Get a Grip: Is the Axe Bat by Baden the Future of Hitting?

ted-williams-bat-grip

Image Courtesy of the Louisville Slugger Museum

The most sacred, unparalleled element of baseball is its history.  In no other American sport can you trace the history of the game like this one.  If you were asked to name a pro baseball player who played 100+ years ago, you could probably name a few with ease (Ruth, Cobb, Shoeless Joe, Cy Young, Mathewson, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson).  Ask that same question about football, hockey, or basketball, even to experts, and I doubt there’d be a correct answer if any at all.

But the history of baseball is a double-edged sword.  Where it links the past with the present, baseball rejects change.  The TRADITION vs. INNOVATION tug-of-war in baseball is so well-documented that there’s a Brad Pitt movie about it.

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Lately, though, the traditions are being challenged.  Take the Lizard Skin bat wrap.  For a century and a half, pro hitters have desperately tried to figure out how to get the best grip.  Spit, pine tar, rosin, wax, golf gloves, batting gloves, medical tape, the Pro Hitter thumb aid, THEIR OWN URINE, and probably a few other things I don’t even know about.  Meanwhile, the 6 year olds playing T-Ball are getting along just fine with a rubber grip—the same type of grip used on hammers, bikes, shovels, brooms, pens, basically anything you need a good grip on, for like a million years.


Now, in less than two seasons, WPW conservatively estimates that 30% of the league uses or has used a Lizard Skin bat wrap, a grip much like those you’d find on T-Ball bats.

So why did it take so long for Lizard Skins to happen?  Probably one part machismo and one part tradition:  “Pro ballplayers don’t need Little League grips.”  “We’ve always used pine tar and peed on ourselves.”  Etc., etc.

Based on the scattered evolution of the bat grip and how quickly Lizard Skins have taken hold, it is my opinion (as a person who spends a lot of time looking at baseball equipment) that the baseball bat handle is a work in progress.  There are still improvements to be made.

Memphis swings Axe Bat exclusively.

Memphis swings Axe Bat exclusively.

Enter Baden Sports, who hit WPW up recently to introduce the concept of a new handle with some science behind it.  Based on a study done by a UCLA engineering professor and Ph. D, Dr. Vijay Gupta, the Axe bat handle…

1) …Is more comfortable
2) …Delivers a more efficient power transfer
3) …Increases bat speed through additional barrel acceleration
4) …Reduces hamate bone/ulnar nerve injuries and incidents of thrown bats

Baden sent me an MLB-certified Maple 271, and I have been swinging it for a couple of games.  Its very hard to say how I feel about it in such a short time, but I have other options and I’ve been using it because it feels good.  My hands feel comfortable and quick, and I’m making good contact at a relatively high rate so far.

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As far as metal goes, I wanted to give you an expert opinion, so I consulted a D-1 team that swings Axe Bat exclusively, the San Jose State Spartans, to see what they thought.

Dave Nakama – Head coach

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What about the Axe bat compelled you to move away from the standard form?

“I think the obvious reason was because of my relationship with Rusty [Trudeau] and Baden Sports. He took a chance on us to use his bat and I was familiar with the bat from my time at the University of Washington, so I knew what it was about and I believed that it was a good concept, and that’s why we took a chance on the Axe Bat. They took a chance on us and we took a chance on the bat, and our guys like it.”

Do you think Axe bat technology will eventually be the standard?

“That’s a good question. I think baseball is one of the few sports that’s so traditional. Everybody is afraid of change in baseball, so that’s hard to say. I want to say that somebody will give it a shot in pro baseball and use it, but I don’t know if that will happen.”

And what do the players think?

Andre Mercurio – Senior OF

What are your thoughts on the Axe bat?  Were you skeptical at first?

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“At first I was definitely skeptical about the Axe Bat, swinging a round handle all my life. When someone brings something new into your life you’re going to be a little bit timid and you’re going to be a little bit like, ‘What is this? What are these people trying to sell me?’ Trying to recreate the wheel a little bit. It was tough to get used to it, but once you start swinging it – after your first round, your first five or six swings – you get comfortable and you feel a little bit more whippy. I feel, especially lately, once you learn how to hold the thing – which I’m not sure why I couldn’t figure out, because it’s really easy to hold it. Once you hold it right it’s really whippy in your hands and the barrel just flies through the extension part of the zone out front. I was definitely skeptical at first, but the bat has proved me wrong. The great part about the Axe Bats is each year they’ve gotten dramatically better. The first year they were like any other BBCOR bat – not very much pop. But last year and this year, the ball’s been flying off the bat. They’ve made huge improvements each year, even just in the way they look and definitely in the performance of them. I like swinging them a lot and I think it’s definitely contributed to my success.”

Do you think it’s made you a better hitter?

“I definitely think so. I think hitting is just about adjustments, and when they put that in your hands, you don’t have to make a big adjustment, but you have to realize the barrel might fly through the zone a little bit more so you have to be able to control it. There weren’t any major adjustments like it made me a different hitter. I think it definitely helps my hand speed and it definitely helps me drop the barrel on it, too, so I think that might help with a little bit of pop. I think it’s helped with my development as a hitter, for sure.”

Turtle Kuhaulua – Freshman INF/RHP

What are your thoughts on the Axe bat?  Were you skeptical at first?

“At first I was definitely skeptical. I didn’t really feel comfortable swinging the bat. But now I actually really like the bat, especially the white one. The white one fits my style so I like it a lot.”

How long does it take to get used to?

“It kind of just depends how you like your grip on the bat. Honestly, it took me a while because I really liked the round handle, but after a while I got used to it. It’s not too bad.”

Do you think it’s made you a better hitter?

“Possibly. I mean, a lot of things have made me a better hitter since this is my first year here, and the bat could be one of them. So yeah, it’s definitely possible.”

Some more facts on the Axe:

  • Other college programs using the Axe Bat this year include Memphis, USC Upstate at the Division I level, and nationally ranked Division III programs Marietta College of Ohio (#10) and Cal Lutheran (#8), among several others in Division II, III and NAIA.
  • Jimmy Rollins recorded the first Major League hit with an Axe Bat (the handle is MLB certified).
  • The Axe Bat was invented by a woodworker in upstate New York named Bruce Leinert, who said of his invention, “I looked at it as a tool to hit the ball, and I put the proper handle on it.”

What do you think?

 

To shop Axe Bats, go to AxeBat.com.

Or follow this link for more on the science behind Axe.