BY JOHN ROYCE
If you’ve been around the game for a while, you’ve heard players, coaches talk about hitting with the grain on wood bats, or “label up”. Why hit with the grain? Think about a deck of cards. If you held a deck in your hand and pressed on the face of the card, they would bend. If you pressed on the sides of the cards, with all the individual cards side-by-side, you would need some incredible Hulk strength to compress them.
The same concept applies to wood grain in a bat. The more you “square one up”, the more evenly distributed the impact among the grains. Ever counted the grains on your bat? Sometimes you buy a bat and it seems like there are 100 individual grains, and then sometimes it seems like there are 10 or 15… These are things you should start to take time to notice.
DID YOU KNOW that the width of the grains in a bat indicates the growth and maturity in its years? The thinner the grain, the less growth that occurred during that single year– also indicating a dry year… the less water the tree soaked up takes away from the strength of the wood.
These are two of the recently passed, all-time great Tony Gwynn’s bats. Gwynn was known for his meticulousness with the wood he chose, and its hard to argue with .394. As you can see in the picture, the grains are very wide, with room enough for only 10 or 11 individual grains. This is exceptional to see as a hitter and definitely a conscious decision by Gwynn.
Why? The wider the grain, the more water that particular tree received in those years. More water in the wood gives the wood a heavier feeling as it adds more density to the wood. As the wood has higher density, its strength also increases. So imagine squaring a ball up with the wide grain like these Sluggers pictured. Gwynn used one incredibly wide-grained bat for most of the 1994 season, which he called “Seven Grains of Pain.” (This article about Gwynn is worth a read.)
LABEL UP? It is often claimed by manufacturers that they stamp their bats, or apply their logos on the face sides of their bats, (remember the deck of cards) with the strongest part of the bat being the visual of the grain immediately to the left of the logo, because those are the strongest parts of the bats according to the manufacturers.
You’ve heard coaches talk about not rolling the wrists time and time again, but fact is, that’s how you hit. Slow any pro’s swing down and you’ll see they roll the wrists at, or just after, point of contact. This gives them added whip as they drive the barrel through the ball. So with that being said, a right-handed hitter hitting with the label up (staring directly at the logo as the bat’s in your hands) would roll his wrists at POI (point of impact) to match the face of the ball with the side of the grains (side of the deck of cards). This will give the bat its greatest pop as you hit the ball.
LEFT-HANDED HITTERS are the opposites of the label up theory… A lefty should swing his wood with the label DOWN. As the strongest grain is still just to the left of the logo, so all they need to do is face that label down to still achieve hitting on the stingiest side of the grain at the POI. Of course, there’s no one telling you that you have to hit with the grain that is immediately to the left of the logo. You could hit with the grain to the right of the label, too. The manufacturers claim that the grain to the left is the strongest on the bat, but just make sure you are making contact on the sides of the grain and not on the face of the grain for best results. Anybody with differing/supporting opinions on this?