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Saturday, September 18, 2010

I Watched Them Make Louisville Sluggers

Right on Main Street in downtown Louisville sits the factory where they still make 1,800,000 wooden baseball bats a year. The factory is in the same building where they have been making bats for over 100 years.

The main customers for wooden bats are major and minor league ballplayers since colleges and little leagues have long since switched to using aluminum bats.

Most of the bats are made of ash wood that is grown in Northern Pennsylvania. With a large "core sampler" type drill - they removed billets from the logs. The billets are sent to Louisville. At the factory they have computer-programmed lathes that in 30 seconds can mill the billets into bats. Finally the bats are sanded - branded with signatures - and lacquered. There are hundreds of different models - weights - lengths - shapes - signatures.

A major league player orders from 100 to 150 bats a year.

Ever since I was a young ball player - I remember seeing movies of them making the bats. The tour - which cost $9 - takes you right onto the floor to experience the action. You can see the wood chips flying and smell the different finishes. Every now and then a worker will push a cart by full of bats in various stages of development.

At the end of the tour - there is a museum - and they give you a free sample bat about 18 inches long. They reminded you not to take it on a plane in your carry-on bag - it is considered a weapon.

In the museum - they had a bat that Babe Ruth used to hit 20 of his 60 homers in 1927. The Babe had notched that bat around the logo. They also had the original bill of sale next to it with the name George Herman Ruth on it.

Since all the UPS planes come to Louisville every night - it allows shipping out replacements fast. The Louisville Airport is close to downtown and landing planes glide right over Main Street and the Louisville Slugger factory.