The COVID-19 pandemic has forced several companies to temporarily shut down due to being "non-essential" businesses. Tesla and Shake Shack are two companies that have furloughed employees, and now another has joined the list. Iconic batmaker Louisville Slugger has furloughed most of its workforce and temporarily shut down both its factory and museum.
According to ESPN, Hillerich & Bradsby has furloughed 171 people during the coronavirus outbreak. The company owned Louisville Slugger until 2015 but now manufactures wood bats for Wilson's Louisville Slugger brand. The employees that have been furloughed are still receiving company benefits. Those that are still employed have taken a 25 percent pay cut.
"We're not doing any advertising. We've cut all our expenses we can. We're just hoping we get back to normal before we run out of cash," John Hillerich IV, Hillerich & Bradsby CEO, told The Courier-Journal. The company applied for federal aid but was informed by Wells Fargo, its usual bank, that it was only obtaining SBA loans for companies with 50 employees or fewer. The company then reapplied through Stock Yards Bank, but the federal funds had already been exhausted.
The company produces roughly 50,000 bats per year for Major League Baseball, but the season has been postponed indefinitely due to the coronavirus outbreak. There are now concerns about the timeline of baseball's return. Hillerich told The Courier-Journal that if it doesn't open up the Pennsylvania mill in the near future, the logs used for the bats could spoil.
In addition to potentially losing necessary materials for these bats, Hillerich & Bradsby will likely miss out on the busiest time of year for the Louisville Slugger Museum. The majority of visitors come between spring break and the end of August while children are out of school. "We're afraid that even if we open up, people aren't going to want to be in crowded museums," Hillerich said about the closure.
Louisville Slugger has been making bats since the late 1800s and the relationship with Major League Baseball began in 1905. Pittsburgh Pirates player Honus Wagner signed a deal with the company to produce a bat with his name on it. Several prominent stars have since relied on Louisville Slugger bats during Hall of Fame Careers. This includes Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr. and Derek Jeter.
The future of the company is now in doubt, but Hillerich did explain that it has been through much worse. The 150-year-old bat manufacturer has survived two world wars, the Great Depression, a fire, the 2008 recession and Louisville's great flood of 1937. He said that the company has been "very resilient."