Arts and Culture

The other day, I was walking downtown and saw a familiar sight — a group of about 20 kids were posed next to the gigantic Louisville Slugger bat, which stands 120-feet tall on Main Street.

Some had their elbows propped on it casually, some pretended to hoist the structure, while others wrapped their arms around the nine-foot base. All of them had smiles on their faces.

It was a really sweet moment, but I’m sort of a germaphobe, and all I could think about was: “How on earth do they keep that thing clean?”

It turns out that the world’s biggest baseball bat is actually pretty low maintenance.

Well, it is now at least — but before we get into that, let’s talk history.

“We get 300,000 visitors a year through the museum, but I will tell you there are plenty more who never come into the museum who just come by to see the big bat all times day and night,” says Anne Jewell, the vice president and executive director of the Slugger Museum.

Bib Hillerich, the director of safety, security and facilities, adds: “24 hours a day, 7 days a week, someone is always taking a picture at the big bat. It’s just constant.”

They tell me the “Big Bat” was put into place in 1995; however, it was a fight with the city to get it on the street in the first place because it could’ve be viewed simply as a gigantic advertisement.

“And I don’t know who came up with the idea, but they said, ‘Well what if it served a purpose,’” Hillerich says. “So the Big Bat is actually a vent for the restroom down in our basement of the building.”

That’s right — the beloved Louisville icon is actually a supersized plumbing vent. The bat was moved to and raised on the site after being transported in one piece on a flatbed truck. The entire process took about six hours.

But once it was installed, the problems weren’t over. Says Jewell: “It was starting to fade, the wrong type of paint had been used, right Bob?”

“Correct. They used a basecoat and clearcoat, and what had happened is the top actually sealed moisture underneath,” Hillerich says. “Whenever there was a small nick, it was starting to bubble and rust.”

Just six years after the initial paint job, the Big Bat had to be completely stripped down to its carbon steel core and repainted by hand by a single artist. It took six months.

This time around they used something a little sturdier. The bat was covered with same paint that is used on battleships and aircraft carriers. Other than the occasional touch-up, it hasn’t had to be repainted since.

But what about all those pesky fingerprints?

“In the past, we have pressure-washed it, but we found that could do damage to the paint,” Hillerich says. “So we get a garden hose out and we use Mr. Clean Magic erasers, and it just does a wonderful job removing the grime, but leaves the paint the way that it should be.”

Ashlie Stevens is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.