I wish I could hand these four bats to each and every reader, so you could hold them, too. Take a stance with them. Swing them. To feel what it's like to grip history.
But you would have to get a signed release from your chiropractor first.
Louisville Slugger keeps the specifications on all the models of bats it has made dating back to the early '30s and has reference models of many bats from before that. Informed of this, I asked the company if it would produce several replica bats so that I could bring them to a big-league game and let current players test them during batting practice. A couple of weeks later, a shipment arrived on my doorstep containing exact replicas of bats originally made for Honus Wagner, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth.
I couldn't have been more excited if the Smithsonian had mailed me the U.S. Constitution. After all, how many batting titles did James Madison win?
There are two main things you notice when you pick up these bats. One, they're big. The Ruth and Shoeless Joe bats are 36 inches long and weigh 38-40 ounces, depending on whose scale you trust. Next, with the exception of the Ruth bat, the handles are much thicker than modern bats. Scott Spiezio measured the Shoeless Joe bat against his own and found that Jackson's handle was almost as thick as his is at the trademark. There are Hickory Farms beef sticks that are thinner. The Cobb and Wagner bats also have almost no knobs.
How the hell did they swing these things without steroids? These are not so much bats as clubs. You don't want to step into the batter's box with the Shoeless Joe bat, you want to go into the forest and knock down redwoods. Seriously, I carried my wife on my back for 253½ meters at the World Wife Carrying Championship a couple of weeks ago. I rode a stage of the Tour de France. I was chased by a bull in Pamplona, Spain. But my back started aching only after swinging these bats for an afternoon.
You don't need batting gloves to swing these, you need a truss.
Walking around with the bats, I felt like a traveling exhibit of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Everyone, absolutely everyone, asked about the bats. Security guards, fans, concessionaires, front-office staffers, broadcasters, engineers, parking attendants, traffic cops, ushers -- they all wanted to know what the deal was with the bats. And when I told them, they all got a misty, envious look in their eyes. They wouldn't have been more eager to hold them if I were carrying around actual working light sabers.
The Shoeless Joe bat -- stained a rich brown -- was the most popular of the four bats because of its thickness and weight. Everyone who swung it got this look as if they were waiting for Kevin Costner to start pitching to them in a cornfield.
The players were no different.
Normally, when reporters walk into the clubhouse, players do their best to avoid eye contact and keep to themselves. They face the insides of their locker or flop on the couch to watch TV or walk into the lunch room -- essentially doing anything to stave off yet another repetitive interview. Not this time. When I walked into the Mariners' clubhouse, the players were drawn to the bats as if I had a Hooters waitress on each arm.