Sam Holman, the founder of Sam Bat, holding a maple baseball bat.

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The founder of Sam Bat - Original Maple Bat Corporation used his knowledge of wood, acquired during his 23-year career as a stagehand at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, to create a world-renowned baseball bat. It all started with a challenge issued over drinks in a pub. That’s when former Montreal Expo and Colorado Rockies scout Bill MacKenzie asked if Mr. Holman could create a wooden bat that wouldn’t break during use. So, he began researching ways to decrease this all-too-common incident.

He started by visiting local libraries to study baseball-bat design, which included poring over countless patents. Eventually, he realized there was no way to improve bats made of ash; instead, he looked at maple, one of the hardest woods in the world.

Sam Holman founded Sam Bat, the first company to manufacture maple bats sanctioned by the major league.

Stacks of maple blanks.

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Creating a Superior Bat


Aside from using the best grade of maple, which means there’s less waste, Mr. Holman says that the quality of his bats is a result of production not being rushed. The wood is cut into blanks and dried in one of the large vacuum kilns in the company’s Carleton Place, Ontario, production facility. The maple takes four or five days to dry to a moisture content of 7% – 9%. The wood is then cut into 3’ lengths. Employees choose from a range of blanks of varied weights, as each model of bat has a specific density.

As compared to their ash equivalents, these maple blanks produce harder bats that are more breakage resistant.

Left: Turning a bat on the lathe. Right: Sanding a bat.

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The square blank goes through a rounder, a machine Mr. Holman likens to a pencil sharpener, which rounds it in about 30 seconds. Next, one of two lathes is used. A bat can be produced in about an hour on a production lathe. Professional-model bats are made on a free-floating lathe.


Once the lathe work is complete, the bat is carefully hand-sanded. During this process, it’s weighed repeatedly to ensure it meets the necessary weight requirements. A roughly 5 lb blank ends up as a 2 lb baseball bat.


Left: Turning a bat on the lathe.


Right: A close-up of the sanding action.


Cupping a bat.

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Cupping the bat, removing wood from the barrel, follows. During this process, employees adjust the final weight of the bat and balance it, as cupping shifts the bat’s center toward the hitter. The player’s preference determines the degree to which this is done. The differences may be subtle, but the professional players notice. In fact, Mr. Holman calls them the most expensive scales on earth, adding that they “can tell you within 1/16th of an ounce what the bat weighs”.

Cupping the bat, which, among other things, shifts the center toward the hitter

Recently finished bats hung to dry.

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The last step is staining and finishing, which also requires precision. The size of the handle is established in raw wood, but by the time the bat is stained, it might be 1/1000th of an inch thicker. A water-based stain is brushed, not sprayed, onto the bat.

Finally, the famous Sam Bat label, which was designed by Mr. Holman’s brother and niece to be easily recognizable on television and from the stadium seats, is applied. The familiar bat-shaped logo is “clean and simple and allude(s) to a natural sense of sonar”, Mr. Holman says.

After about a day of drying, the baseball bat is ready to be boxed and shipped. From start to finish, making a bat takes about a week. However, during peak order season (late December through March), the process can take 6 – 8 weeks, as the staff works to complete orders in time for baseball’s spring training. For these professional players, the company makes countless hand-carved bats in a diverse range of handle shapes. In fact, Sam Bat offers more than 300 models. The length, weight, shape and taper of the barrel all factor into the custom design.

Bats drying after finishing.

Bats marked with the Sam Bat logo.

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The famous Sam Bat logo, designed to be easily recognizable even from afar.


Various baseball bat models hanging on a wall.

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The Choice of Professionals


In 2009, more than 60 percent of Major League players used maple bats, but this popularity didn’t happen overnight. Early in his venture, Mr. Holman approached Joe Carter, the famous outfielder and first baseman, who helped spread the message about maple bats. Word of mouth on the playing field helped develop their popularity. Moreover, the bats aren’t just being swung by Major League players. One client, who has faithfully ordered 18 bats a year since the company’s early days, has helped boost the popularity of maple bats throughout professional baseball in Japan. In September 2010, the Australian Baseball League chose Sam Bat as its official bat. The league’s website states that by selecting Sam Bat, it affirms its commitment to provide its players with the best resources possible.

Perhaps two of Mr. Holman’s proudest moments were seeing San Francisco Giants left-fielder Barry Bonds set a Major-League record in 2001 for the most home runs in a season (73) and again in 2007, when Mr. Bonds made baseball history by hitting 756 career home runs. Both records were smashed using a large-barrelled Sam Bat model 73 or 2K1, which features a flared knob (handle) design.

Some of the 300-plus models made by the company.

Sam Holman, the founder of Sam Bat, holding a maple baseball bat.

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Charitable Work


Mr. Holman also makes sure to give back to the sporting world. In the spring of 2010, he donated 250 baseball bats, valued at $30,000, to teams in the New York City public school system through the Public Schools Athletic League. The donation benefitted as many as 1,300 young people and Sam Bat further pledged a total of 500 bats to the campaign.

Together with Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun, Sam Bat donated 150 bats to the Good Sports 10,000 Swings program. The company agreed to donate another 10 bats to the program for every home run Mr. Braun hit during the 2009 season. He recorded 32 home runs that year.

Mr. Holman is now part owner of the company with Paul Balharrie and majority owners Arlene Anderson, president, and her husband, Jim Anderson.

Text and photos by Ian Gray

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