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Ask This Expert   Read Answers Mike Specht (Bio)

Retired Sportswriter and Author
Expertise: Game-used bats
Powerized Branding Variation on 1976 H & B Bicentennial Bats --- What ??? January 16, 2010

Powerized’ Branding Variation on 1976 H & B Bicentennial Bats --- What ??? 

The following is a cautionary tale that in many ways exposes the fundamental problems when a “hobby” becomes a business.

Judging from the number of hits that the recent thread on the Hank Aaron Bicentennial bat received, many of you have questions regarding what some have called a possible centerbrand label variation for Bicentennial bats manufactured by Hillerich & Bradsby in 1976. Those bats, with the distinctive and well-known Bicentennial logo replacing the Powerized branding for that single year, have long been a favorite of collectors, and generally command a premium price. If you are unaware of this earlier discussion, you can find it here:


Basically, in that thread, forum members were engaging in a respectful exchange on whether the few known bats that have surfaced bearing both the Bicentennial Liberty Bell logo and the Powerized designation are authentic. Well, actually they are authentic, at least insofar as they actually exist and were obviously manufactured by H & B. The question is,are they professional model bats manufactured for the personal professional use Major League players, or are they something other than that. An example of this labeling is seen below.

Like many labeling questions, this will be impossible to determine with absolute certainty. However, in the spirit of Game Used Universe, the following facts are presented so that potential future purchasers of bats with this dual branding variation, may do so with open eyes and the ability to make an informed purchase decision with all the facts.

A quick review of the bat census shows that of the approximately 70 to 80 Bicentennial bats that have been authenticated, only two bats actually bear this labeling characteristic. These are a Roy White bat, graded Mears 6.5 (Cert. 309802 – 7/18/08), and pictured below (it is fair to say this bat exhibits very light use), and a Johnny Bench bat graded PSA/DNA 5 that was authenticated as an unused professional model bat.

On the earlier thread, forum members offered pictures of their Bicentennial bats, many showing heavy use, that did not bear the “Powerized” variation. I also noted that early research articles by Michael Montbriand made no mention of the dual branded Powerized variation (Gone Bats, Sports Collectors Digest, 6/1/90.) So where did these bats come from, and for what purpose were they manufactured? Are they truly an inadvertent label variation (labeling error) that actually found their way into players’ hands, or were they actually made for some type of commemorative or promotional use?

From the research done to date, it appears that the Bicentennial bats with the Powerized variation came into the hobby en masse no later than 2002 in two Lelands auctions. (One caveat, the auction data discussed below is based on available online resources and a review of numerous auction catalogs from 1999-2007. I have no doubt that despite my research efforts and those of my source (aka “Deep Fly Ball&rdquo, there are auctions that have been missed; I welcome additional information in this regard that further clarifies these issues). Over two auctions in May and December, 13 bats with this dual label characteristic were auctioned with the following results (Player, Lot Number, Final Price, Relevant Descriptions):

May 2002

J. Bench, lot 1825, $1125, “game bat” with “blue bat rack marks” that looks more like one paint scrape.
M. Schmidt, lot 1830, $1815, “game bat”
T. Munson, lot 1831, $2062, “game bat” “manufactured in 1976”
G. Nettles, lot 1840, $397, “game used bat” with “light to no use”
H. Aaron, lot 1863, $2577, “game bat” “unused”
B. Williams, lot 1871, $635, “game bat” “unused”
T. Perez, lot 1872, $768, “custom made for the first baseman” “never used”
J. Morgan, lot 1874, $929, “championship season bat from this member of the BRM”

December 2002

C.Yastrzemski, lot 1301, $846, “game bat” “light if any game use”
J,Morgan, lot 1310, $698, “straight out of the big red machine” (not the same as earlier May 2002 bat)
B. Robinson, lot 1313, $1,239, “game bat was made for the all star third baseman” and was “used by the third baseman”
J. Bench, lot 1315, $1,127, “light if any game use” (not the same as earlier bat).
G. Foster, lot 1316, $437, “nice use” (picture does not show any obvious use)

Given the number of bats consigned in those auctions, and the uniform lack of game used characteristics evidenced on any of these bats, it is a virtual certainty that the bats in the two auctions were sourced by the same consignor. As of the time of this post, all of these bats were available for viewing in Lelands auction history on its site. (As a side note, those auction houses, including Lelands, that make past auction information available online should be widely commended.)

Other than those two auctions, we have found five other occasions when Bicentennial bats showing the Powerized variation have been offered at auction. Of particular interest is he Johnny Bench bat from the December 2002 Lelands auction (lot 1315) which was offered at auction on two more occasions, and is discussed more fully below. The three other instances are these:

In Lelands May 2003 auction the Brooks Robinson originally auctioned in its December 2002 auction appears again as Lot 1037. On this occasion the reference to the bat being “used by” Robinson is deleted and the description says the opposite, that the “All Star third baseman never got to use it.”

In Lelands December 2005 auction, a Pete Rose bat with the Powerized variation, Lot 1044, was sold for $2,328 and described as follows: “Here is a nearly impossible bat to find. A genuine Pete Rose Bicentennial bat. This is the real deal were as most you see are replicas sold in the Reds gift shop. In 1976 Pete was mostly using Adirondack bats therefore, few Louisville Sluggers were produced for him. This bat is 35” where as the replicas are 34”. Also, the replicas are model S2 and Pete stopped using that model in 1970. This is a model R195. No use but still a great Rose bat sporting the Liberty Bell logo on the barrel.”

Finally, there is the recent Ebay auction of the Hank Aaron bat (that prompted the earlier thread) with the Powerized variation. The bat eventually sold for $1,051 and was described as follows: “Hank Aaron Game Issued Bicenntenial Louisville Slugger A99 Bat...Same as a gamer but never used thus the game issued designation.....Obviously not cracked, nothing on knob..... Guaranteed Authentic......Add $10.00 shipping........View our other auctions!” (Note: this is a different bat than that auctioned in the May 2002 Lelands auction.)

The only other bat that has surfaced bearing this labeling variation is the Roy White bat graded by Mears noted above.

So what can we conclude from all of this information? Well, how about this? No bat bearing the Powerized variation in addition to the Bicentennial logo shows evidence of anything other than light, or very light game use, if that.. Not one of these bats (1) is cracked, (2) bears a knob number, (3) has any pine tar, (4) shows any significant use (indeed the “light use” pictured on several of these bats looks more like the result of handling than actual game use), (5) shows any individual player use characteristics, or (6) is autographed. This last point may seem trivial, but if these unused bats were given to the players or even delivered to teams and “walking out of clubhouses,” you would expect that one or more would be autographed, even if personalized. So, here you have 16 different bats, most that entered the hobby together, that would have come from at least 7 different Major League clubhouses, some AL and some NL, all bearing virtually the same lack of use or player characteristics. Further, every bat seems to have the same glossy finish which appears to be beyond the ‘regular, or natural’ finish and does not account for individual players preferences of the period.

By comparison, a nonscientific review of the Bicentennial bats in numerous auctions from 2000-2008 that do not have the Powerized variation reveals that well over 80% have some player use characteristics and/or cracking and discernable game use, unlike any of the dual branded bats that have surfaced to date. You have the knowledge, draw your own conclusions. And, as always, make informed decisions.

What Goes Around, Comes Around --- Maybe Changed

Which brings us to our second issue, the Johnny Bench bat with the Powerized variation that was offered in the previous thread on the board, along with the authenticated Roy White bat, as evidence that this variation is, indeed, found on professional model game used bats, thus implying that all of these bats are “genuine” and should command Bicentennial Premium Pricing which, given the players represented, would be significant. In that regard, the owner of the bat provided the following picture.

In the previous thread on the Aaron bat, the owner of the Bench bat provided this description of the bat: “I know on my Bench it matches his factory ordering records perfectly. 35.5 inches and 32.5 ounces. B278 cupped. I believe he ordered about 50 of those that season. Does it have the 12 inches of pine tar on the handle Bench usually had? Yea, great pine tar. Does it have ball marks, red bat rack streaks, cleat marks, etc.? Yes to all. It even has #5 written in red pen-like the Reds used sometimes in the mid-70s.”

If authentic, this would provide the compelling evidence necessary to support the Powerized variation theory apparently ascribed to by several well known experts in the bat community. Unfortunately, this Bench bat began it life in the hobby as an unused bat in the Lelands December 2002 auction, Lot 1315. The following picture shows the two bats with identical wood grain pattern.

The bat then resurfaces in Grey Flannel's May 16, 2007 auction as Lot 614. As you will see the bat now has the distinctive cleat mark directly over Bench’s name which you can see in GUF member’s picture. The bat is also described as having "several prominent red bat rack streaks," which were also mentioned in the GUF member’s description of the bat. However, there is no mention in the Grey Flannel auction of 12" of pine tar or a knob number. As the picture below demonstrates, the Grey Flannel Bench bat is the same as the GUF member’s Bench bat and the Lelands 12/2002 Bench bat. This bat was authenticated by PSA/DNA as an unused professional model bat, and the red mark(s) on the bat (mentioned in the write-up) were disregarded by the authenticator.

This bat resurfaces again in a group of Reds bats in Lelands November 2007 auction, Lot 278. Again the identical bat grain and made up cleat mark are evident. Additional pictures of the knob and the full length bat also show that, as late as November 2007, the Bench bat did not have a red number 5 on the knob and did not have 12 inches of “great pine tar” as described by the GUF member.

Apparently one or more individuals in our hobby, with a great amount of knowledge regarding the personal use characteristics of Reds players and Bench in particular, doctored this bat to make it appear to be game used. Further, as can be seen from the picture below of the knob of the bat in the Lelands November 2007 auction and a picture of the knob of the bat from the GUF member, the forger has painstakingly applied the red numeral 5 (making it look faded) as well as a lightly applied weight notation. Clearly, this bat cannot be used as the stellar example with which to demonstrate the authenticity of Bicentennial / Powerized label variation bats.

Finally, you should all be aware of how this issue was handled from the outset as it provides a good roadmap for bringing information to the hobby without further victimizing collectors who have purchased a questionable item. After reading the original Hank Aaron Bicentennial bat post, a forum member (“Deep Fly Ball&rdquo conducted research and then approached me with the information regarding both the Lelands auctions and the Johnny Bench bat. We reviewed the information and then I contacted the owner of the Bench bat directly with much of the above documentation which gave the owner the opportunity to try to resolve the matter with his seller. After giving the member a few days, and allowing for some additional research and photo comparisons, the information is now being brought to the hobby.

NOTE: Responses or comments on this article can be posted on the following thread  http://www.gameuseduniverse.com/vb_forum/showthread.php?t=32294

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