1897-1911 Nap Lajoie H&B Decal-Style Professional-Model Bat

Sold For: $1,293

Auction Year: 2010 spring

Lot: 1351

Item Year: 1897

Category: Game-Used Bats

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Extremely rare Nap Lajoie professional model bat, produced by "J. E. Hillerich & Son," dating from the 1897-1911 manufacturing period. This decal-style "dash-dot-dash" professional-model game bat, which predates model numbers, features a weathered decal image of Lajoie on the barrel. Although nearly half of Lajoie's portrait image has been worn away (only approximately 40% of the entire decal remains intact) he can be positively identified by both the image and the remaining fragments of his facsimile signature located along the base of the decal. For decades, collectors had always assumed that all decal bats were store-model bats, but that belief was never based on any concrete information, just faulty reasoning. Modern research has determined that not only were pro-model bats manufactured with decals, but that they were also used by the respective players in games. In our April 2007 auction we offered a Ty Cobb pro-model decal bat that was accompanied by a photo of Cobb using a Ty Cobb decal bat at the plate (see Lot 1307). Other photographs have also been found capturing Major League players using decal bats at the plate, including Roger Bresnahan and Lajoie. It is also interesting to note that it has recently been discovered that the 1939 H&B catalog makes specific mention of Hank Gowdy having used a decal bat in the 1914 World Series. There is no doubt that professional model decal bats such as the offered example were used by a number of Major League players during the dead-ball era, though it is also the case that this practice was limited to the very few players who were under contract and whose images were used on decal store-model bats (numbering only a dozen or so players), such as Ty Cobb, Nap Lajoie, Honus Wagner, Roger Bresnahan, and Hank Gowdy. That said, it is still the case, however, that most bats with decals are store-model bats (which at first glance look very similar to a pro-model decal bat such as this). Pro-model and store-model decal bats can be differentiated by two important characteristics. First is the fact that no store-model bat has ever been discovered in a half-inch length (i.e., 34.5 inches, 36.5 inches, etc.), nor has any half-inch store-model bat ever been found listed for sale in the available H&B catalogs from the era. Therefore, if a decal bat displays a half-inch length, it is almost certainly a pro-model bat. However, if a decal bat has a full-inch length (i.e. 35 inches, 36 inches, etc.) that does not necessarily preclude it from being a pro-model bat; instead it would have to have the the second distinctive trait not shared by a store-model example: a hand-turned knob. Store-model bats were mass produced by machines, whereas pro-model bats, crafted in accordance with specifications furnished by the players, were hand-turned on a lathe by skilled workers. All known pro-model decal bats are hand turned. This particular Nap Lajoie decal-bat measures 33 inches in length and weighs 35.4 ounces. Although it is not a half-inch length bat (which would have been the ideal) the fact that it is hand-turned clearly defines it as a pro-model bat. As MEARS notes in its accompanying Letter of Opinion, both the length (33 inches) and weight (35.4 ounces) of this bat are also similar to the only documented Nap Lajoie H&B side-written bat extant. Nap Lajoie was the first great hitting star of the American League and his fame was such that the Cleveland club was even referred to as the "Naps" during his tenure with them (1903-1914). Numbered among his impressive Hall of Fame credentials are four consecutive batting titles (1901-1904, highlighted by his career high .426 in 1901), a Triple Crown title (1901), 3,242 hits, 1,599 RBI, and a lifetime .338 average. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1937. Graded A6 by MEARS (5 point base grade plus 2 points for use but minus 1 point for its "full-length" measurement of 33 inches). This is one of four Nap Lajoie pro-model decal bats listed in the MEARS database, with one other graded at this level and two graded higher (A7 and A8). Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $1,293

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