William A. Shroyer




In the early days of American baseball, prior to 1890, the rules regarding the length, width, and configuration of a baseball bat were yet to be standardized. It was a common practice for players to manufacture their own wooden bats. Because bats broke, or became rough, with use rather frequently, players had to switch to a new, homemade bat. The replacement bat would often create a different "feel" in the hands of the batter, creating a period of adjustment for the player with the new bat.

The first technological advance in the manufacture of baseball bats occurred in 1884, when John Hillerich (1867–1946), an aspiring professional player who was also employed in his father's wood working factory, manufactured a bat from white ash, a very strong and durable wood, for a player on the local Louisville, Kentucky professional team. The new bat was found to be very well made, and soon the "Louisville Slugger" became a highly prized piece of baseball equipment. The Louisville Slugger is the world's best known baseball bat, designated the official bat of Major League Baseball.

The Louisville Slugger, and the various models of bats that followed it were functional and effective. The market for baseball bats and all other type of baseball equipment expanded in the twentieth century throughout America. Wooden bats remained prone to breakage and splintering no matter how well the bat was made. The "sweet spot" on wooden bats, the point in the barrel of the bat where the ability to strike the ball was most consistent, varied in both location and size on a wooden bat. It was in this era that a former baseball player turned inventor in Dayton, Ohio, William Shroyer, developed his ideas regarding a long lasting, economical and perhaps indestructible bat, the metal bat.

By way of patent number 1,499,128, as filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office in June, 1924, Shroyer filed detailed diagrams and a description of the proposed metal bat design. Shroyer described the purpose of his design as one that would provide the lightness, springiness, and resiliency of the current wood construction. Shroyer sought to avoid the wood splitting and splintering that commonly occurred with wood. Shroyer also set out in his patent diagrams a threaded aperture in the head of the bat, a device that provided a place for the insertion of additional weight in the bat barrel if desired by a batsman.

It is evident from the patent office records that Shroyer had directed considerable care to his invention. It is equally apparent that Shroyer never commercially marketed his all-metal bat, and there is little evidence to suggest that he was ever able to manufacture a model beyond that of a prototype. No example of the Shroyer bat exists today; its inventor and patent holder died in relative obscurity.

The Shroyer metal bat patent is significant in the history of sport science for its prescience. The first aluminum baseball bat sold as a mass marketed item was produced by the Worth Sports Company in 1970. From that point, large baseball equipment companies such as Easton established significant markets for their aluminum bats in the softball, lob ball, and collegiate baseball markets.

Major league baseball banned the aluminum bat from competition almost from the moment it was available. Aluminum possesses a significantly higher coefficient of restitution than does wood, resulting in a correspondingly greater ability in the aluminum bat to return the energy of a pitched ball to the ball with the swing of the bat, causing the ball to travel further on a hit. Aluminum bats would render most professional baseball parks as home run derbies. Studies conducted by both the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and private research groups confirm that an aluminum bat will send a baseball a minimum of 10% farther when hit with equal force by a wooden bat.

SEE ALSO Baseball.