Besides Hillerich & Bradsby, the manufacturer of the Louisville Slugger, 10 companies are authorized to make bats for major league players, and KC Slammer is far and away the smallest and unlikeliest of the bunch. Whereas hundreds of workers in eight plants turn out a total of one million wooden Louisville Sluggers and about 1.3 million aluminum bats each year, a former truck driver named Jon Moyer—the 42-year-old founder, president and chief bat maker of KC Slammer—expects to produce around 2,000 of his heavily lacquered, white-ash wands this year with only the assistance of his wife, Kay, and two women in their Kansas City, Kans., neighborhood.
Walk into the Moyers' living room and you're apt to see a few dozen Slammers ordered by Kansas City Royal first baseman Wally Joyner and third baseman Gary Gaetti, St. Louis Cardinal infielder Chris Sabo, New York Yankee centerfielder Bernie Williams or New York Met catcher Todd Hundley. In the laundry room there may be six other bats destined for one of Hundley's teammates, outfielder Joe Orsulak, which will be shipped as soon as Terry Haase has put on the lettering and the lacquer finish.
It was through David Segui, the former Met who now plays first base for the Montreal Expos but lives in Kansas City, Kans., that a half dozen Mets began using the Slammer. "I tried a few of Jon Moyer's bats in the winter of '93 and have been sold on them since," says Segui. "They last far longer than any other bat I've tried, and I get more carry from them."
So much carry, in fact, that Segui belted a career-high 10 home runs as a Met last season and through Aug. 10 this year was hitting 71 points above his career average of .257. "Jon's a perfectionist," says Segui. "He doesn't cut any corners."
A transplanted Canadian and former hockey player, Moyer never gave bat making a thought until another trucker, Charlie Ketron, approached him in the spring of 1991 and asked if he could make some bats for the team Ketron was managing in the Kansas City Men's Senior Baseball League (MSBL), in which wooden bats are required. "Ours were cracking left and right, and it was costing a lot of money," Ketron says. "I knew Jon did some woodworking, so I asked him if he could make us some bats that would last."
Eager to help out a fellow trucker, Moyer bought some northern white-ash logs in Pennsylvania and settled in at the workbench in his basement. Within a few weeks he had produced his prototype.
Word of the KC Slammer's durability and of Moyer's service soon spread through the Kansas City MSBL. "In more than 30 years I've never seen a bat last as long," says Gary Bond, who plays first base for the MSBL Royals. "I've used the Slammer in about 175 games over three years and have broken only three bats. First time up I hit one out. Second time up, same thing. Then one of my team-males, Jeff Larson, said, 'Let me try one.' He did and hit a grand slam. Now almost everyone on our team, and a lot of other guys in the league, use the Slammer."
By August 1993 Moyer had quit trucking and was turning out about 500 bats a year, mainly for MSBL players and some minor leaguers, who make up the bulk of his off-season business. After seeing Segui swing the striking-looking Slammer so successfully last year, fellow Mets Bobby Bonilla (since traded to the Baltimore Orioles), Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson began to use it. "The first time Ryan tried it, he hit a homer in St. Louis," Segui recalls, adding that Ryan has been a Slammer user ever since.
When Moyer's business doubled last year, he took on two neighbors as part-time workers: Haase, and Toni Johnson, who did lettering and most of the sanding until she was replaced this summer by another neighbor, Carol Pierce. Moyer thinks the secret of his success is his painstaking approach. Whereas Louisville Sluggers are produced in 15 seconds on automatic lathes, Moyer takes about 13 minutes to carve a bat out of a 27-inch square billet on one of his manual lathes. The key to the KC Slammer's durability, he says, may be the tempering process he uses and the many coats of lacquer he applies.
Last month Moyer moved into a 5,000-square-foot plant six miles from his home. What with the expansion, might he add hockey sticks to his inventory? "It's in the back of my mind," he says, "but for now I'm too busy making the KC Slammer." And much too busy to drive an 18-wheeler.