Questions linger on Hall of Fame bat's authenticity
Among the thousands of items displayed in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., is the bat Roberto Clemente used for his 3,000th hit.
Or is it?
“It's definitely not the bat,” said Duane Rieder, founder and executive director of the Roberto Clemente Museum in Lawrenceville.
Rieder contends the Louisville Slugger on exhibit in the hall — given by Clemente to then-Pirates public relations director Bill Guilfoile to send to Cooperstown — looks much newer than the bat in a vivid 8-millimeter film of the historic hit.
“It's almost brand new,” Rieder said of the bat in the hall, adding that the bat in the film shows the cleat marks Clemente dented bats with, plus lots of pine tar and signs of general use.
John Odell, the hall's curator of history and research, cited a 1996 memo by Guilfoile attesting to the bat's authenticity.
“But if something were to turn up that proved beyond reasonable doubt that this is not the bat, we would address it at that point,” he said.
Guilfoile eventually became vice president of the Hall of Fame. His son, Kevin, recently wrote a book, “A Drive into the Gap,” which, among other things, delves into the mystery of the bat.
Kevin Guilfoile grew up in Cooperstown and frequently viewed the Clemente bat. After seeing the movie, he said, he began to have doubts.
“It's certainly possible the Hall of Fame has the right bat but it's also possible they don't,” he said.
Adding to the intrigue are claims by then-Pirates trainer Tony Bartirome and Les Banos, the former team photographer, that they each got the special bat. According to several accounts, Bartirome altered an Adirondack bat that he said Clemente used to get the hit. He later gave it to Pirates President Joe L. Brown, who in turn gave it to Bill Guilfoile, who gave it to Kevin.
The film shows without question that Clemente used a Louisville Slugger.
As for the bat in the Clemente Museum, Rieder said the wood grain “doesn't match up” with the bat that got the hit.
Rieder said he believes the real bat ended up with a woman who was a close friend of the Clemente family.
Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7810.