three seasons for the “Lowell Sun” newspaper in Lowell, Mass. He has a background in journalism and creative writing and is also an award-winning writer of fiction.