The Birds' Bats – Part Two

X Bats are a popular choice of Cardinals hitters.

In the second of a two-part series, the Cardinals' top hitters explain the ins and outs of their preferred lumber.

In the first installment of this story, we looked at the Cardinals bats from the perspective of Equipment Manager Rip Rowan. Shortly, we'll get the word from a number of key Redbirds players themselves.

Some players make a lot of changes with their bats, while others remain very consistent. I asked Rowan who is most predictable. "Jimmy Edmonds. He's a 34/32, 34/31, a Louisville C271S black. It's the same every time. He might have the handle trimmed down every once in awhile. This season, he did shave one down so far that it actually changed the model of the bat. But, he's not certain he's going to stick with that. He'll have them shave it a sixteenth of an inch. He's very consistent on his bats."

Others who don't vary: "John Mabry is a G175. He's the same every time. Scott Rolen, C271, 34/32. He's pretty consistent although he's used Mizunos off and on the last couple of years since he signed a contract with them", said Rowan.

You may note there is a variance in the base material of bats. The standard for years was ash. However, in recent years, maple, a harder wood, has come on as the choice for many.

Rolen explains his view on the subject. Of course, at the time, he had one of his bats in his hand. "34/32 ounce white ash." He confirmed that ash has always been his wood of choice and 34/32 has always been his size. I asked Rolen if he'd every tried maple. "Yeah, for about two weeks two years ago. I didn't really care for it. I understand it. They seem to be harder. But, I had a tough time getting the weight right. Some of them were bent, others would break in funny places. You'd hit the ball on the barrel and the handle would break."

Rolen was firm and clear when I asked him if he ever sampled other's bats. "Never" was the reply. "I've used a 34/32 C271 since the minor leagues. Flame tempered white ash. Never change."

He seemed to have no concerns about which bats he uses and doesn't distinguish between batting practice and game bats. "I grab one and go up to swing. It doesn't bother me. I pull one out of the rack and start swinging it." As I told Rolen, it sure seems to work for him!

While Reggie Sanders has worn seven different uniforms in the majors, he has stayed with one bat the whole time and is clearly happy with his choice. Sanders rattled off the specifics much the way you or I might cite our address. "34/32, Louisville Slugger, R205 maple. It's the size I've always used from day one."

Reggie has experimented with other bats precious little over his major league career. "Probably three times. R161's, 275's, but the 205 is what I always come back to." When asked if he uses others' bats, he replied "Nah, not really. Not enough to say I do. In 14 years, maybe twice, so it's probably not enough to say "Yeah, I do"."

Even if he never switches off from his trusty 205's, Sanders understands why other players might use his bats now and then. "Sometimes you need a different feel. So, no, I don't have a problem with that at all."

Coming off a week during which he batted .565 and had hit for the cycle a week ago Wednesday, something that hadn't happened for any Cardinal player since John Mabry in 1996, I knew Mark Grudzielanek would be eager to disclose his preferences.

"My bats are 34/31 to 32 ounces, maple." It's been the same since he came to the big leagues "except for a few different models". I asked Grudzielanek if he stays with one brand. "No, I mix a lot." He brightened up when I asked him if he ever used others' bats. "Getting a different feel is huge. For me, I have to get a different feel for a day or two and then I go back to mine and I feel great."

Coming up to the plate leading off every game, his new teammate and keystone partner, David Eckstein, seems to carry a bat properly in proportion with his 5-foot-7, 165 pound frame. Sure enough, that is the case.

"I use the Louisville Slugger, maple, M356. It is 33 inches and under 31 ounces. I used to use a C243 my whole career until last year about mid year. Then, I switched up to the M356, which is pretty much the same bat except for just a little bit thinner handle. The weight and stuff is about the same."

I asked Eckstein about how many he uses over the course of the season. "It's hard to say. But, now that I used maple it's a lot less. With ash, they would break a lot easier. But, with maple, they seem to stay a lot stronger."

While Eckstein asserts he never borrows others' bats, he did finger those who borrow his. "The pitchers", he laughed. "Whenever a pitcher comes in from the bullpen and they don't really have bats. Jimmy Journell grabbed it the other day. Usually pitchers will use my bats. That's about it."

Speaking of pitchers, they're paid to make their primary mark on the Cardinals results with their arm. Yet, while Jason Marquis is known as a rising pitching star, he has another reputation that seems just as important to him – his hitting. If you have any doubt, just ask him. You'll get a detailed reply that shows he's more articulate and particular about his bats than many position players.

In fact, Marquis' face broke - from the standard dreaded look when expecting another set of the same questions would be asked again - into a broad smile when he learned the subject of my inquiry. No wonder. Marquis is hitting .333 in his eight starts this season.

"I use a 34 inch, 32 ounce I13L Rawlings. It's cupped on the bottom. I also use a 34 inch, 32 ounce SG 1 by Sam. Those are the two models that I use. Both are maple." Marquis explained proudly.

It was clear to see by the enthusiasm in his reply that Marquis is serious about his hitting. "I've toyed around with different ones, from the time I was younger in the minor leagues and then in my first couple of years in the big leagues. Last year, I switched to those models and I still feel comfortable with them. So, I like them a lot."

Marquis has actually gone to a heavier bat over the years. "I've always used a 34 inch, but I used to use a 31 ounce. Now, I jumped up to a 32 ounce."

Marquis actually had what sounded to me as the most honest answer of any of the Cardinals when I asked him if he ever used other players' bats. "Yeah, when they start taking from my locker, that's when I start taking from their locker", he laughed. "No, really. I try others when it comes to BP, but during the game, I use those two models."

I selected John Mabry to represent the bench corps in this story. His choice: "34 inch, 31 ounce, G175 ash." I asked if it has been the same for his entire ten year career. "Yes, the same thing." Mabry insisted that he has never borrowed others' bats, nor have they ever asked to borrow his. He modestly observed, "As a bench player, I can use one for months at a time." Maybe all that changed after his dramatic Monday night home run to defeat the Reds.

Albert Pujols, like Rolen and many others, uses what seems to be the standard weight and length, though he is not as firm on the wood. He told me that he has used the same length and weight during his entire professional career. "It is 34/32 maple and ash. It's unfinished." Just like Pujols' career, which is also far from finished.

Nearing the end of a long and illustrious career, Larry Walker has made an adjustment with his lumber, as one might expect with a 38-year-old who continues to do what is needed to remain productive.

"This year, I am using a 34 inch, 30-1/2 ounce. Most of my career, I've used a 34 inch, 32 ounce." Walker's candid reply to my query as to why he changed was a single word, delivered with a laugh. "Age. You've got to do what you can to get the bat speed back to where it used to be. A lighter bat doesn't take away any power or anything. Just trying to keep up."

Unlike some other players, Walker remains flexible about his wood and the brand, but he has a reason for it. "I use both (ash and maple). I go back and forth. Usually, I use Louisville. I jump around, depending on how I am doing. I am too superstitious to stick with one model all the time. If it is not working for a few at-bats, if the bat is not feeling comfortable in my hands, then I'll try something else. Right now, I am using an X Bat. That might last another day or so, then back to Louisville.

Walker shared what has to be the most interesting story about using other's bats. He did it for over ten years! "Actually, for most of my career I used to use red-colored ones. I never used them until '92 and I was struggling. I grabbed (light-hitting shortstop) Spike Owens' bat and I used Spike's bat in a game against Bud Black and I hit a double and a triple and continued to use them for a good ten years after that. I don't use them anymore, but for a majority of my career, that's what I used. It worked out great, so I kept going. I stuck with it."

In Part One, I said that I had interviewed every one of the starting lineup. Actually, I asked almost everyone, that is. As Walker personifies, some players are superstitious. Given his prolonged struggles at the plate and not knowing him yet, I decided to give Yadier Molina a pass on this story. It seemed like the right thing to do, or not do in this case.

In closing, let's get back to the man who was mentioned at the start of this story as Mr. Consistency. Jim Edmonds was in a playful mood when I approached him on the subject. "Ummm…I use…a bat. A black one." When prodded for details, he complied. "Same as everybody else, 34/32. I try to stick with the same thing so I can get the same feel every day." His choice of wood: "Ash, regular. Maple breaks too much for me. I don't like to watch guys hit balls on the barrel and see their bat go flying. So, I've always stuck with the same thing from day one."

Edmonds says he never uses other's bats in a game. "Never. Well, maybe once in awhile for BP, but no, never. Sometimes, when I am struggling, I will use a bigger bat, but that's it." Edmonds is fine with sharing his bats with others – up to a point. "As long as you don't touch my game bats, that's ok."

So, there you have it. Whether maple or ash, borrowed or ordered, Louisville or San Bats, the Cardinals hitters know what they need and they prove every day they know what to do with them when they stride up to the plate.

Links to related articles:
"The Birds' Bats – Part One"
"The Birds' Bats – Part Three"

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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