"Wow," rookie shortstop Mike Morse said, holding the Joe Jackson bat in his hands. "Can I use this in batting practice?" Catcher Miguel Olivo grabbed the Babe Ruth bat, asked for permission to use it and then immediately took it to the batting cage. He was so impressed with it that I think he was seriously considering using it in a game (and based on his batting average, he should try).
These were not surprising reactions. Players get very excited about bats, especially their own. Ichiro keeps his bats in a carrying case that controls the humidity, and he insists on carrying them to the dugout himself. Bret Boone has been known to keep more than 120 bats by his lockers, dividing them into hot and cold piles. Boone's bats are all generally the same model but he's convinced some feel good and some don't, and even the ones that feel good today might not feel good tomorrow. That's why he has Louisville Slugger on speed dial, frequently calling the company in the middle of the night for another order.
Adrian Beltre eagerly grabbed the Joe Jackson model and gave it a practice swing. "It feels good," he said. "What is it, 34 ounces?" Informed that it weighed about 40 ounces on Morse's scale, he didn't want to believe it. "It doesn't feel that heavy," he insisted. According to Louisville Slugger, it isn't -- only 38 ounces. Charlotte Jones, assistant to the manager of the company's pro bat department, says there are few things less reliable than a player's scale.
Regardless of the actual weight, Beltre eagerly used the Jackson bat through three rounds of batting practice and hit one home run. Spiezio went deep twice with the Shoeless Joe bat, which is once more than he has in real games this season. Asked whether he might want to switch, he laughed. "I don't think so, I don't think I could get around on a 90-mile [per hour] fastball," he said.
"It's pretty heavy," Beltre said. "It had good balance and it felt good when I made contact, but I don't think you could use it in a game. Maybe I could use it against changeups."
"The handle is the biggest thing that bugs me," Richie Sexson said. "It's so big and thick. I don't know how he used it. But I don't think they were throwing 95 miles an hour back then, either."
This was a frequent observation. Players would grab the bats, hold them, swing them, marvel at the thick handles and occasionally praise the balance. But they would also say that it was too heavy to swing in a game and that old-time pitchers couldn't possibly throw as hard as today's pitchers if batters were successful with such clubs.
I think they're right -- the bats go a long way toward explaining how different the game must have been -- but not everyone agrees.
I will not mention names, but two former players grew extremely agitated -- angry even -- when I suggested that the bats were a strong indication that pitchers must have thrown much differently back in the old days. One player insisted he swung bats that were 35 to 38 ounces in the '80s, but when Louisville looked up his records, they showed that his bats were 33 and 34 ounces.