Sunday, April 3, 2016

Louisville Slugger Model Numbers

"Pick me out a winner, Bobby."
--Roy Hobbs (The Natural)

My formative baseball years were spent swinging wood bats. Aluminum bats were still in their infancy, and I didn't like the feel of early gen models. It was not until my sophomore year in high school that I seriously experimented with metal.

The dominant wood bat maker by far in those days was Hillerich & Bradsby, a Louisville-based company (H&B recently sold its bat division to Wilson). Figures estimate H&B's market share at about 90% back then--primarily via their popular Louisville Slugger models. One of the things that made Louisville Sluggers cool for young players is that you could get bats that were turned to similar specifications as major league players. Those bats came complete with the signature of the player stamped into the barrel end trademark.

I remember sifting thru the inventory at our local sporting goods store. Thin handles, fat handles, big barrels, small barrels, big knobs, no knobs, blonde wood, flame treated wood. After a while, you would associate different models with different players. Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Pete Rose, Al Kaline.

At some point, H&B included the bat model numbers on the barrel end trademark above the autograph. I personally owned Aaron and Bench 34 inch R43's, and I used a Pete Rose 33 inch S2 model with great success during my freshman summer season.

It turns out that the letter at the front of the model number corresponds to the initial of the last name of the player for which that particular bat model was first turned. Interestingly, many well known major league players have used models originally turned for players from earlier eras, and many of those early players were not exactly stars.

That S2 model that I used? While Pete Rose and Al Kaline may have elevated its status, it was originally produced for a lesser known shortstop of the 1940s and 1950s named Vern Stephens. The most popular Louisville Slugger today is the C271 model used by such greats as Ken Griffey Jr and Alex Rodriguez. The bat was first turned for 1970s journeyman Jose Cardenal.

While many modern players experiment with bat brands and models, recently retired Yankee great Derek Jeter used one brand and model for his entire career: a Louisville Slugger P72, (also preferred by Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Cal Ripken Jr). The model was first turned for an unknown named Leslie Wayne Pinkham in the 1950s.

Today, Louisville Slugger's share of the pro bat market is much lower (~30%) and the number of competing brands has proliferated to 40 or more. However, Louisville Slugger is still the standard in many ways. Not only is it still known as 'the official bat of Major League Baseball,' but rival bat makers commonly turn Slugger model numbers and often stamp them on their bats.

Below is a list of Louisville Slugger model numbers and associated players that I've been able to compile so far, as well as sources that have been helpful in that regard. I will update the list as I learn more.

A99 Hank Aaron
A132 Garret Anderson
B278 Johnny Bench
B360 Jeff Bagwell
B367 Jeremy Burnitz
C235 Nate Colbert
C243 Jim Campanis
C253 Jeff Conine
C271 Jose Cardenal
C331 Carl Crawford
C352 Rico Carty
G174 Jason Giambi
G175 Jeremy Giambi
I13 Mike Ivie
K55 Chuck Klein
M110 Mickey Mantle
M159 Stan Musial
M272 Eddie Murray
M275 Eddie Murray
M343 Edgar Martinez
M356 Edgar Martinez
O69 Spike Owen
O78 David Ortiz
P72 Leslie Wayne Pinkham
P339 Kirby Puckett
R17 Jackie Robinson
R43 Babe Ruth
R161 Frank Robinson
R226 Ivan Rodriguez
R237 Manny Ramirez
S1 Wes Schulmerick
S2  Vern Stephens
S44 Mel Butch Simon
S318 Reggie Smith
T85 Marv Throneberry
T141 Gene Tenace
W215 Ted Williams
W273 Dave Winfield

Smithsonian article
Baseball Fever thread: Louisville Slugger Bat Models
Baseball Fever thread: Discussion on Wood Bats
Game Used Universe thread: Louisville Slugger Model Reference?

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