A Brief History of the Baseball Bat

Many believe that birch bats are the next developmental stage in the evolution of the baseball bat. During the 1850s while baseball was still in its early formative period, batters fabricated their own bats and the sheer size and variety of shapes utilized was mind-numbing. However, hitters learned through a process of trial and error that bats with rounded barrels tended to hit the ball further and more accurately and shortly thereafter league rules began to emerge that regulated bat size and shape. For example, in the late 1850s and late 1860s the diameter and length of bats were limited to 2 and a half inches and 42 inches respectively.Later the diameter width was increased to accommodate heavier hitters but the barrel shape was made mandatory and flat-sided bats were no longer allowed. Wood is and always has been the preferred material of choice for baseball players and manufacturers alike with hickory being the primary baseball bat material for most of baseball’s storied history. However, over the years the use of hickory shifted to ash because of its lighter quality and this has gradually given way to maple as the dominant choice of major league hitters. Currently, birch is beginning to supplant maple as the wood of choice and birch bats appear to be the preferred bat material in baseball’s continued evolution. Aluminum bats did not arrive on the scene until 1970 when a company called Worth introduced them and Easton later popularized them through technological advances. Yet, as far back as 1924 metal bats had been patented by various inventors indicating that players have been and always will be seeking that new, revolutionary bat material. Since wood is still the material of choice for Major League Baseball and most players, birch bats appear set to dominate the game for years to come.

Jules Tygiel. Past Time: Baseball as History. Oxford University Press; New York; 2001.