In a normal year, the baseball season has just passed Memorial Day, which is considered the first milepost in how the standings might shake out. That means that many bats have already been in use by hundreds of major league hitters.
Some of those bats come from the family-owned Hillerich and Bradsby, the manufacturer of the historic Louisville Slugger company. This year is anything but normal due to the coronavirus pandemic that shut down major sports in the second week of March, first halting the NBA season when Utah Jazz star center Rudy Gobert tested positive and then halting baseball two weeks shy of the originally scheduled March 26 opening day.
Normally, Hillerich and Bradsby produces approximately two million wood bats, a figure that includes bats for some prominent major leaguers, top prospects in the minors, amateur players to go along with custom and souvenir bats. It does so as the wood bat manufacturing company for Wilson Sporting Goods, which bought the Louisville Slugger brand for $70 million from Hillerich and Bradsby in 2015.
While production of bats resumed on May 11 after a nearly two-month hiatus, Hillerich and Bradsby is now in the protective facemask business under the name of Maskonic, which is selling the masks in packs of four with a portion of the sale going to the charity “Feeding America”.
“Our factory’s expertise is in cutting and sewing materials, so this was a natural progression, particularly in a time of global crisis,” Hillerich said. “Is this a continuing and sustainable business for us? We don’t know the answer to that yet as this ‘new normal’ world evolves.”
According to spokesman Rick Redman, the decision was made to get into the facemask business shortly after the pandemic struck. The museum closed March 16, the wooden bat factory was closed three days later and those moves brought two revenue sources to a halt, resulting in 171 employees being furloughed until a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program allowed the company to return employees under new safety guidelines such as daily temperature checks, masks for workers and social distancing guidelines — routines that will be the norm when games return.
While waiting to get back to its main source of revenue, another opportunity developed for a company whose revenue was $84.3 million revenue report by Owler.
Shortly after the shutdowns began, the company’s Bionic Gloves division learned that its factory which manufactures gloves could also produce the masks
“Our team worked with the glove factory to produce mask samples we could review, approve and take to market,” Redman said. “Our Maskonic masks are extremely comfortable. They’re made from a spandex/poly blend that fits snugly on the face without being tight or restrictive.”
In other words, a significantly different process than creating one of the iconic bats, which takes many more steps than producing a mask.
“We source wood from the north facing slopes of mountains along the Pennsylvania/New York border where the growing season is short and makes the growth rings tight and the wood very hard to withstand the high speed collision with a baseball,” Redman said. “Logs are taken to our mills where they are turned into 37-inch long, three-inch in diameter billets that will eventually be made into baseball bats. But, there are as many as 26 steps in the process of taking our raw wood and turning it into a bat that will make it onto a Major League Baseball field.”
While Redman did not disclose sales figures, he noted that sales are strong and as of last week, the company was close to being caught up from the initial demand.
Sports are slowly trickling back, potentially providing fans with a late summer bonanza of events if all goes right.
The NHL announced its plans for a July return last week, the NBA is expected to follow this week and then there is the significant question of baseball returning with a truncated schedule.
As both sides haggle over a salary structure and negotiations play out in the public eye, Hillerich and Bradsby is hoping to get back to seeing their iconic bats in an actual game setting. According to Bat Digest recent competition on the market for bats has seen approximatey 14 percent of major leaguers use their bats in game.
If baseball reaches an agreement for any kind of a season, it will be the latest chapter in a company which first became recognized in 1897 when Hall of Famer Honus Wagner used bats by Bud Hillerich and then became the brand’s first endorser in 1905.
Since the early days of Wagner’s career, Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks. Johnny Bench, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Rod Carew, Roberto Clemente, Tony Gwynn, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays used bats made by Louisville sluggers. Among current players using the bats are Nelson Cruz, DJ LeMahieu, Buster Posey, and Joey Votto.
And like many, Hillerich and Bradsby is hoping there is a season for their iconic bats to go along with their new products.