In the early days of baseball, bats were made from a wide range of woods. Shoeless Joe Jackson's famous "Black Betsy" was made from hickory, for example. Willow and oak were also commonly used.
- But by the 1930s, almost every bat was made from ash, a soft wood that was surprisingly durable. When Ted Williams hit .406? Ash bat. When Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's home run record? Ash bat. When George Brett lost his mind? His ash bat had too much pine tar.
1996: While drinking at a bar in Ottawa, Rockies scout Bill MacKenzie mentioned to local carpenter Sam Holman that ash bats kept breaking. Was there anything Holman could do?
- Feeling inspired, Holman began making bats out of maple and testing them with the local minor league team, the Ottawa Lynx. A year later, he convinced three Blue Jays — Joe Carter, Carlos Delgado, and Ed Sprague — to use his bats during batting practice.
- Verdict: They liked them. Heck, Carter was so smitten that he snuck one into a game later that season — and promptly hit a home run. The maple bat had arrived.
1998: While finishing his career with the Giants, Carter convinced Barry Bonds to try a maple bat. The rest, my friends, is history — with an asterisk next to it, of course.
- Bonds hit 73 dingers in 2001, and broke Hank Aaron's home run record six years later — all while using a maple bat.
- This helped maple's popularity skyrocket, and last season, roughly 75% of major leaguers swung maple bats.
2018: Birch is a relatively new wood for bats that surpassed ash in popularity for the first time last season, per FanGraphs.
- "Birch tends to last better than maple," said the guys at Birdman Bats. "[It] has that flex, so if a player doesn't like that, he's going to stick to maple. It's kind of like a graphite shaft versus a steel shaft in golf."
The end. You are now a bat expert.