Hillerich to the Rescue
02-07-2014 / By:
An important event happened in 1884, which is now frozen in history. This event involved a broken bat and a young woodworker. During the 1884 baseball season, John Hillerich, a woodworker for his father and a good amateur ballplayer, was in the stands watching 'The Louisville Eclipse' of The Professional American Association play. During this game, Pete "The Gladiator" Browning, star outfielder, broke his favorite bat and became very frustrated. After the game, young Hillerich invited Pete to his Dads' woodworking shop. He claimed that he could create a new bat for Pete. After Browning and Hillerich selected a piece of white ash, Hillerich began to "shape the new bat" according to Browning's directions. With Browning looking over his shoulder and periodically taking practice swings, Hillerich worked through the night. Finally, Browning announced that the bat was just right.
The next day, Browning used the Hillerich bat and hit three for three. Soon after, not only did Brownings' teammates begin to order bats from the Hillerich woodworking shop, but so did players from other teams. Yes, the 17 year old youngster made his first custom-made bat for Pete Browning, who virtually put the Hillerich family in the bat business. As we progress to the year 1887, we find John "Bud" Hillerich and his father J. Frederick continuing to sell as many bats as they can make for the Major Leagues. Although small independent companies were also making bats, they lacked the proper skills and techniques and were unable to compete with the Hillerich business. Their bats were made based on the preferences of the individual players. "Bud" Hillerich and his workers knew the weight, length, style and selection of wood. For example, there were many different types of woods used for making bats, including the wood used for making ax handles. However, only top quality wagon tongue, white ash and hickory were considered the best. Later, it was determined that hickory was too heavy. Also, the Louisville Slugger trademark on each bat was now recognized by all players.
In 1893, the Baseball Rules Committee added two important improvements to the game. First, it was no longer permissible to use bats sawed off at the end or flat bats for bunting. Secondly, the pitching mound was moved from 50 feet to 60 feet 6 inches from home plate. In addition, in 1895, the diameter of bats was increased to 2 3/4 inches, from 2 1/2 inches. The length of the bats remained the same at 42 inches.