The Past and Future of the Baseball Bat

By the 1860s, there were almost as many types as baseball bats as there were baseballs. And like early pitchers, who made their own balls, early batters were known to sometimes whittle bats to suit their own hitting style. As you might imagine, the results were quite diverse—there were flat bats, round bats, short bats and fat bats. Generally, early bats tended to be much larger and much heavier than today’s. The thinking was that the bigger the bat, the more mass behind the swing, the bigger the hit. And without any formal rules in place to limit the size and weight of the bat, it wasn’t unusual to see bats that were up to 42 inches long (compared to today’s professional standards of 32-34) with a weight that topped out at around 50 ounces (compared to today’s 30).

During the dead-ball era, baseball players used to grip the bat differently, holding it further up the grip. The knob at the end was to keep players’ hands from sliding off the bat. But in the modern game, players hold the bat with their hands as low as possible—sometimes even covering the knob. Graphic designer Grady Phelan created the Pro-XR bat in response to the modern grip.

The major innovation on the Pro-XR bat is the new ergonomic knob, slanted to ensures the batter’s hand doesn’t rub against it. The design reduces injury, as well as the chances that a bat will be thrown by preventing the hand’s ulnar nerve from sending a “release” signal to the brain. Limited testing suggests that the bat will reduce pressure on the hand by 20 percent. It has been approved by the MLB and is currently used in play. But despite the major benefits it offers, baseball players are a stubborn and superstitious lot, and it’s unlikely that the Pro-XR will become the league’s go-to bat—unless someone starts breaking new records with it.