On a short day trip Saturday, I drove down to Louisville, Kentucky and toured the Louisville Slugger factory and museum. For a baseball fan, this is Mecca #2 (the first being Cooperstown Hall of Fame in upstate New York). As you can see, they make big bats in Louisville, big enough to ensure you can’t miss which building houses the museum and factory driving down the street.
After a rah-rah film about baseball hitting, I toured the factory where they make the famed Louisville Slugger bat for major leaguers, minor leaguers, and would-be leaguers. While the art of hand-latheing bats is long gone, the mechanized process is still interesting. Starting with billets made from northern white ash felled from old growth forests along the New York/Pennsylvania state line (and an increasing amount of maple due to Barry Bond’s recent influence), the bats are sculpted via a computerized lathe with uncanny accuracy. (Unfortunately, cameras weren’t allowed in the factory part of the building.) They are then branded, sanded, and finished to each major leaguer’s spec. While the factory is computerized and as modern as this process allows, the workforce is not so modern. Seems like the Louisville Slugger’s future is somewhat in doubt since their aging workforce has no real replacements inline for the years ahead. Average experience of the workers there is currently over 35 years.
Funniest comment heard on the tour: “Did you make Sammy Sosa’s corked bat?”
Most interesting trivia heard: Ken Griffey Jr.’s bats are finished with a multi-layer coating to hide the wood grain. Seems he thinks the bat’s wood grain pattern is visually distracting while batting. Talk about being focused.
The museum portion was interesting with the usual touches of nostalgia and a generous amount of famous player’s bats, as evidenced by Lou Gehrig’s stick below. And what tour would be complete without the requisite stop in the gift shop? While I didn’t buy anything (they did give me a mini-Louisville Slugger as a souvenir of the tour, something that’ll come in handy should I have to fend off tiny baseballs thrown at me), it was interesting to see how many gaudy things they can conceive using a bat theme.
You can see another angle of the big bat on my photo blog, Visual Flow.