Bat Day was the original giveaway promotion to attract spectators to the ballpark, which quickly displaced discounted admission practices like Ladies Day and Family Night as a technique to entice people to attend ball games. Bat Day became a mainstream promotion in the major leagues in 1964 and by 1965 was a popular way to increase attendance and profits at the ballpark.
“This [Bat Day] helped change the idea of a promotional day from one which certain types of fans got in free to one in which the fans got free stuff,” Peter Morris wrote in his book A Game of Inches: The Story Behind the Innovations That Shaped Baseball. On Bat Day, free baseball bats (Little League size) were given out to youngsters (maximum age 12 to 14, depending on ballpark) who were accompanied by an adult who paid full price for their tickets.1
The patron saint of Bat Day is generally considered to be Bill Veeck, the controversial ball-club owner who orchestrated many unusual promotional gimmicks to lure people into buying tickets to fill largely empty ballparks. However, the unsung hero of Bat Day is Rudie Schaffer, an associate of Veeck, who not only was crucial to the inception of the promotion in 1952 but also was more responsible for expanding its adoption during the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The very first giveaway of free baseball bats occurred at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis on June 15, 1952, at a Sunday doubleheader between the St. Louis Browns and the Philadelphia Athletics. A representative of a bankrupt bat manufacturer had approached Veeck trying to sell the company’s inventory. “I foisted him off on Rudie Schaffer and Rudie worked out a deal in which we paid eleven cents for every finished bat and the guy threw in all the unfinished bats for free,” Veeck told the story years later. “Rudie came back and suggested that we give them away on Father’s Day.” The crowd of 15,000 that day was one of the largest of the season for the Browns.2
There was little publicity about this initial bat giveaway deal, even in the St. Louis newspapers. No other major-league club pursued the idea, which did not yet even have an official name. The moniker Bat Day would come several years later.3
After Veeck sold the Browns in 1953, Schaffer moved on to be general manager of the Toronto minor-league team in the International League, where Schaffer instituted Bat Night by teaming up with Hillerich & Bradsby, the manufacturer of Louisville Slugger bats. While interest spread among minor-league ball clubs looking to increase attendance, major-league clubs expressed no interest in using a “bush league” concept.4
When Veeck returned to baseball ownership in 1959 with the purchase of the Chicago White Sox, Schaffer rejoined him as business manager. The bat giveaway resurfaced in 1961 or 1962, when Coca-Cola agreed to subsidize the cost of the bats in exchange for advertising the company’s logo on the bats. When Veeck left White Sox ownership in 1961, Schaffer stayed on with the White Sox, where he made the bat giveaway an annual event and labeled the promotion as Bat Day by 1963. When the White Sox distributed several thousand bats to youngsters on Sunday, June 2, 1963, the ball club attracted a paid attendance of 30,755 to the doubleheader with the Red Sox, about twice the typical crowd for a Sunday doubleheader at Comiskey Park.5
The watershed year for Bat Day was 1964 when several American League clubs conducted the giveaway. The White Sox gave away 10,000 bats and attracted 36,313 people to Comiskey Park on Sunday, June 7. As The Sporting News reported, “The White Sox inaugurated the Bat Day custom several years ago and have been joined by the Indians, who gave away nearly 12,000 bats June 14. The Angels will conduct a similar promotion in the near future and have ordered 5,000 bats from Hillerich & Bradsby. In addition, several other major-league clubs have demonstrated an interest in staging similar stunts.”6
“A gate stimulant which attracts a crowd of 30,000 in Cleveland could hardly fail to command attention. Fans whose enthusiasm for the Indians has declined sharply in recent years suddenly stormed the gates. The lure: free bats for youngsters,” The Sporting News touted in an editorial. “This is a sound promotion, likely to foster baseball interest long after the bat giveaway when the small fry put the junior Louisville Sluggers to good use on the sandlots.”7
The Kansas City Athletics joined the Bat Day bandwagon on July 25, handing out 10,000 bats painted in the team’s green and gold colors. The Detroit Tigers attracted an attendance of 46,342 on August 9, when Hillerich & Bradsby handed out 25,000 bats. The Boston Red Sox staged a Bat Day on September 13, distributing 19,000 bats.8
Bat Day promotions skyrocketed in popularity in 1965, as all ten ball clubs in the American League pre-scheduled Bat Day before the first pitch on Opening Day. The Chicago White Sox inaugurated the parade of Bat Day promotions that season, on May 2, with the other nine AL clubs holding Bat Day either later in May or during June. Most clubs staged Bat Day on a Sunday, although the Boston Red Sox conducted their Bat Day on May 8 at a single game on a Saturday.9
The perspective on Bat Day completely changed when the New York Yankees, the defending American League champion, held Bat Day at Yankee Stadium on June 20, 1965, on Father’s Day. “Yesterday’s crowd totaled 72,244 (71,235 paid), the largest to attend a major league game, including the World Series, since July 4, 1961,” the New York Times reported, when “about 40,000 bats distributed among the customers yesterday helped to restore the venerable structure to an ancient condition: full of people.”10
The Yankees immediately scheduled a second Bat Day promotion for later that summer. “However popular bats may be, the next such affair is not likely to sell the place out,” the New York Times commented. “This one coincided with Father’s Day and a Sunday doubleheader with the glamorous, league-leading Twins when school was ending and the summer vacation had not yet taken many people away from the city. A midsummer Saturday afternoon with Kansas City might be a different story.”11
There was little financial risk to the ball club with the Bat Day promotion. As the Times noted, “The bats retail at $1.75; the Yankees paid perhaps half that for bulk purchase, but probably got back at least the same amount ($30,000) from increased concession sales from so large a crowd.” In that situation, the full price paid for tickets ($1.30 for general admission) by the incremental crowd that might not have come to the ballpark otherwise became largely profit.12
Alas, the Times writer was mistaken about the pull of Bat Day. The Saturday afternoon game on August 14 with the last-place Athletics drew 51,246 (44,263 paid), the second-largest crowd at Yankee Stadium that season, topped only by the first Bat Day promotion. “To appreciate the implications, one must examine some attendance figures in detail,” the New York Times reported. “The two bat days drew a total of 115,508 paid admissions – an average of 57,754. All the other Yankee home dates, 49 of them, have averaged 17,200. One Saturday afternoon game with Kansas City, plus bats, drew more customers than all the other Kansas City games played here without bats.” The formula seemed simple, “add free bats – and nearly five times as many customers show up.”13
The Yankees announced in December 1965 that the ball club would not only conduct another Bay Day during the 1966 season but also stage two other gift days for youngsters, Cap Day and Ball Day. Most American League clubs emulated the Yankees in holding all three promotions in 1966, as the National League clubs introduced Bat Day into their home schedules.14
“The handwriting was probably on the wall on the final day of the 1966 season,” sportswriter Joe Durso wrote in 1968 about the impact of Bat Day. “In Philadelphia, the Los Angeles Dodgers won the pennant in a photo finish by splitting a melodramatic doubleheader with the Phillies—before 23, 215 persons. In New York, the Mets clinched ninth place against the Houston Astros by losing two games—before 41,379 persons.” As Durso quipped, “The difference in public response was understandable. The Dodgers were merely fighting for the championship, with Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax pitching. The Mets, though, were giving away 30,000 batting helmets and 10,500 wallets.”15
Durso ended his article with a little history. “It wasn’t until six years ago that the big leagues started giving away bats, ball, caps, and helmets. The nudge is credited to a protégé of Veeck’s named Rudie Schaffer, now business manager of the Chicago White Sox. His inspiration was the simple thought that maybe baseball in the 1960s needed a stimulus that was related to the game and not to 5,000 cans of vegetables,” one of Veeck’s wackier stunts. Durso concluded with the prognosis of an unnamed baseball executive: “It’s all part of the carnival atmosphere you need these days.”16
Sound baseball played on the ball field, the bedrock marketing principle of major-league baseball for decades, had given way to an entertainment factor as the predominant inducement to go to the ballpark. Baseball purists would shake their heads in disdain for decades into the future.
1. Peter Morris, A Game of Inches: The Story Behind the Innovations That Shaped Baseball (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2006), 425.
2. Bill Veeck, The Hustler’s Handbook (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1965), 27.
3. St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 16, 1952.
4. “Free Bats – Schaffer’s Sharp Promotion,” The Sporting News, July 4, 1964; “Bat Days Could Help Twins to Their First Million Road Gate,” The Sporting News, July 3, 1965.
5. Veeck, The Hustler’s Handbook, 27; Boston Globe, June 3, 1963.
6. The Sporting News, June 27, 1964.
7. The Sporting News, July 4, 1964.
8. The Sporting News, August 8 and 22, 1964; Boston Globe, September 14, 1964.
9. The Sporting News, May 15, 1965; Boston Globe, May 9, 1965.
10. “Fans (Those That Got In) Go Batty!” New York Times, June 21, 1965.
11. “Fans (Those That Got In) Go Batty!”
12. “Fans (Those That Got In) Go Batty!”
13. New York Times, August 15, 1965.
14. New York Times, December 10, 1965.
15. Joe Durso, “Baseball, Hurting at the Gate, Gives (Bats, Balls, Hats) Until It Helps,” New York Times, July 14, 1968.
16. Durso, “Baseball, Hurting at the Gate.”