Men's Journal

Gary Malec

Birdman Bats


Gary Malec knows that the winged cartoon figure emblazoned on his Birdman Bats is silly. That’s the point. Gary’s brother drew the Birdman as a doodle when he was playing college baseball and Malec decided they had to use it as the logo for their company’s bats. “It’s a crazy drawing to remind hitters to stop getting so stressed,” Malec says. “Have fun. You’re playing a game.” Given that some of Malec’s clients step up to the plate at the game’s highest level, perhaps they can be forgiven a bit of performanc­e anxiety. Birdman Bats is one of about 30 independen­t bat makers that provide bespoke lumber to Major League Baseball players. While MLB is a tightly governed entity that controls every aspect of the game down to the temperatur­e of the room in which baseballs are stored before each game, batters are allowed to choose their own bats, as long as those bats meet league guidelines. And some of the best ballplayer­s in the world choose Birdman Bats, including reigning National League MVP Bryce Harper and fan-favorite Ozzie Albies. Malec crafted his first bat for himself just for fun while playing summer league baseball in San Francisco, using a lathe he bought off Craigslist. He didn’t have any training as a woodworker, but was always a handy guy, renovating houses and fixing cars with his father, and he liked the process. He made more bats for his coaches and fellow players, eventually getting them into the hands of a few minor and major league ballplayer­s. The business has grown organicall­y from there. Malec’s original lathe is still part of Birdman’s shop, but all the company’s bats are now carved by a computer-automated machine before a painstakin­g hand-sanding and sealing process. “It’s just a stick, right? But there’s no manual or class you can take to learn how to make a bat,” Malec says. “And it’s a hushhush industry because bat-making is such a small space, so we figured it out on our own.” Malec says Birdman Bats stand out from the crowd because of the wood he chooses. Traditiona­lly, wood bats are made out of ash, but these days, more independen­t makers are working with different hardwoods with different attributes. Malec is a particular fan of birch. “Ash wears out and breaks too easily,” Malec says. “Birch has longer fibers that are lighter and more durable. It actually gets harder and more dense the more you hit with it.” birdmanbat­

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