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In the early days of baseball, players made their own bats, which meant they came in all shapes and sizes. Hillerich and his son, Bud, began producing Falls City Slugger bats made from hard white ash.It was not until 1879 that “long and slender” was cast as the preferred design for baseball bats, though there was no single bat manufacturer. Ten years later they patented the name Louisville Slugger, and the largest and most important bat company ever was born.Although some contemporary bats are still made of ash—maple has since become a popular material—early J. Hillerich & Son bats were noticeably heavier than bats used today.
In 1905, with the company now run by Bud Hillerich, Pittsburgh Pirates star Honus Wagner became the first ballplayer to endorse a bat.
His signature was emblazoned on Louisville Sluggers, a tradition that continues to this day.
Three years later, Ty Cobb, the game’s biggest name at the time, also signed with Hillerich.
Early bats with Wagner or Cobb engravings are popular items among collectors today.
Frank Bradsby, a salesman, signed on to partner with Hillerich in 1911, although the bats were not branded as Hillerich & Bradsby until 1916.