A few years back, I read The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. The book tells the story of, among other things, the 1893 World’s Fair. One exhibit at the 1893 Fair (as far as I can remember from the book) used tobacco smoke for its supposed medicinal purposes. This exhibit, in particular, invented hand-held bellows you could fill with tobacco smoke. When collapsed, the bellows would blow the smoke through a tube connected to one end of the bellows. The other end of that tube was placed into the rectum of the paying customer. The bellows, once filled with tobacco smoke–the finest in the land, no doubt–were then rather unceremoniously blown into the lower intestine of the patient.
Because, you know, science.
At the World’s Fair in 1893 (and many years before this), people paid to have others “blow smoke up their arse.” Hence, the phrase’s origin and its current meaning: overinflating your sense of confidence in a process or product. I assume these paying customers thought the procedure would make them, at least eventually, feel better.
At the end of last year, I sat down to write a review of a single-piece aluminum bat that has existed since what feels like the 1893 World’s Fair. We collected a few hundred data points on the bat, including its exit speeds with some different hitters, ball cannon testing, swing weight, barrel size, yadda, yadda, and yadda. You know, Bat Digest geeked out bat kind of stuff.
We then went to the bat’s product page to look at the specs. Without surprise, the bat hasn’t changed much. I mean, it’s still a single-piece aluminum bat and decent-sized barrel. Mind you, we’ve been doing this long enough to realize this isn’t a bad thing and no shame in putting on a different outfit if you want to meet new girls. Lots of bats don’t need plastic surgery, but you can freshen up your make-up whenever you’d like.
Then we see the price: $50 more. Wait, wait, wait. Didn’t this bat increase by $50 like 2 years ago. [Check’s notes]. Indeed, it did. The bat increased by about 33% in 5 years? The bat hasn’t changed a lick (effectively), is still a single-piece aluminum bat, and is $100 more than it was just about 4 years ago.
That story isn’t unique–it’s why we don’t name the bat. Almost every bat has increased in price, sometimes by a lot, over the last few years.
Although armed with an economics degree (#GoCougs), I don’t think it takes one to understand what is going on here. The reason the price of bats is going up is simple: people are willing to pay.
Are companies colluding to drive up the price of bats? We don’t think so. There’s no coordinated effort, just collective individual effort to convince people something they hope is true: the bat will make them better. Does paying more for the same bat with new makeup make you better?
Maybe it does.
The most compelling response justifying the ever-increasing price of bats is that belief is as important as performance. Placebo effects are undoubtedly real; if an extra couple hundred bucks can increase confidence, then who cares what you spend as long as you can afford it.
That’s not unsound reasoning.
Also, people should be able to believe and spend money on what they want—and if they want to believe a new bat was forged by dwarves in the bowels of mount Mordor, then be my guest.
At the beginning of this year, we set out to investigate the proliferation of new single-piece bats on the market. We had suspicions that a major overseas manufacturer was providing what is often referred to as Private Label Products. Basically, a manufacturing plant in China, we assumed, produced a blank canvas bat and let whoever buy their product. That whoever would then pay (a lot) to have their ‘new’ private label bat approved at the WSU lab for BBCOR certification.
To be clear, the original bat being purchased from overseas is NOT a BBCOR bat. It is an uncertified bat that, if you were to pay for its certification and register it for the BBCOR stamp (which is far from free) AND it passed the test, could then be sold with the BBCOR stamp under your approved name. There is nothing illegal about private labeling, it is old as beer itself. It happens in all sorts of industries and it should come as no surprise that it happens in the bat industry, too. (It already happens out in the open in wood bats).
A few months ago, we reached out to some contacts we had in the bat space—actually older bat company contacts who had gone out of business—to see if they could get us in touch with their manufacturing contacts. A few clicks and a couple of emails later, huzzah!
Sent: 3/6/2021 7:05am
Subject: [JUNK]Let’s Make a Bat Together
Let’s make a bat together. I know it sounds crazy, but stay with me for a second.
First, major bat brands are committed to increasing the price of their proprietary bat lines. A few short years ago, every company’s entry-level performance bat was roughly $149 to $199. Now, most companies start their single-piece aluminum bat at $299+. Most of these bats seem proprietary. That is, they make this bat unique to their company, and while we could try and recreate it through some manufacturing, we can’t find that particular bat to buy at a plant overseas and private label it.
I’ve found a contact in China that has bats they say will pass the test.
That said, the private label industry appears to be up and running. It’s driven in part by the crazy margins major manufacturers are asking for their single-piece bats. People appear to pay whatever if they believe it can make their kid better, and marketing companies are licking their chops at this reality. I think most in the industry accept the notion that BBCOR performance is fungible. The only difference is perception. And it is easy to show that a private label bat is as hot as anything else.
Let me know what you think,
P.S. Do you have a 401(k) and room for about 500 bats in your garage?
Sent: 2/6/2021 7:07am
Subject: [JUNK] Re: Let’s Make a Bat Together
Thanks for the quick response.
I thought so.
Through some contacts, I found a manufacturer of private label bats in China. We can get a single-piece bat for $36 + shipping + import taxes. We’ll need to get some graphics because the bat is a blank canvas. We also probably want to change the end cap and the grip tape because I’m pretty sure these bats are in the US market already. The biggest hurdle and concern will be getting the bats certified. The Chinese manufacturer claims the bats are BBCOR bats, but that clearly isn’t true. A BBCOR bat is only a BBCOR bat once it is certified. We have a ball cannon here and can run some tests on it, but our ball cannon tests don’t count towards certification. Certification per bat SKU is thousands of dollars—and there are no refunds if it doesn’t pass.
I can order a couple of samples and see how they look.
Sent: 2/6/2021 7:15am
Subject: [JUNK]Re: Let’s Make a Bat Together
In terms of total profit, here’s some back of napkin math.
If we ship by boat, it will add two dollars per bat. Graphics, end caps, grip tape, work out to be $12 per bat. There are some import taxes, and let’s assume that’s $5 per bat. We are out $50 per bat.If we certify a 31 through the 34-inch bat, it will cost, best guess here, $20,000 for all four SKUs, at 500 units. That’s $2.50 more per bat.
So, 500 units, we’ll be out of pocket under $35,000.
If we can sell 120 bats for $300, we break even.
If we sell out and need to order more, we profit $115,000. Then let’s wash, rinse and repeat. If we can get some buzz, we can even get into major retailers, and then the buck really starts to move.
Let’s split the $35K upfront fees and get to work.
Sent: 3/1/2021 8:15am
Subject: [JUNK]Re: Let’s Make a Bat Together
I got the bats.
Honestly, they look good. I’d bet a lot of money these are in the market right now. I’d guess at least 3 or 4 different times if not more. And this was just my first shot at buying some. Here’s the manufacturer link:
Here is our receipt. $201 was because we paid for air shipping.
End caps. I need custom end caps. Any ideas?
Also, if this goes well, let us find a machine shop, core out the last 2 or so inches of the barrel end, and 3D print an extended composite end cap. That will bring down swing-weight dramatically. If we can get that certified, I think we’ll really have something.
Also, I ordered the “hybrid” bat they have, too, and it looks good. Both bats are absolute logs. So maybe we can call them Ultra Power Balance?
Okay, enough of the role-playing.
All of that is fictitious. Except for the part where we bought the bats and the part where we wish we knew a guy with a machine shop so he could help us bore out a bit on the end cap side to bring down the swing weight. We’d also like to see what it would take to cut off one of these knobs and shorten the handle a bit. Again, not sure that it would pass the test with these modifications, but I’d like to find out.
We aren’t interested in making an actual bat. (We don’t think anyway). Maybe one day we’ll do it out in the open like a Kickstarter project.
In the end, we think the most authentic thing for us to do is to do what we’ve always done with the information we find on bats. Be honest. Tell everyone what you know and let them make decisions for themselves.
We hope this inspires a few to get into the bat business. We gave you the links. Do your due diligence (please) and get to work if you feel so inclined. We’ll be happy to review it once you get it up and running.
On a related note about reviews, we do find it funny to see other reviewers give different ratings to these privately labeled bats that are the same. If there was ever any more evidence that this business is about perception and hype, it is when we see reviewers give different scores to the same bat with a different paint job.
To be clear, we think it is wonderful that smart people are doing this. We love entrepreneurs and love to see it happen in the bat business. The more private label bats in the business means the more downward pressure on price across the board and the more chance some guy in his garage has with coming up with a better mousetrap. That’s only good for consumers, at least in the long run.
The Little League’s arms race is something we opine about every few years. It’s a race to equip our children with the best equipment so we can believe we are doing what we can to maximize the odds of their success. It comes in the forms of instructions, hitting coaches, pitching coaches, speed coaches, far away tournaments, and mental-sports-health coaches—to say nothing of the actual coaches coaches.
When I was a kid, no kid had hitting coaches. My hitting coach was a Wiffle ball bat and a smashed-up coke can in the garage with my older brother.
But things have changed. Blame it on the internet, blame it on COVID, blame it on YouTube, blame it on Instagram. Everyone wants the same thing, and everyone can now be told what the best thing is.
Baseball and fastpitch bats stand right in the crosshairs of this Little League Arms race phenomenon.
What’s crazier still, most people know that bats’ performance has rarely improved over the years. Take any honest, real study about bat performance comparing old to new bats, and there’s no satisfactory conclusion that the latest is the greatest.
We get the counterargument and hear it all the time. Someone hit this one bat, and then you hit this one other bat, and now you know that this other bat is so much better. I’m not saying you aren’t authentic. I’m saying you’ve been convinced of something that isn’t true because, and here’s the kicker, you want to be. And, better yet, you can afford it.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Honestly, there really is nothing wrong with that. It’s just a game and it’s just money.
It’s part of the game we play as parents and Americans who want to give our kids the best chance in life to succeed. Well, why not the best bat too? It’s not like your buying essential oils to improve your kids on-base percentage. (Right, you’re not doing that, right?)
In the short and long run, we’ve always lobbied for more transparency in the bat-making process. My imagination has limits, I think most other dads out there buying bats for their kids do too. I’m not interested in seeing people miss a mortgage payment or get in a fight with their spouse because they are convinced they need the latest bat made from unicorn tears. (By the way, if we make a bat together, then that name is on the table, Unicorn Tears).
But that doesn’t stop us from wanting the best, believing we can find it, and being willing to pay for it. That need is as old as time. I can even imagine a man walking out of the smoke-blowing tent at the 1893 World’s Fair, with a rather bewildered look on his face—as if he’s wondering what in the world just happened to him. You may have felt the same walking out of a sporting goods store. On his way out, that man is stopped by a younger father with two little kids who asks, “Hey, how much should I pay to have smoke blown up my arse?”
So, how much?