Rare Baseball Bat Uncovered
On March 8, 2009 I posted an article on Seamheads titled “A Tribute to Billy Sullivan.” The article received a comment from Craig Brooks from the state of Oregon.
He was looking for information about a curved bat that belonged to Billy Sullivan Sr., that he received from his grandfather in its original case. When I saw his comment I knew that he was referring to a bat that Sullivan was holding in a photo that I have, which was taken in 1954 when he was honored at a banquet in his hometown of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin at the time of his induction into the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame.
I began to seek more information about the bat by inquiring on my SABR Yahoo Deadball e-group. Mark Fimoff remembered seeing a team photo of the 1912 Chicago White Sox that included Billy Sullivan Sr. in a joking manner holding a curved bat to the head of his teammate Walt Kuhn. He also found an article in the Chicago Tribune on 1-18-1911 that told about the inventor Emil Kindt, and his plans to make four hundred of the bats and distribute them to different clubs. It is not known if that many were made, or if he did indeed distribute them to various teams. The more I continue to research the bat, the rarer I believe it to be.
The Baseball Hall of Fame told me that they were called banana bats and the date stamped on the bat of Dec. 11, 1906 is the patent date. The HOF also supplied a photo of the inventor and a drawing of the patented bat. They told me that they did not have a banana bat and asked to contact Mr. Brooks in regards to him possibly donating the bat to the Hall. After a phone call and letter from the HOF, Craig decided not to donate the bat. At that time I made him an offer, ten months later we came to an agreement and I received the bat.
At a banquet in Oregon in 1939 in Billy’s honor, a newspaper recording the event stated that a fan originally gave Billy the bat, and it became Sullivan’s most prized possession. Perhaps the so-called fan was Emil Kindt, and it is possible that Billy was chosen due to his lack of offense. The bat was designed to give the hitter a better chance of hitting the ball where he wanted it to go. Stamped numbers 2, 3 and 4 can be seen on one side of the curved part of the bat, and 5, 6 and 7 on the opposite. I believe that the inside curved part would help send the ball to left field, while the outside curved part would help drive it to right. I really do not consider the whole concept as being that bad of an idea, however, it did not meet MLB bat regulations.
Billy passed the bat down to his son Billy Jr. who also played in the big leagues. They were the first father / son to play in the World Series, Billy Sr. in 1906 with the White Sox, and Billy Jr. in 1940 with the Tigers. Mr. Brooks’ grandfather took care of Billy Jr’s widow before she passed on, and the bat was given to Craig Brooks.Â Through my many years of collecting, this is my most admired piece that I have owned, a rare, unique bat from the Deadball Era that belonged to two major league players.Â My plans are to share it with the public, beginning with an exhibit at the Hoard Museum in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin from January 18 through March 19, 2011. It will be added to the on-going display that the museum has for Billy, which includes his Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame plaque, catchers mitt, team photo, and a baseball that he caught that was dropped off the Washington Monument. The museum is just blocks away from the Billy Sullivan Sr. monument at Jones Park.
I am eager to hear if anyone else has come across a bat like this, or has more information to add. Thank you.