Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Batter Up!

QUESTION: My grandfather loved baseball. Somewhere—no one seems to know where or how—my grandfather obtained a special bat on which is the image of Mickey Mantle, as well as his signature. I’m not really into baseball and have no idea if this bat is worth anything. I’m not sure the signature is real. Can you help me?

ANSWER: From the photo you sent, it looks as if you have what’s known as a decal bat. These were specially made bats onto which the manufacturer affixed a decal of a famous player. There are also lots of other varieties.

A decal bat is a bat in which a bat manufacturer has applied a decal showing the image of a famous player and perhaps his signature. They come in large and small sizes, with vibrant colors and model names appearing on both the barrels as well as in the center of the bat. Hillerich & Bradsby, (H&B) Stahl & Dean, Spalding, and A.J. Reach were some of the top makers.

H&B came out with a player series of decal bats in 1905 after signing Pirates slugger star Holm Wagner as a Louisville endorsee. The beautiful images on the barrels of these bats resemble the portraits on early baseball cards. Manufacturers offered them  on several full-size player bats as well as on smaller souvenir varieties.

The most desirable of these bats pre-date World War I. The likenesses of players such as Hank Gowdy, Ty Cobb, Joe Jackson, Rogers Hornsby, and Harry Davis adorn these bats. But finding one is another story—and finding one that’s in good condition is very hard indeed. A Joe Jackson bat from that time period is currently up for auction at $3,750.

With decal bats, as with many collectibles, condition is everything. A full-size Joe Jackson in 90 percent or better condition sold in the past for $3,500. Any Wagner, Cobb, or Lajoie in top condition should be worth about as much. Near-mint examples of the other Hall of Famers would be in the $2,000 range. Non-Hall-of-Famers, although rarer than their Hail of Fame counterparts, would sell in the $1,200-$1,800 range.

In addition to these early decal bats, H&B revived the decal player model bats in the mid-1950s with a series of bats that included Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Ferris Fain, Jackie Robinson, and Joe DiMaggio. The Mantle and Fain have turned up in lengths of 34 inches while the others have all  been Little League bats 'at least to date. Each has a head portrait of the player set against a contrasting background. The Robinson, Ruth, DiMaggio, and Mantle bats are all very desirable if in like-new condition with prices in the $400 range; Others might sell in the $200 range.

Values for full-size bats are always greater than their small souvenir counterparts or bats shorter than 32 inches, the shortest offered as a full-size decal bat. Generally, the smaller souvenir bats sell for anywhere between 30 percent to 50 percent of their full-size counterparts in like condition. Decal bats picturing Hall of Fame players are worth a premium over their non-Hall of Fame competition, but not as much because the decal bats of these players are sometimes scarcer than the Hall of Famers. And while Joe Jackson is still not a member of the Hall of Fame, his bat will bring as much or more than any other.

Restoring an old decal bat may add to its value, but it could also subtract from it, depending on the quality of the work done. Cleaning an old decal bat isn’t classified as restoration. If an artist restores missing portions of a decal by painting them in, that’s restoration.

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