Robin Barwick, our man on the ground at the 96th USPGA Championship, heads to the home of the iconic Louisville slugger

Words: Robin Barwick

On Main Street in downtown Louisville, after Eighth Street but before you reach Ninth, the biggest bat in baseball renders it impossible to miss the headquarters for the oldest bat makers in baseball, Hillerich and Bradsby Co., makers of the Louisville Slugger.

The imitation bat stands 120 feet tall, towering over the five-story building, and Rick Redman, vice president of communications at Hillerich and Bradsby Co, promises that it is an exact replica of the bats Babe Ruth used to transform the way baseball was played nearly 100 years ago.

“This is an exact replica of the R43 model used by Babe Ruth,” says Redman, as the bat looms high over our heads in front of the Louisville Slugger factory and museum. “Ruth signed with Louisville Slugger as a contract player in 1918 and he propelled our company to national recognition.

“Before Babe Ruth, baseball was really a ‘slap-hitters’ game, in which batters would generally knock the ball around the field to get on base – it was a game of singles and doubles and moving the runners around the bases – but Ruth came along and was the first player to start really hitting the long ball out of the ball park, and he brought a new kind if excitement to baseball.

“Babe Ruth alone would hit more home runs in a season than all the players combined on other teams, and he transformed baseball as a sport. As a result, Louisville Slugger was also transformed as a brand.”

Louisville Slugger was the first company to mass-produce baseball bats, since 1884, and to this day, the company produces an estimated 45 percent of the regulation wooden bats used by professional players in the major and minor leagues of baseball in the United States. The company produces 1.8 million bats a year from its Louisville factory, and Redman adds that despite being a relatively small manufacturing operation, with 200 employees at the Louisville HQ, Louisville Slugger is ranked among the top 200 most recognised brands in America.

Hopefully there won’t be any more rain delays this weekend at the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla, but if there are, there are plenty more stories like this one to discover at the Louisville Slugger Museum.

Robin Barwick travelled to the PGA Championship courtesy of Mercedes-Benz. Mercedes-Benz is the official car of the PGA Championship