Baseball Bat History

What would baseball be without the bat? The following information should serve as a guide to parents and coaches about different kinds of baseball bats, what is appropriate for the particular age categories, and some tips on choosing the right kind of baseball bat for your team or youngster.

Different Kinds of Baseball Bats

Choosing the right baseball bat for your child can be challenging. Different kinds of players call for different kinds of bats. Youth baseball bats include tee-ball bats, little league bats, senior league bats, high school and college bats.

Tee-Ball bats are for the youngest age group, 5-7 years of age and are used in tee-ball and coach pitch leagues. They contain barrels 2-1/4 inches in diameter, and are 25-27 inches long. Weight is measured in weight drop (the length-to-weight ratio of a bat) which for heavier bats averages about 7, lighter around 13, and varies by brand and model.

Little League bats are used by youth leagues, ages 7-12. The barrel is 2-1/4 inches in diameter, and lengths run from 28-32 inches. Again, weight is measured in weight drop, which is minus 7 on the heavy end, and minus 13 on the lighter end, but depends on the brand and model.

Senior League bats, for ages roughly 10-13, are used for travel and tournament leagues. It has a 2-5/8-inch bat barrel, and ranges from 28 - 32 inches in length. Weight is determined by weight drop and can range from minus 5 on the heavy end, to minus 11 on the light end, depending on brand and model.

High School and College bats for ages 13 and over has a barrel 2-5/8 inches in diameter and range from 30 - 34 inches long and has a weight drop of minus 3. These baseball bats are for high school and college ages, and must be BESR (bat exit speed rating) approved.

The Louisville Slugger

The story of the more than century-old Slugger began with a youth named John A. "Bud" Hillerich. Bud's father owned a woodworking shop in Louisville, Kentucky. With a passion for baseball fueled by Louisville's major league team, the Louisville Eclipse, Pete Browning broke his bat. At the invitation of 17-year-old Bud, a new bat was crafted from a chunk of wood in his father's shop. So impressed after earning three hits with it the next day, Browning spread the word to his teammates about the Hillerich shop, although Bud's father, more interested in crafting "practical things" like stair railings and porch columns and such, had little interest in making bats. But relentless, Bud talked his father into it and in 1894 Bud eventually took over the shop and the Louisville Slugger was patented. The company has since sold 100,000,000 baseball bats, making it the most popular brand in baseball history.

The Wood vs. Alum Debate

Because wood baseball bats were breaking, there was a demand for bats that lasted longer. And with that the aluminum bat hit the baseball scene. The aluminum bat has a higher "exit speed ratio", or the speed at which the ball comes off the bat, and if incorrectly fitted it can lead to problems swinging, and injury, and herein lies the debate. The ball coming off the bat at high velocities doesn't allow the pitcher to get out of the way in time. The other difference is that wood bats have a smaller "sweet spot" (area about 17 cm from the end of the barrel where the impact cannot be easily felt by the hands) and be a little heavier and denser. Whereas with the high levels of technology gone into making aluminum bats, the ball comes off such a bat at higher rates of speed. According to reviews, aluminum bat companies are making strides to make the alum baseball bats more like a wood bat, in terms of weight distribution, and less flex in the shaft creating a stiffer bat for the kids. That allows them to swing at the bat more like a professional. Barrel sizes with some of what are called "hot bats" are causing injuries too, but reviews indicate that companies are continuing to do a better job of monitoring and making the equipment more like a professional bat.

Composite Baseball Bats

Fairly new to the baseball scene, the composite baseball bat is constructed with the same aluminum exterior as the standard aluminum bat but includes a graphite wall in the center. And although the bat was used for softball for many years, it's been getting mixed reviews, good and bad, some believe because of the lack of education about them. Basically, it's believed that composite bats have a longer break-in time than aluminum bats, so it's best to use them with real baseballs. Some people think that composite bats are not as durable, but with correct use and care the owner should get a lot more wear out of them than the aluminum or composite baseball bats in the past.

Choosing the Right Bat for your Youth

The main thing parents are going to be asking is, "which bat is right for my youngster?" It mostly depends on their age and size. Ages 5-7 years old are generally going to need a "tee-ball" bat. Ages 7-12 will do well with a "little league" and ages 10-13 will likely fit into the "senior league" category. 13 and older may well be ready for the "high school/college" bat. Smaller children will likely want a big barrel baseball bat although they're designed for senior leaguers, and as yet are not approved for younger youth leagues. Generally most youth leagues do not allow players to use larger barrel bats, but buyer beware; manufacturers of them tend to target youth league players. Reviews indicate that the reason larger barrel bats are often not allowed with the younger leagues is because they don't reinforce proper hitting technique. When the batter swings and misses the sweet spot, it tends to reinforce use of the hands instead of the arms. Beware, some tournament sponsors are allowing the use of big barrel baseball bats in tournaments even though manufacturers warn against it. Youth ages 6-12 generally use aluminum baseball bats typically 2- inches in diameter at the sweet spot, with an eight-inch drop. The goal will be to get to the three-inch drop generally required in high school.

Some trainers are encouraging children to spend some time with a wood bat because of the mechanics of swinging the bat. If the sweet spot is missed by the wood bat the ball naturally doesn't go as far, which reinforces the proper technique of rotating the hips and using the hands and forearms in order to hit the ball with the barrel. But it takes practice to contact the sweet spot consistently, strengthen the hands and forearms by using them correctly, and to develop the mechanics of the technique. Some reviews indicate that another problem with the big barrel bat has to do with the extended hitting zones, meaning the player can have a long swing and hit the ball below the sweet spot, but still hit the ball well into the outfield.

Reviewers advise that children, to become better hitters, use a 2-1/4 inch barrel in youth league, and to work with wood or bamboo bats in training practices. They should be moving to maple bats by the age of 11 or 12 because of their durability. Teen players and big leaguers generally settle into an ash or maple bat.

Again, a word of caution about the aluminum baseball bat: The most important thing about aluminum bats is proper fit. For the younger kids it is important to have proper fitting, correct weight and length for their bat speed to avoid injury. Because of the aluminum bat's higher "exit speed ratio", the speed at which the ball comes off the bat, incorrectly fitted bats can lead to problems swinging, and ultimately injury.

Choosing the right kind of bat for your child can be difficult for the parent who is new to the game. While getting the cheapest baseball bats for your league may seem economical, in the long run it's best to be knowledgeable about the industry and buy bats that will stand the test of time. Following the above guidelines, and being informed of the differences in the kinds of baseball bats on the market today, will hopefully eliminate injury to your little slugger, and any uncertainty in the future.

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