Think Pink

Written by: Lenny DiFranza

In 2006, the chief executive for bat manufacturer Hillerich & Bradsby, John Hillerich IV, had a vision in pink.

"The thought of these big macho men, swinging pink bats to help women with breast cancer ... what a novel idea," remembered Hillerich.

On Mother’s Day, major league players can honor their own mothers, while also helping to focus attention on breast cancer. With pink bats in their strong hands, they are raising money to support research and services.

The idea for these special bats came after a Hillerich & Bradsby subsidiary made pink hockey sticks for a National Hockey League breast cancer awareness campaign in the spring of 2006. Hillerich suggested that baseball try the same idea with pink bats and MLB quickly added them to their 2006 Mother’s Day program.

Baseball has been holding breast cancer awareness activities on Mother’s Day since 2001. In 2005, it started the “Strikeout Challenge” through which fans could donate a certain amount of money for each major league strikeout during the week leading up to Mother's Day.

Although other companies have produced pink bats for Mother’s Day, Hillerich & Bradsby led the way that first year, producing more than 400 special bats for 50-plus players. Each year, the used bats are auctioned off to raise funds for breast cancer charities. Many team-autographed commemorative home plates and pink lineup cards from each ballpark are sold as well.

Pink Bats are a Hit

In Cincinnati on May 14, 2006, Reds pitcher Brandon Claussen went 0-for-2 with his pink bat while holding the Phillies to one run over eight innings. Despite his strong effort, the Reds lost to the Phillies 2-1 in 12 innings. It was an even better Mother’s Day for Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard, who recovered from food poisoning in time to hit two home runs that powered the victory.

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Brandon Claussen used this bat on Mother’s Day in 2006. - B-150.2006 (Milo Stewart, Jr. / National Baseball Hall of Fame)

The Brewers’ Bill Hall was having a tough day in Milwaukee with his pink bat, striking out three times, but his mother in the stands inspired him to have faith.

"It had her name on it," Hall said of the bat and his mother, Vergie. "She's never let me give up, and I wasn't going to give up on the bat."

Hall and his pink bat blasted a home run in the 10th inning for a 6-5 victory over the Mets.

"We expected that this would be something that would draw a lot of interest," Hillerich said after Mother’s Day in 2006, "but it has far exceeded our expectations. It is wild around here. People are calling, wanting to buy a pink bat. It's crazy.

“The good thing is that it's drawing attention to the cause,” he added. “If swinging pink bats saves even one life by encouraging women to get a breast exam, then it's worth the effort."

On a Personal Level

"It seems like every Mother's Day, I've had a pretty good Mother's Day using the pink bats," Adam Dunn remembered. "I wish I could use them all year." While with Washington, Dunn had three hits in the Nationals 3-2 victory over the visiting Marlins on Mother’s Day in 2010, and he belted two home runs in Arizona in 2009.

Detroit’s Ryan Raburn used a pink bat in 2012 and broke out of a slump to rip a ninth-inning double off the center-field fence. "I might have to dip it in some black paint and keep swinging it," Radburn remarked.

2013 was the first year that MLB approved baseballs featuring pink stitches. In Chicago, White Sox pitcher Chris Sale fired a complete-game, one-hit shutout with the special baseballs, defeating a powerful Los Angeles Angels lineup that included Mike Trout.

Pink Accessories

In 2001, MLB granted players permission to wear pink accessories and equipment on Mother’s Day, providing a wide variety of ways to participate.

"She means everything to me," Pablo Sandoval said of his mother, Amelia, in 2013. "Without her, I wouldn't be here. She supported me every day when I was little. She took me to the field for practice every day. To put what she means in one word, I can't imagine."

The Mother’s Day initiative has raised more than $1 million, becoming one of the game’s most successful campaigns. Building on that success, MLB has expanded charitable efforts to raise funds and awareness. Baseball was the founding donor to Stand Up to Cancer, and promotes other efforts such as prostate cancer checks and the fight to cure Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS.

Baseball supports social causes as well. One of these programs, Jackie Robinson Day, created in 1997, calls on everyone in the game to honor the man who broke baseball’s color barrier.

Each April 15, every player wears Robinson’s number 42, and MLB auctions off those jerseys to support the educational foundation that bears Robinson’s name.

Big league baseball is played under the bright light of public attention. The breast cancer awareness program shows that the game can turn that attention towards an important cause and benefit all of society.

Lenny DiFranza was the assistant curator of new media at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum