But even older than the NL, more
enduring than its stars (and some franchises) is one name that has been
synonymous with the game for over a century. In 1884, Hillerich &
Bradsby started making Louisville Slugger bats in a woodworking shop,
that had been generating bedposts and butter churns. According to family
legend, Bud Hillerich, the owner’s son, went to a local pro game. Star
player Pete Browning was in a slump. Bud took him to dad’s factory to
have a new bat made. Browning got three hits the next day, and
diversification was born. We all know which part of the business
survived (seen any ads for butter churns lately?). Today, visitors to
the main factory in downtown Louisville watch the process, and enjoy an
interactive museum, second only to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New
York for baseball lore and artifacts.
80% of the position players in the Hall have used Louisville Sluggers,
from Honus Wagner, to Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and our beloved Stan Musial.
There’s a wall of signature plaques for each player ever under
contract with the company, and a huge, signed photo of Stan the Man
signing an autograph.
The third generation of
Hillerichs still runs the business. Even though there haven’t been any
Bradsbys since the late 1930s (Frank, a hardware store owner, joined
them from St. Louis in 1912), they’ve kept the name. What else would
one expect from a company bonded with a sport that so devotedly honors
Visitors first watch a stirring twenty-minute film about the history of
the game. The factory tour is no mere show. The workers are actually
making bats for big-leaguers. Other H&B products, from aluminum
bats, to golf clubs and hockey sticks, are made elsewhere. Almost every
bat is made of white ash, mainly from Pennsylvania.
The museum features one of the bats Ruth used for 21 of his 60 homers in
1927 - notched by the Bambino after each one, gunslinger-style. Among
myriad photos and memorabilia, there are interactive exhibits. A diorama
and video show the process of growing and cutting the trees. Visitors
can stand behind a home plate to watch a selection of pitchers throw a
90 m.p.h. fastball - pitcher on life-size screen; real ball comin’ at
ya. Other rooms house traveling exhibits or special events.
H&B has always made bats in Louisville, except for a few years
across the Ohio River in Indiana. The city missed one of its hallmark
enterprises, and worked with the owners to acquire a large building in
the downtown warehouse district, allowing the creation of the museum.
The skyline is accented by the handle of a 120-foot bat, standing before
the museum at a slight, jaunty angle.
In a brilliant display of opportunistic marketing, a blank wall on the
building to the west, facing
the bat handle, has a large
mural of a ball crashing through a
window. The occupant? Kentucky Mirror and Glass, of course.
making bats for pros and retail stores, H&B takes individual orders.
Mika Patton said a man
recently bought a bat with his and his girlfriend’s signatures on the
label side, and something else engraved on the back. He gave it to her
at the Museum, surrounded by several friends, and under the covert eye
of most of the staff. The young lady was quite pleased, but even more
delighted when he rolled the bat over to show the other side’s
inscription, “Will you marry me?”
Her “yes” was almost as much of a thrill for the batmakers,
as for the couple.
The Louisville Slugger Museum is open Mondays -Saturdays, all year.
It’s drawing about 300,000 visitors per year, not including the myriad
passersby who linger at the
large picture windows on Main Street to watch the workers creating the
tools for their heroes. Even though our AAA farm club moved to Memphis,
baseball - complete with local connections - is thriving in Louisville.
And each return visit seems to include added attractions, or greater
appreciation of the familiar. Baseball’s like that; so how could one of
its shrines be different?
addenda: Since the first version of this article appeared, many readers
have e-mailed collectible-type
questions. I’m no help there, but have been advised by the Museum’s
staff that a gentleman named Dave Bushing at MastroNet is a likely
resource - firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope that proves useful to you.
the season, the downtown area offers an extra treat for fans - a
new-built, old-style ballpark, hosting the Reds’
AAA farm club (the Bats, of course).
13,000 seats; picnic areas; river views. It’s a major-league
attraction at minor league prices. For schedules and ticket information,
# # #
Email: email@example.com (Mark Glass)
Mark Glass is a
Mark Glass is a freelance writer and broadcaster, based in St. Louis, covering travel, entertainment and professional sports for his readers
and listeners. Mark was travel editor for "St. Louis Connoisseur", and
now have that role for "Life in the Midwest", based in Indianapolis.
For the last fifteen years, he's written and broadcast features on
travel, entertainment and sports, while maintaining his law practice in the St. Louis
area. (More about this writer.)