Good Wood a Trip through the Cardinals' Lumber Yard

By John M. McGuire Of the Post-Dispatch | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), September 19, 1993 | Go to article overview

Good Wood a Trip through the Cardinals' Lumber Yard


John M. McGuire Of the Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


WITH DUE RESPECT to Bernard Malamud, most real ballplayers don't get sappy over their bats, as Roy Hobbs did in "The Natural." Some major-leaguers, in fact, are downright unsentimental about their Louisville Sluggers, Coopers, Worths and Adirondacks.

That's not to say these players don't do some strange things with their lumber.

Former Cardinals first baseman Orlando Cepeda believed there was only one hit in a bat. So after he dinked one, he'd discard the bat. Cepeda had 2,351 hits in his major-league career, which is a small forest of timber.

By all accounts, Boston Red Sox catcher Tony Pena, a former Cardinal, used the most bats of anyone. And he used them in some of the strangest ways.

In an effort to get out of a hitting slump, Pena once used a bat that is one of the closest things in baseball to the True Cross.

It was a souvenir autographed bat given to him by the late Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, a virtual baseball god in Latin America. The value of that bat today could run as high as $5,000, said Bill Goodwin of St. Louis Baseball Card Inc. Goodwin is one of the major sports memorabilia dealers in the country.

If it was the bat Clemente used for his 3,000th hit, and that could be verified, it would be worth double that amount, Goodwin added. No one seems to recall whether the Clemente bat in Pena's hands came away unscathed - or whether it had any effect on his slump.

At least Pena didn't have access to a game-used Babe Ruth bat autographed by Lou Gehrig, estimated to be worth $45,000 to $50,000, Goodwin said. Its value is enhanced by the fact that Gehrig and Ruth - New York Yankees immortals - were often not on speaking terms.

"Bats as collectors' items are pretty popular now," Goodwin said. "Bats from today are not so valuable as the bats from the 1950s and '60s, before players knew their worth. And there weren't so many of them then."

Cardinals first baseman Gregg Jefferies is one modern player who's always known his bats' worth.

He used to have them packed separately from his teammates' when he played for the New York Mets. Jefferies' days in the New York limelight - played in the turbulence created by the New York media - were not happy ones. There were times when he'd find his game bats sawed in half, the work of vindictive fellow players.

Jefferies has now found happiness and success in St. Louis, wearing batting gloves for the first time and taping the handle of his 31-ounce bat. Jefferies and third baseman Todd Zeile both use bats that are about the same size. "Todd tries to be macho and use bats that weigh as much as 31 ounces," he said facetiously.

"The Man" who would become a Cardinals icon also used a small bat.

"I used a light bat with a small handle," said Stan Musial. "I'd start with 34.5 inches and 33 ounces. As the season went along, I cut ounces off, all the way to 31." This is something players still do, lightening the bat as the season and players wear down.

"Old-timers used to think a big bat was better," Musial said. "But they found out now that the speed of the bat is what makes the ball go farther. I think the ball is different now, too.

"I put a lot of bat wax on the handle; it gave it a better grip. I don't like that black stuff, pine tar. I didn't break many bats. But the Brooklyn Dodgers used to steal my bats. When they came to town, I quit using my bats around the batting cage. I found out later it was Pee Wee Reese and Rube Walker who did it.

"But it didn't help them any."

It sure didn't. It was in Brooklyn that Musial got the name "The Man," as he and his bat scattered hits all over Ebbetts Field.

Musial used a Louisville Slugger M159 model, under a special contract he had with Hillerich and Bradsby. Every big-league player today has some sort of deal with a major bat manufacturer, providing a modest amount of money for using the company's bats. …

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