Wagner’s Mysterious Bat

20 Aug

In 1911 Honus Wagner hit .334, it was his thirteenth straight season hitting better than .320, but he still wondered how much better he could have hit if he had the opportunity to regularly use a bat he once found in Ohio.  He told the story to William A. Phelon in The Cincinnati Times-Star:

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

“There was never yet a perfect bat, and I don’t suppose there ever can be.  Not while the shape has to remain perfectly round and fouls can slip off the curving surface, and not while the material breaks just as you are administering a sure home run with the bases full.  I have had bats break when I met the ball fair and square—break deliberately, after months of faithful service—and a feeble grounder would go trickling off the treacherous stick when the force I put into the wallop had spelled at least three bases.”

Wagner said, “bats are strange and moody things,” and that he understood why Pete Browning “used to talk to his bats and credit them with human understanding.”

Pete Browning

Pete Browning

He said he had “handled one that was almost perfection” during 1898, his first full season with the Louisville Colonels.  The team was playing an exhibition game “against some small club in an Ohio river city,” and the Colonels’ bats had already been shipped to their next stop:

“We figured, of course that we would borrow bats from the locals, but we didn’t need to.

“On arriving at the local ball park we found some urchins knocking flies.  One of the kids was using a curious looking bat, long, finely shaped and of a peculiar red-brown color.  I took it from the youngster, examined it, and found that, while it was very heavy, that it balanced nicely in the hand.  I slipped the boy half a dollar for the loan of his bat, and we started the game with the red stick and three or four others of the ordinary pattern which had been scared up by admiring natives.

“We never used the ordinary bats.  That red stick proved to be the proper medicine.  Of course there wasn’t any big league team against us, but the pitcher was one who was destined to be a mighty star in the after years, and he had something that day, believe me.”

Wagner did not say who the pitcher was, but said it didn’t matter how good he was:

“The least tap with that red bat and the ball whirred out in the field like a bullet.  There was spring and a texture to the wood that gave incomparable hitting power.  Tap a fast ball with that bat and it would go for two bases.  Meet a curve and you could send it to the bleachers.  With that bat a man who ordinarily hit .200 would be a .300 hitter, easy, and I blush to estimate the record I could have made therewith.”

Wagner said he and his teammates had “about twenty-eight long hits” during the game, and he asked the boy about the bat’s origin:

“(H)e explained that he had laboriously turned the wood to proper shape himself, and that it was originally the leg of an old-fashioned, broken-down table that his grandfather possessed.  It was some strange oriental wood, something like mahogany, but much heavier and of firmer grain…When the game ended I turned to find the boy, intending to hand him good money for that bat, but the kid was gone.  Apparently afraid we intended to steal his bat…I never saw the boy again, and although I twice played games in that town years after, he never came near the park.  The mysterious bat, brimful of hits, vanished the same afternoon it first appeared and its equal has never been discovered.”

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6 Responses to “Wagner’s Mysterious Bat”

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