The real deal: Ted Williams’ 400th home run bat

troy2.jpgOn July 18, 1956, Ted Williams hit his 400th career home run. As he touched home, he ceremoniously spit in the direction of the press box. His long-standing feud with the press was well documented and Williams decided to continue the battle.

Waiting at homeplate was batboy John Orlando. Without expression of emotion, he removed the bat from the batters box and returned it to the dugout like he had many times during the season.

troy3.jpgA couple days later in Detroit, the bat that hit the 400th home run, and was witness to the spitting incident, was cracked during the heat of battle. With its ash grain finally giving way after repeated subjection to Williams’ whiplash-inspiring swing, the bat was given to the batboy as a token of the Splendid Splinter’s appreciation.

Mastro Auctions asked MEARS to evaluate this historic bat for its April Premier sale. After a thorough examination, MEARS determined this bat was the finest and most historically significant Ted Williams bat we had yet to examine. Our methods of the examination of the bat, factory records, provenance and use characteristics are outlined for this article.

Final report prepared by Troy R. Kinunen/MEARS Authenticator:
On Feb. 26, 2007, we examined the following item for the auction and reported the following information via the official MEARS Bat Grading & Authentication Official Worksheet. Hologram #305013 was assigned. Dave Bushing and Kinunen physically inspected the bat. A magnified light source was used to examine use, production markings or possible signs of tampering. We completed our evaluation with a complete review of the Louisville Slugger factory records with emphasis on  Williams’ personal orders. Our findings:

troy4.jpg“1956 Louisville Slugger Ted Williams professional model bat attributed to his 400th career homerun with letter of provenance from John Orlando, the Boston Red Sox batboy”
MEARS Grade: A10*
Manufacturer Characteristics
Center Brand & model number W183

The bat was manufactured by Hillerich & Bradsby and exhibited the 1950-60 centerbrand. Inspection of the bat detailed the factory stamped W183 on knob, designating model. Factory production methods of the period (starting 1943) were completed with the stamping of the model number on the knob, thus making both the centerbrand labeling (version used starting 1950) and model number and its application correct for the examined period and event.

Factory Records

Factory records show the progression of Williams’ bat models ordered at the various stages of his career (starting with his rookie season and continuing forward) and help pinpoint this bat as being available to the timeframe of his 400th career home run. By understanding the progression of the models while inspecting the production patterns, which are listed in Louisville Slugger shipping records, all doubt was liminated as the records support this as being the model bat on hand for the 1956 season and 400th homerun.

During the 1940s, Louisville Slugger factory records note Williams’ use of the Lefty O’Doul model, which was produced sans model numbers on the knob. The dating of the barrel label also eliminates this as a 1940s model. Williams’ transitioned away from the O’Doul model (O1) of the 1940s to his “new model” W148, then the W155. With the addition of a barrel modification, the bat was classified as a W166, and finally the debut of the W183, the model featured for this evaluation.

Creation of the W183 model by Williams

On May 25th, 1955, Williams designed this new model. He combined the handle of the S180 with the knob of his W166, the model he currently was using. Louisville Slugger designated this as the W183. Now with the new W183 model being verified via the factory records, we can also verify the weight specifications as ordered by Williams.

Per Williams’ implicit instructions as they are recorded in the factory records:

“Not to weigh over 33 1?2 oz., as close to 33 oz. as possible.”

The examined bat perfectly matches the request of Williams’ bats ordered in the W183 model weight and serves as a form of documentation from Williams himself.

The weight of this examined bat matches the weight ordered by Williams.
With production specifications finalized, the first order of this new W183 model was shipped on 5-31-55 and narrow grain was specified. Williams continued to order this model through the end of the 1955 season.

With the start of the 1956 season, Williams placed his initial order of bats for spring training. Examination of the weight disqualifies this bat as being one of those ordered for spring training use and again supports its availability for the 400th homerun game in July.

His spring training order was as follows:

W183, 35″ of the following quantity and weights:
l (4) 37 oz.
l (4) 36 oz.
l (6) 34 oz.
l (10) 33 oz.

Examination of this bat precludes it from being any of the above orders as this home run bat weighs in at 32 ounces. The spring training bats were heavier than the examined Mastro Auctions Williams bat #305013. With the start of the season, Williams placed three additional bat orders.
Factory records support this bat was shipped to Williams to use from one of the of following orders:

l 4-19-56  W183 Narrow Grain 35″ 33 oz Ash (12) quantity
l 4-20-56  W183 Narrow Grain 35″ 33 oz Ash (12) quantity
l 5-14-56  W183 Narrow Grain 35″ 32 oz Ash (12) quantity

No other bats were shipped to Williams after spring training until his All-Star Game bat orders on 7-6-56, which were notated in the records as “All-Star Game” and would have been stamped as such on the barrel. His next order of bats was on 7-31-56, after the date of the home run. Working from orders shipped to him during the 1956 season, this would have to have originated from one of those three orders.

Player’s Name Barrel Stampings

On May 12th, 1937, Williams signed his contract with Louisville Slugger, which allowed the bat manufacturer to place the script Williams signature on the barrel of its bats. Therefore, a factory-applied “Ted Williams” facsimile signature appears on the barrel end. Examination of the Mastro Auctions Williams bat #305013, when compared to other known authentic examples in the MEARS database establishes:

1. This is the second version of the Williams signature. The earlier version appeared on Williams bats produced circa 1938-43. With the advent of model numbers placed on the knob starting in 1943, bats produced by H&B were found with this second version of the Williams barrel signature. This version remained unchanged and was used for the rest of the bats ordered by Williams throughout his playing career (1960).

2. When compared to other known authentic examples of Williams’ bats from the 1950-60 label period, this second version barrel signature matches perfectly.

MEARS database examples used for comparison of barrel signature factory stamping:

l MEARS #303687
l MEARS #301361
l MEARS #300555
l MEARS #258269
l MEARS #258315

The MEARS database examples allowed for a positive comparison between previously examined bats and Mastro Auctions Williams bat #305013.

Year Used

The provenance and factory production records support the claim the bat was used on July 18th, 1956.

Weight

A recent weighing of the bat determined its present weight to be 31.4 ounces. The factory ordering r ecords confirm that during the time this bat would have been manufactured for use by Williams for his 400th career home run, the weights should be 32 or 33 ounces. The current weight of 31.4 ounces is well within the range of either weight at the time the bat was originally manufactured. A small weight loss is a common occurrence and is the result of the natural aging associated with ash and/or storage. The weight of this bat and the examination of the weight of bats ordered per the factory records by Williams during this label period confirm this bat as being correct.

Length

The bat measures 34 7/8″ in length. For all interested, this means the bat was recorded in the factory records as 35″. Factory records confirm that all of Williams’ bats ordered during the 1956 season were listed as 35″. This bat matches the length orders found in the 1956 records.
 
Knob

The knob of the bat has been determined to be the regular style of bat preferred by Williams. There were no special modifications of the knob, nor were any requested upon the examination of the factory records.
Uniform Number found on the knob

Visual examination confirms the presence of Williams’ uniform number on the knob. “9”  is found on the knob and is applied in a thick black paint. This painted numeral serves as an additional form of provenance.

 Numerous photographs of Williams from the era clearly show him with a similarly-applied “9” on the knob. In all cases, the examined photos compare favorably to the knob in regards to:

1. Photo compared to knob #305013 show similarities in the use of black paint to form the “9”

2. Photo compared to knob #305013 shows the use of the underscore to identify the number “9”

3. MEARS database compared to knob #305013 establishes Williams did add the “9” to the knob of his bat of other authentic examples evaluated by the staff of MEARS.

4. The “9” appears vintage and original to the bat.

The uniqueness of the addition of application technique, underscore and placement of the “9” serves as another direct link to the usage of the bat by Williams as its confirmation is a trait unique to Williams.

Barrel Style

The barrel is round, which was the most common style of the day. All examined photographs of Williams confirm this.

Wood

The wood is of the highest professional grade ash with the grain pattern found to be consistent with other examined game-used Williams bats. Examination of the grain reveals the presence of narrow grain in this examined bat #305013. With a thorough visual examination of the wood, MEARS determined this to be a wood of the absolute highest quality with narrow grain and meeting all of the qualities found on other examined professional model bats. The narrow ash grain on this examined bat also matches the specific request of Williams for narrow grain ash bats as verified via the factory records.

Player Characteristics

Game Use and player specific use characteristics

1. Degree of use: For this step of the evaluation process, we used a magnified light source. After a complete evaluation of the bat and the effects to the wood, caused from game use, the bat was determined to have heavy/significant use. This is the maximum and most desirable amount of use expected to be found on quality high-caliber game-used bats. The degree of use is assigned as heavy after the physical examination of the bat from knob to barrel end. This is done by visually starting with the knob and following the grain to the barrel end. The bat is rotated at a 360-degree angle to evaluate all surfaces.

Close attention must be paid to the surface of the grain. Heavy use is manifested by the raising of the grain on the areas where the bat makes contact with the ball. Repeated contact causes grain swelling, or lifting of the wood. Impressions to the grain from contact with the leather and ball’s seams manifest themselves by impacting the grain. Although this type of use does not always allow for a specific mark to be left on the surface of the bat, experience allows us to see extended areas of compressed grain at various points of the barrel. The assignment of the heavy degree of use was also examined with the combination of other player-specific traits such as the application of olive oil/resin, cleat marks and unique application of the uniform number. The use of the olive oil/resin combination was confirmed by the batboy, John Orlando. The examination of these characteristics allows us to deem the bat as having heavy use.

The accompanying letter of provenance states that only Williams and Orlando handled the bat. Evaluation of the use supports that claim, as there is absolutely no evidence that any use was added to the bat after last used by Williams. It is the opinion of MEARS that this bat remains in the original condition as last used by Williams after breaking the bat versus the Detroit Tigers during the July 20th series.

2. The knob served as the starting point of the evaluation and also as a direct and personal link to Williams. The addition of the “9” has been noted and heavy wear was found throughout the knob. Rounding of the knob edges, slight scratching from contact with infield dirt, and handling wear can be found on the knob. Use on this knob is consistent on bats used during a major league game.

3. Moving up the handle, an application of pine tar was applied. This heavy use on the handle can be seen as light abrasions and bruising to the handle wood and the medium remains of olive oil/resin and the mixture of infield dirt.

4. Moving up to the barrel, very distinct signs of heavy use are found via ball marks, stitch marks, bat rack marks, etc. The exact findings are detailed below.

5. Ball Marks: Examination reveals the presence of ball marks found on 360 degrees of the barrel surface. The heavy concentrations of ball marks contributed to the heavy use designation. A bat with this heavy degree of use was favored by a player and used over the course of many games and series.

6. Stitch Marks: When examining the area near the Williams barrel stamping, the presence of stitch marks is clearly visible. Very defined stitch marks, which are caused from contact with the raised portion of the ball’s seams, can be found below the facsimile barrel stamping. The best examples of stitch marks on this bat can be found at 7 o’clock below the “LOUISVILLE SLUGGER” barrel stamping.

Due to the depth of the stitch mark it was easily photographed and illustrated at the end of the report. Clearly-defined stitch marks such as this example are rarely found. The reason being for the scarcity is the fact that it takes great power and speed to create the force needed for the seam of the ball to penetrate the ash surface and narrow grain of the bat. In the opinion of MEARS, the defined cleat marks were caused by Williams using this bat while making contact with an official Williams Harridge ball. Judging by the depth of the stitch mark, it may even have been the result of the impact with the ball used for the actual 400th home run.
 
7. Bat Rack Marks: White bat rack marks were found on the bat. Although light, they were identifiable. The bat rack marks confirm the bat was removed and moved repeatedly in and out of the bat rack. Another characteristic to confirm heavy use over an extended period of time.

8. Condition of handle: An approximate 4-inch closed handle crack was found. The crack manifested itself as a split in the outer surface that ran parallel with the handle grain. Not pronounced enough to cause spacing between the grains, but was the reason of the bats retirement from use. The handle crack is mentioned in the accompanying provenance that states the bat was cracked after the 400th home run, several days later versus the Detroit Tigers during the July 20th series.

9. Handle Preparation: On the area of the handle between the edges of the knob to an area directly below the left edge of the centerbrand, an area of handle scoring can be seen. Handle scoring is a time-honored tradition of cutting horizontal grooves into the grain of the handle. This is accomplished with the use of a bottle cap, leg of steer bone, horseshoe or other hard objects that will penetrate the handle-wood surface. This handle shows approximate nine-inch lengths of scoring on all sides of the handle. The spacing is wide, allowing for the desired grip. The exact method of scoring was undetermined. The scoring on this bat was a player specific trait applied by Williams and adds to the authenticity of this bat.

10. Cleat Marks: Three distinct cleat marks can be found near the very end of the barrel. All three are very deep with one concave surface. Their placement appears if the user carefully aimed toward the end of the barrel as to not mar the hitting surface of the bat.

11. Pine Tar: Although, not pine tar in the sense we currently refer to it, the handle did exhibit signs of an olive and resin mix used to improve grip. This was confirmed in the letter of provenance supplied by Orlando. Its application began near the knob and extended approximately 16 inches toward the centerbrand. Near the knob there was an one to one and a half-inch area with the heaviest concentration. The olive oil/resin mix began to fade about three inches from an area left of the centerbrand. The degree of application has lessened from the attempted cleaning ordered by Williams. The cleaning and care of the bat was another responsibility of Orlando and was confirmed in his accompanying letter.

Documentation used to establish provenance and timeline

1. Louisville Slugger shipping records

2. Copy of boxscore from July 18th, 1956, for 400th home run game

3. Time Line provided by Orlando

4. Signed and dated letter 1/23/07 from Orlando

5. Copy of 1956 Boston Red Sox official schedule

6. Sporting News photo of Williams spitting at the press box after hitting his 400th Homerun on July 18, 1956, courtesy of the Sporting News.
Orlando is pictured in the photo

7. 1956 Team Photo with labeled caption of Orlando.

8. Copy of pay stub from the Boston American League Base Ball Co. for Orlando’s services as a batboy

9. Copy of team share of the 1956 World Series receipts and Orlando’s amount paid to him for being a fourth-place team

10. Copy of photo of Orlando performing batboy duties during a 1956 Red Sox home game

Provenance and chain of ownership:

? Louisville Slugger records confirm this bat was ordered and shipped for use by Williams: 4-19-56  W183 Narrow Grain 35″ 33 oz Ash (12) quantity

? July 18, 1956, Williams hit homerun  No. 400 at Fenway Park
? Only Williams and Orlando handled the bat

? During the series from July 20-22 in Detroit, the bat was broken
? After bat is broken in Detroit, it was removed from play

? Bat remains in possession of Orlando

? On February 26, 2007, bat is examined by the  Bushing and Kinunen of MEARS

The timeline provided via the accompanying provenance creates a reasonable and plausible chain of ownership of the bat back to the owner and the gifting by Williams. Manufacturer records support this as the model of bat available to be used by Williams to hit his 400th home run.

Tampering and Alterations:

No signs of tampering, alterations, sanding, or attempted changing of the material facts of this bat was present. It is our opinion this bat is all original and last used by Williams.

Final Grade Evaluation:

5 points: The base grade was determined and five points were awarded with the verification of the factor records of a bat being shipped to Ted Williams matching the examined bat’s manufacturers characteristics.

3 points: Heavy use was present under examination. 

2 points: Provenance was both reasonable and verifiable. Examination of the timeline, manufacturer dating of the bat and provenance in regards to the employment by the Red Sox of Orlando was all verified. Therefore, it was a reasonable expectation that Orlando received the bat directly from Williams while conducting the activities associated with being a major league batboy.

* Star rating. MEARS awards a * (star) to items used during historical events. With this being the earliest and best-documented Williams home run bat, our staff felt the star was warranted.

Final Grade: MEARS A10*

Conclusion:

The facts gathered after our completed evaluation could only allow us to conclude this bat was used by Williams to hit his 400th career home run on July 18, 1956. With the bat perfectly matching factory records, we confirmed Williams began to use this newly-created W183 model in time to hit this historic home run. The records also confirmed this to be the correct length, weight and model.

After verification of the factory records, we concluded the use was consistent with known Williams player characteristics. The distinct painted “9” on the knob, application of olive oil and resin, grooved handle and cleat marks were all indications that Williams used and preferred this bat for an extended amount of time.

Only the handle crack forced him to stop using this bat he had so carefully prepared. Finally, it should be noted that rarely do we encounter living owners of historic artifacts whom can provide direct first-hand insight into the events surrounding the items evaluated. The letter, photos, schedule and pay stub are an irrefutable link between the owner and Williams. With the heavy use, documented factory ordering records, and first hand provenance, this combination allows us to evaluate this as the most historic Williams bat we have authenticated to date.

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