"I certainly see a time in the not-too-distant future when everyone will be using some alternative bat—aluminum, graphite or some composite," says Jack Hillerich, the third-generation president of Hillerich & Bradsby, which, because of its Louisville Sluggers, has been synonymous with baseball bats for more than 100 years. "A wood bat is a financially obsolete deal. If we were selling them for $40 apiece instead of $14 or $16.50 (the company’s prices for minor league and major league bats) then we’d be making a sensible profit. But we aren’t. We can’t charge that much. The time will come when even the majors will use aluminum or graphite."
Hillerich, whose company’s bat production is now more than 50% aluminum, says that the availability of wood isn’t the primary cause for concern—at least for H & B, which grows its own timber. But other batmakers do experience shortages. And all of them, Hillerich says, have found wood bats to be an increasingly inefficient proposition.
"While once we were making seven million wood bats a year for all levels of baseball, now we’re making a million and a half, 185,000 of which go to the major leagues," says Hillerich. "Major leaguers want specific orders, so we make three orders [one dozen bats per order] for one player, then shut down the operation. Then we make three more for another player, and shut it down. That’s impractical, and it’s highly expensive."
All of the bat companies (H & B, Rawlings-Adirondack, Worth and Cooper) have had trouble filling wood-bat orders this season. “I’m having to stop taking orders,” says H & B salesman Paul Shaughnessy, who services several major league teams.
"No one even wants the major league business anymore," adds Chuck Schupp, H & B director of professional bat sales. "We do it but partly because of the 100-year relationship we have had with baseball. When we make a bat, we use 40 percent of the wood, at most. If we sell the billets to other industries, nearly 100 percent is used."
- Peter Gammons (Sports Illustrated)
Read the rest: "End of an Era" (July 24, 1989)
Cover photo of Gregg Jeffries by V.J. Lovero via CardboardHeroes
George Bell, Baseball Digest, November 1987
Here’s how Bell’s MVP announcement read in the New York Times:
Bell, who became the first Blue Jay player and the first from the Dominican Republic to win the award, received 16 first-place votes and 12 second-place votes for 332 points. Trammell was named on 12 ballots for first, 15 for second and 1 for third, finishing with 311 points. They were the only players named on all 28 ballots.
Only two other years produced a closer finish than the 21 points that separated Bell and Trammell. In 1961, Roger Maris edged his Yankee teammate, Mickey Mantle, 202 to 198. And in 1981, Rollie Fingers, the Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher, beat out Rickey Henderson, then of the Oakland A’s, by a 319-308 margin.
People like to badmouth this MVP pick in hindsight since his WAR was 5.0 (8th in the AL for position players) while Trammell’s was 8.2. At the time, the New York Times laid out the justification for Bell like this:
Bell, who turned 28 years old last month, batted .308 for Toronto and led the league with a career-high 134 runs batted in. He finished second to McGwire in home runs with 47 and was second in runs scored (111) and slugging percentage (.605) and sixth in hits (188).
Those still sound like impressive accomplishments to me. Bell took home a base salary of $1,175,000 that season, but his MVP season earned him a $50,000 All-Star bonus, $30,000 Silver Slugger bonus, and $50,000 MVP bonus for a total compensation of $1,305,000. The closest 2013 Blue Jay to that figure was Dustin McGowan at $1,500,000. So a middle reliever who has pitched a total of 46.2 innings in the last 5 seasons makes 15% more than an MVP-caliber outfielder (Bell finished 4th in the 1986 voting) back then.