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A Chronicle of American Bats

Major league baseball bats must adhere to stringent standards.  For instance, bats may not be wider than 2.75 inches or longer than 42 inches.  They must be made of one piece of smooth solid wood.  Bat handles can be covered or treated to improve the grip, but that covering or treatment cannot extend to a length that exceeds 18 inches.  Yet even with these standards, major league baseball bats differ in weight, wood, and length.

Todays bat regulations have evolved over time from the games first organized competitions in the 1840s.  When the players assembled to play baseball at Elysian Field in Hoboken, New Jersey on June 19, 1846 there were no standards for baseball bats.  Each player brought and often crafted his own bat and not all of them were round.

In those early years, players soon discovered that the best bats were made from wagon tongue wood (typically hickory or ash).  Players also learned that the bigger the batting surface, the better they hit. So big bats were the rule until 1859 when the Baseball Governing Committee voted to limit the width of the bat to 2.5 inches.

The next major improvement to baseball bats came during the Civil War years when players began to wrap the handles of the bats to improve their control.  Then following the end of the war, the Baseball Governing Committee imposed a rule that required all baseball bats to be no longer than 42 inchesa rule that remains in effect today.

Perhaps the best-known story of the baseball bats evolution is the story of the Louisville Slugger.  In 1884, famed slugger Pete Browning broke his bat during a game.  Watching from the stands was a young woodworker named John Hillerich who thought he could improve upon  the bats design.  After the game, he approached Browning and together they redesigned the bat. The story goes that the next day Browning hit three for three, and the bat that came to be known as the Louisville Slugger became the standard.