Our Summer sale of a 1930 Lou Gehrig Hanna Batrite bat produced a veritable avalanche of bats adorned with Gehrig’s name; store-models, post-career bats, even bats without any identifying markings whatsoever were all brought to our attention as potential Gehrig gamers for auction. While we approach each potential consignment with enthusiasm, it was only natural that we approached an October phone call about a possible Gehrig Batrite bat with a bit of cynicism. The caller, not a baseball fan but an antiques buff, had purchased his bat several decades ago at an antique shop. The price: $20.
We met the bat’s owner later that day in a coffee shop, ironically enough in the same town where we met the consignor of the Gehrig bat we offered in our last auction. When he handed us the bat, it only took a few seconds for us to determine that the bat was the real thing – another Hanna Batrite model produced for the Iron Horse himself.
We know, at this stage, that the Hanna Manufacturing Company of Athens, GA produced baseball bats for professional use. Of all the players we speculate may have used the company’s Batrite models, none are more definite than Lou Gehrig, who was called upon to testify in court during a lawsuit between Hillerich & Bradsby and Hanna. As a result, Gehrig’s use of Hanna Batrite bats is well-documented, more so than with any other major leaguer. In fact, in addition to Gehrig’s testimony, records available online from the National Archives clearly illustrate the correspondence between Gehrig and Robert Hanna of Hanna Manufacturing. The correspondence, along with Gehrig’s testimony, clearly demonstrate that Gehrig used Hanna bats for a two-year period. By reviewing Gehrig’s Hillerich & Bradsby Professional Bat Ordering Records (PBOR), we can identify that two-year period as being between 1929 and 1931.
We also know that Gehrig specifically requested that the weights of his bats be clearly marked on each bat. This is a specific request that Gehrig made, of both Hillerich & Bradsby and of Hanna Manufacturing. According to his testimony, Gehrig requested bats of varying weights, fluctuating between 36 and 40 ounces. From his correspondence with Hanna, we can see that Gehrig typically ordered heavier bats during spring training and earlier in the season, gradually using lighter bats as the season progressed and the rigors of baseball’s arduous schedule wore him down. Gehrig, in reference to his use of Hanna bats, stated “Two or three Batrite and Spalding bats were sent to me on trial, and I finally placed my orders with the Hanna Manufacturing Company. I used the Batrite bats I obtained from Hanna Manufacturing Company a good majority of both years I used those bats.”
As has been noted by John Taube of PSA/DNA, Hanna Manufacturing did not mark bat weights on their retail bats. Retail bats were either left blank, marked with the bat length, or after 1930, marked with Hanna’s patent stamp. Any Hanna Batrite bat marked with the weight in the knob is surely a professional bat.
This particular bat, weighing in at exactly 38 oz., is clearly marked as such in the bat knob.
What we find interesting about this bat is that, when compared with the correspondence between Gehrig and Hanna, we can see that in March of 1930, Gehrig appeared to refer specifically to these bats. In one letter, Gehrig thanks Mr. Atwell of Hanna Manufacturing for the shipment of bats, but states that the bats seem very heavy. He then orders eight new bats, in various weights, and again specifically asks that they be labeled with the weight.
On March 14 of 1930, Robert Hanna responds to Gehrig and states that the bats which were shipped to Gehrig all weighed between 38 and 39 ounces, and that those bats were meant for spring training and early season use. Gehrig responded by telegram, ordering new bats with specific weights, each lighter than this 38-oz bat. It is that March 17 telegram that we feel represented the order for the Hanna bat we sold in our Summer, 2015 auction.
If that bat was the result of Gehrig’s March 17, 1930 order, we believe this bat to be one of the original bats shipped to Gehrig by the Hanna Manufacturing Company in late 1929/early 1930. The Hanna logo on the centerbrand would support this hypothesis, as the logo dates the bat to 1929.
The bat itself has received a thorough review by John Taube of PSA/DNA. The weight is clearly stamped into the knob, and the bat itself has been treated with the identical finish to the Hanna bat we sold previously – something specifically requested by Gehrig in his correspondence. The “TA” and “11 5” model identifiers are consistent with Gehrig’s model number, and the bat itself was prepared to the exact dimensions of Gehrig’s Louisville Slugger bats. All this, along with the cleat impressions, slight ball marks and stitch impressions noted by PSA on the barrel, have resulted in a grade of PSA/DNA GU 7.
It should be noted that when we received the bat, it was wrapped in heavy tape from the knob to a spot several inches above the centerbrand, down the barrel – in other words, 2/3 of the bat was completely covered in tape. Though we are typically not inclined to perform restoration work, the tape needed to be removed in order for us to see the bat’s model number – and while the removal of the tape revealed the correct model number for a Gehrig bat, it also revealed a handle crack, and left a coating of black tape residue. As such, there has been professional restoration work performed on the bat, to remove the tape, as well as to repair the handle crack and a small crack in the knob.
The bat has an interesting marking at the end of the knob – the letter “B”, stamped in a large, block letter. It is unknown what this represents, but according to the LOA, “The fact that the ‘B’ is branded may be a factory notation pertaining to the type of wood or finish. We’re inclined to believe it does not pertain to a player’s initial especially with the knob only stamped with the weight and no other identifier.” The quality of the stamp – clearly not an amateur marking – would support the supposition that it was likely done at the factory.
This is a beautiful bat. The finish is a rich, reddish brown, and the wood is a very high-quality ash. The bat is solid and clean, with very clearly identifiable cleat marks throughout. Lou Gehrig game-used bats are exceedingly rare, and newly-discovered models are impossibly so. Estimates are that there are fewer than 20 Gehrig bats known – approximately one Gehrig bat in existence for each Ruth bat. Though our recent sale of a Lou Gehrig game-used bat has resulted in several such bats being sold at auction in the time since, it is important to understand that Gehrig bats are extraordinarily rare, and clean, attractive examples such as this even more so. Thoroughly examined and vetted by John Taube of PSA/DNA, this is a brand-new hobby discovery, another beautiful bat with an extraordinary backstory, the classic “antique shop find” that yielded an impossibly rare treasure.