October 7th, 2001.
San Francisco Giants slugger, Barry Bonds steps to the plate and crushes a knuckleball from Dodgers pitcher, Dennis Springer over the right field fence.
With Bonds’ 73rd home run, he secures the record for most home runs in a season.
It’s a record that remains unbroken. And it was achieved with a Sam Bat.
Concerned with the amount of wood bats that were being broken in Major League Baseball (MLB), Bill MacKenzie, then a scout with the Colorado Rockies, challenged his friend Sam Holman to come up with a solution.
A carpentry stagehand by trade, Holman had the practical know-how, but he had to build an understanding about the way the wood interacted with the game. It was an arduous study of the physics of baseball, the dynamics of different wood species and hundreds of bat-related patents.
Holman found the answer in maple wood. Denser than ash wood, traditionally used for baseball bats, rock maple was harder, stronger and didn’t flake with use.
Sam fashioned the first maple bat out of a would-be staircase railing and the first Sam Bat was born.
Bringing maple to the majors
After successfully auditioning the Sam Bat at Ottawa’s Lynx Stadium (now Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Park), Holman travelled to Toronto and through mutual contacts met baseball legends Joe Carter, Ed Sprague and Carlos Delgado – all of who sent balls over the fence at the Sky Dome (now Rogers Center) with a Sam Bat.
Joe Carter was so impressed that, in addition to singing the bat’s praises throughout MLB, he introduced Sam to Barry Bonds who would become Major League Baseball’s home-run king with a Sam Bat.
For the first several years, orders poured in for Sam Bats and they were filled from Holman’s garage in Ottawa. As demand for the bats grew, production spilled to all other parts of the home. It wasn’t unusual to see a few hundred bats in the dining room, ready for labeling and shipping.
What made and continues to make the Sam Bat so appealing to Major Leaguers is the level of customization they are able to achieve.
“What we try to accomplish is, for the player to feel like the bat is an extension of his or her body”, says Arlene Anderson, President of Sam Bat: The Original Maple Bat Corporation.
Anderson and her husband bought into the business in 2007 during a challenging time for Sam Bat that saw a deal with sports giant Wilson go sour, the loss of U.S. distribution rights and the Canadian dollar climbing to $1.10 U.S. “That was extremely challenging,” she reveals. “At that time it made us less competitive and made manufacturing very difficult.”
Today, from their factory in Carleton Place just west of Ottawa, Sam Bats produces approximately 20,000 maple bats annually and exports them as far as Japan, Italy, France and Australia where they are the official bat supplier of the Australian Baseball League.
Sam Bat continues to refine their product. Research and development, improving internal systems and using the highest quality wood possible keep them atop a market thick with competitors.
“We’ve solidified our spot in the marketplace,” Anderson explains. “The object now is to increase brand recognition and to expand the general customer base. But, there is a lot of competition. We like to say that Sam created a bit of a monster because he was so successful in introducing his maple bats to MLB in the early 2000’s that, as a result, we now have more than 30 competitors selling their version of hardwood bats to MLB. But we’re still the best.”
Sam Bat has also teamed up with Ottawa based, e-commerce company Shopify to bolster their increasing on-line business where the general public can purchase bats made from the same quality hard maple used in producing bats for professional baseball players.
Making a better bat
Formerly, Holman used to buy whole logs, which would be cut to specifications and dried in a vacuum kiln. That process has since been outsourced so now when the wood arrives, it comes in pre-cut rounds 36 or 37 inches long, 2.78 inches in diameter and dried to a precise moisture level of 8%.
Virtually all parts of a baseball bat can be customized.
“Players know that when they hold it and use it, they know the quality that goes into the Sam Bat,” smiles Anderson. ”And that’s a function of our expert staff.”
Elite athletes require elite equipment and Sam Bat continues to have an impact on baseball as evidenced by a recent visit by 2016 Home Run Derby winner, Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton crushed an astonishing two home runs, 497 feet; making them the longest two home runs recorded with modern technology. Of course, he did it with a Sam Bat.