Brief History of Baseball Bat Grip Tape
When the game of baseball was in its infancy and before Bud Hillerich convinced his father to turn their woodworking business into a bat manufacturer, after creating his first Louisville Slugger, baseball players would often whittle their own sticks out of whatever was available to them.
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Not only did this give birth to many differently shaped bats, it also presented a big issue with the bat’s durability because the most popular style was a fat, heavy bat end.
This common bat design was based on the principle that the more weight and surface area the end of the stick had, the more power the club would exert. Some player-made bats were over 40 inches long, weighed 50 ounces or more and were comically shaped (just Google search Emile Kinst’s “banana” bat sometime and you will see what we mean by comical). Unfortunately, these ultra top-heavy bats were extra prone to splintering around the handle, especially as pitchers adopted the faster, overhand style of hurling the ball towards the plate. In an attempt to remedy the frequent splintering of their bats, the players began wrapping string around the handles to pull the splinters back together. Not only did this help improve the lifespan of the bat, which was vital at the time as player’s rarely had a backup or the money to buy a new bat, it also provided an unexpected enhancement to the hitter’s ability to grip the bat. It did not take long for players to begin trying any material they could their hands on, literally. Thus, the bat grip tape was born.
Modern Grip Tape
As aluminum and metal alloy bats became popularized in the 70’s, bat tape had to adjust to meet the issues in handling this new type of bat. While the core purpose of bat tape has always been to improve a player’s grip, modern grip tapes affect other areas of hitting, including comfort, dampening vibrations, feel and appearance. Dampening vibrations or reducing “bat sting,” as it is sometimes referred to, is crucial when swinging a metal bat, as these sticks produce intense and often painful vibrations. To counteract bat sting, modern grip “tapes” are less like the tape, string or cordage of the original grips and made mostly from synthetic, rubbery polymers. The synthetic materials used are often thicker than simple tape or string and their rubber-like feel helps dampen vibrations. It is also worth noting that they are impressively tacky to improve the hitter’s grip.
Modern grips are also specially designed to withstand all types of weather.
Even on a rainy or particularly cold day, the best bat grip tapes of today will not be any less tacky or reduce vibrations any less. The water-resistant polymer does not lose its integrity or start to peel off as traditional sports tape does. Plus, on hot days, the grip wicks sweat, instead of allowing it to sacrifice the bat’s grip.
Bat Tape Grip Sizes
The more modernized, polymer grip tapes typically come in a few different sizes. The size of the tape dictates how thick the gripping actually is. Most Major League Baseball sluggers who use a polymer tape will stick with the thinnest size, which is usually 0.5 millimeters.
This ultra-thin size allows the hitter to take advantage of the added grip, while still allowing him or her to appreciate the naturally stiff and authentic feel of the wooden bat. The thicker end of the bat tape spectrum is often featured on aluminum bats because thicker tapes offer more vibration reduction. The thickest sizes (usually near 1.8 millimeters) are especially widely used on youth bats.
Young players are especially susceptible to “bat sting” for two reasons:
- Firstly, they are children and are not used to bat sting.
Thus, they react more negatively to the unpleasant feedback than an adult player.
- And secondly, young players are still learning the fundamentals of hitting the ball, which means they make contact all over that bat.
Sometimes this means hitting the ball with the handle or taper of the bat. Ouch! Mid-range bat tape sizes are around 1.1 millimeters and are used a lot at the high school and college levels of baseball and softball. They are also common in adult leagues that use aluminum bats. This middle ground offers ample bat sting reduction, but does not go overboard on the cushioning and still allows the hitter to really feel the handle of their bat. Many players have also found use out of this bat tape size when they transition from a metal bat to a wooden one.
Best Bat Grip Tapes
Truthfully, there is not a lot of difference from one grip to the next. Even though it may appear that the Easton VRS and Lizard Skins grips are far superior because of their vibration dampening capabilities, a lot of hitters, especially at the pro-level, like more traditional tapes because of their feel. Ultimately, it boils down to the preference of the hitter. Some hitters prefer a cushiony grip, while others prefer none at all. There is little to no competitive edge gained through buying an expensive, after-market grip tape. The reason that Lizard Skins grips have gained so much popularity, in such a short amount of time, is not due to their design, but because they are offered in the widest variety of colors, patterns, designs etc. This allows the hitter to choose exactly the color and style they want to match their bat, personality or whatever.