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What’s the Right Way to Hit with a Wood Bat? Thoughts on Wood Grain, Tony Gwynn’s “Seven Grains of Pain”

Image: Jimmie Foxx and Rogers Hornsby, Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

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.

Joe DiMaggio talking wood. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

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.

Tony Gwynn's Louisville Slugger C263 Ash

Tony Gwynn's Louisville Slugger C263 Ash Cup

Tony Gwynn's Louisville Slugger B287 Ash

Tony Gwynn's Louisville Slugger B287 Ash Cup

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.)

Ted Williams showing how its done. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

Ted Williams showing how its done. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

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?


  1. Make a Jonathan lucroy profile

  2. This is kinda sad for WPW. So much misinformation. Ash is a ring-porous wood and ash bats are hit on the edge grain because otherwise they will flake apart. If anyone really wants to learn about the science of wood and wood bats http://www.woodbat.org is a great place to start…

    1. no mention of all of the “sad misinformation.” wondering where the article steered you wrong?

      1. In a different article

    2. 7 years later and i still don’t get the “misinformation” part. seems like flaking = weakness, and that’s exactly what John is saying here. Woodbat.org doesn’t exist anymore either, unfortunately, but I do recall that there was a different argument for Maple wood. Anybody that can speak to that?

  3. The article above is accurate as it pertains to ash bats, but one would want to orient a maple or birch bat so that it hits on the “face” grain. Woodbat.org was an amazing resource for bats and the science behind whether to hit on the edge grain (ash) vs. a hard wood bat was really interesting. Those ink dots you see on hard wood bats (maple and birch) are put there to measure the radial slope of grain. The straighter the grain, the less likely the bat would break. Hard wood bats that don’t have straight enough grains would not make it to the big leagues, and end up in Dick’s or a local shop. I traded email messages with Roland (woodbats.org) years ago, and he said that an ash bat, hit on the face grain, would likely go further, but the flaking caused by impact would increase the likelihood of breakage. Got to love baseball.

    1. Awesome insights Phil!

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