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1938 Hank Greenberg Pro-Model Side-Written Bat - 58 Home Run Season!
Starting Bid - $5,000, Sold For - $22,325
This remarkable Hank Greenberg H&B signature-model bat (predating model numbers) at a glance dates from the general 1934-1944 manufacturing period; however, based upon H&B shipping records, it can be pinpointed precisely to the 1938 season, the year Greenberg made his celebrated run at Ruth's single-season home-run record. Graded A9.5 by MEARS. This is an extraordinary bat from the greatest season of one of the game's greatest legends. Greenberg bats are far rarer than those of other great home-run hitting stars of his stature from the era such as Ruth and Foxx. Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of this particular Greenberg bat, and the one that elevates it above nearly all other examples in terms of desirability, is the vintage side-written notation on the handle that reads "Hank Greenberg 5-19-38." In addition to the handle side writing, trace remains of very faint side writing are also evident upon on the side of the barrel that appear to read "Hank Greenberg 5-20-38" (barely visible, even upon close inspection). Side writing is of great significance to collectors as it places a bat directly into the hands of the player so named. When players returned bats to the factory (to be used as templates for future orders), identifying notations, including the player's name and date received, would be written in grease pencil on the side of the bat by an H&B employee and stored in the vaults for future reference. In that regard, side writing on bats is recognized by the most sophisticated collectors as being the equivalent of having a letter of authenticity directly from the player himself. This bat was sent back to the H&B factory personally by Greenberg in 1938 for the express purpose of being archived and used as a template for his future bat orders. While the side writing is extremely important for provenance, it does not, by itself, indicate the year in which this bat was used by Greenberg, only the year in which it was returned to the factory. To arrive at a more definitive dating of this bat, it is necessary to extrapolate information from both the bat's physical characteristics and the available H&B shipping records. Although the center brand conforms to the 1934-1944 manufacturing period, nuances within its design can more narrowly date the bat to the four-year period 1936-1939. That fact, combined with the bat's specifications, and referencing the H&B factory order records for Hank Greenberg, allow the year of its manufacture to be pinpointed precisely to 1938. As MEARS notes in its accompanying letter:
Although bats may be off variance from the length recorded in the production records to meet weight requirements, this bat is currently 35 5/8 inches in length. This is a known length for Greenberg, and according to his production information is unique to 1938. Although Greenberg did order 36 inch bats prior to 1938, these bats were specifically produced at this length with a half round barrel. This bat features a full round barrel. As such, it was not considered to be a candidate as being a 36" bat shortened by hand sanding to a 35 5/8" in order to meet weight specifications.
According to the records, Greenberg ordered two "round-end" barrel bats measuring 35 5/8 inches in length on March 30, 1938. That ordering date is especially important, since it predates the day this bat was returned to the factory as noted by the side writing on the handle. The bat displays evidence of heavy use along its entire length, as MEARS further notes in its letter:
Heavy game wear can be found starting at the knob, extending up the handle is the remnants of handle tape and pine tar. On the area of the reverse handle there is the start of deadwood, but there is no real separation. On the barrel end on both sides is visible game use. On the reverse of the barrel is 2 layers of deadwood that have began to separate, but was nailed down with 3 vintage nail repairs. A green color back [bat] rack mark is found near the area of the handle. Additionally, the handle shows remnants of twisted tape and a moderate to heavy coat of pine tar.
1938 was arguably Greenberg's finest season. In addition to posting career-high marks in runs (144), bases-on-balls (119), and slugging percentage (.630), Greenberg captivated the nation that summer by making a legitimate run at Ruth's fabled single-season home run record of 60. Unfortunately, Greenberg failed to eclipse the Babe as he finished the season with a career-high 58 home runs, 146 RBI, and a .315 batting average. "Hammerin'" Hank Greenberg was one of the most feared sluggers of his day, leading the American League in home runs on four separate occasions. In 1937 he drove in 183 runs, the second-best mark in American League history and third best all-time behind Gehrig (184) and Hack Wilson (190). In his six full seasons from 1934 through 1940 (he was hurt in 1936 and lost nearly five full seasons due to military service from 1941 to 1945) Greenberg averaged 39 home runs and 150 RBI. To put his RBI numbers in proper perspective, whereas Greenberg averaged 150 RBI a season over that period, other prominent Hall of Fame sluggers such as Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron never even once recorded 150 or more RBI in a single season.
Graded A9.5 by MEARS (5 point base grade, plus 3 points for use and 2 points, combined, for the side writing and possessing documentable player traits, but minus a half point for the missing handle tape). As previously noted, Greenberg bats are far rarer than those of other great home-run hitting stars of his era. The MEARS population report records over 100 Ruth bats, for example. This is only the third Greenberg bat we have ever offered and one of only eleven Hank Greenberg pro-model bats listed in the MEARS census. However, this is the ONLY Greenberg pro-model bat known that can be pinpointed to his historic 1938 season. Given the tremendous use evident on this bat, it stands to reason that possibly one or more of those fifty-eight home runs originated from its barrel. This is an exceptional Hank Greenberg bat in all respects and arguably the finest known example. LOA from Troy Kinunen/MEARS. Reserve $5,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $22,325
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