By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
JUPITER, Fla. -- It’s dark at 7 a.m. but inside, business is business in John Silverman’s office in the Miami Marlins’ clubhouse.
Silverman is the Marlins’ veteran equipment manager as he was with the Montreal Expos for years. He’s meeting at this early hour with Sam Holman and Arlene Anderson, shareholders in Sam Bat, one of the most influential bat makers supplying players in the major leagues.
Holman, the founder, ventured to say the company is ‘’second or third’’ best in the business. Anderson compromised by saying it was “third or fourth’’ best with Marucci, Louisville Slugger and Rawlings among the other giants. Wherever Sam Bat fits in the scheme of things, it’s a highly successful operation that started out of Holman’s basement in Ottawa in the late 1990s and which now manufactures in Carleton Place 45 km. west of Ottawa.
“It’s an achievement I wasn’t expecting,’’ Holman said.
How much recognition does Sam Bat get? Let’s start with Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds, who earlier this week, hugged Holman at a picnic table outside the clubhouse, saying, “I love you, man.’’
And Bonds did it twice as Anderson looked on in pride.
Just minutes earlier, Marlins assistant hitting coach and former Toronto Blue Jay Frank Menechino went out of his way on his trip to the clubhouse by going over to shake hands with Holman.
Bonds used Sam Bat maple models on his way to hitting his record-setting 73rd home run and his record-smashing 756th and ultimately 762nd and final home run for the Giants. At one point, Bonds visited Holman in Ottawa to witness first-hand how the bats came off the assembly line.
Today, Sam Bat manufactures 20,000 bats per year with some 3,000 shipped to major-league clubs.
“That’s 30,000 pounds of sawdust,’’ quipped Holman, who still wears his trademark coveralls after all of these years.
What is interesting is that Anderson reveals that 75% of bats used in the majors are of the maple variety with the remainder comprised of ash and birch. Two other Canadian bat companies are registered with Major League Baseball: B45 based near Quebec City and Toronto-area Alomar Baseball operated by you know who.
In all, there are 32 companies approved by the commissioner’s office, according to PR specialist Michael Teeven.
“In reality, of those 30-odd companies, the real, true stalwarts are in the low 20s,’’ said a sales representative for a U.S. bat company.
Just recently, B45, which hails itself as the Original Yellow Birch Bat Company, acquired new partners including a coup in Colorado Rockies’ star Carlos Gonzalez and Canadian-born alumnus Eric Gagné and Phillipe Aumont. Montreal native and Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin is a B45 client and the company says on its website that it has 55 big-league customers.
Marucci apparently boasts 100 investors, including private shareholders and many players, including Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays and Albert Pujols of the Anaheim Angels.
Pujols once got a shipment of the bats to try out and immediately exclaimed, “Holy cow, these are good.’’
And soon Pujols convinced Bautista to leave Sam Bat for Marucci. Bautista had used Sam Bat during his 54-homer season in 2010. But Sam Bat carried on without Bautista.
“Our bat is one of four companies used in the Major League Baseball Network video game that sold 880,000 copies last year,’’ Anderson said. “We are the official bat of the Australian Baseball League.’’
Anderson and her husband Jim assumed 51% ownership of Sam Bat from Holman in 2007. Holman and Paul Balharrie, Jim Anderson’s cousin, both have minority shares.
“I have a Scottish quarter, about 23%,’’ Holman said, laughing. “Is there some humour in that?’’
Coming from Holman, we’ll take the humour anytime.
From 2007-2010, Anderson admits operating Sam Bat was “terrible, very difficult,’’ in the midst of the downturn in the economy.
“When it was going tough for us, the Canadian dollar was at par with the U.S. dollar, hurting exports,’’ Anderson said.
But the company has rebounded, especially after it departed Gatineau, Que., located on Avenue St. Louis across the river from Ottawa, for Carleton Place. The Gatineau plant was admittedly too big and there were other sticky issues such as having to deal in business in another province, a quirky one at that, and Revenue Quebec.
Anderson is a petite woman in her 50s, who was convinced by Balharrie that Sam Bat was a worthwhile venture. After 30 or so years as a chartered accountant, Anderson has found her calling. She says some people might call her a “little pussycat’’ but she’s far from that. She can be tough when she has to be.
“We’re in very good hands with Arlene. She’s a major part of the success of this corporation,’’ Holman said.
Anderson spends 12 hours per day at work on average because there are so many time zones to deal with when shipments are made around the globe. Individual bat orders cost $149 each, plus shipping costs. What she charges major-league players is confidential.
Sam Bat is also a leader in quality control, a master plan that is followed by the other 31 companies.
“We’re world leaders in quality control in the bat business,’’ Holman said.
That’s saying a lot. Sam Bat can be proud.