Cracked or Uncracked?
One particular characteristic with game used bats which can divide collectors is their personal preferences of whether they collect bats which are cracked or uncracked. Collectors typically fall into two different categories when it comes to preferences, either they strictly collect uncracked bats or they collect both cracked and uncracked. Rarely you will find a collector who strictly collects cracked bats, though there are those collectors like myself who personally prefer a cracked bat but will not shy away from an uncracked bat. Most all collectors will agree that they try to avoid bats with significant cracks which either, take away from the appearance of the bat while on display or are so fragile that you cannot handle the bat without fear of it snapping in half.
There are a few different schools of thought which typically are behind the different preferences.
The uncracked collectors will enjoy the bat in its "purest" form or not altered by any breaks. The sight of any displaced wood is a sore sight for their eyes. Another reasoning behind the search for uncracked bats, is it is theoretically tougher to find a high quality bat which was removed from play prior to its unfortunate breaking. The professional grading criteria by leading authenticator, PSA/DNA, is another factor when deciding whether to collect cracked bats. Typically, although not always the case, bats are deducted at minimum, half a point if the bat is cracked. This would prevent some very nice bats from grading a perfect "10" on the grading scale. As many collectors strictly collect "10's", cracked bats are for the most part, excluded from their search.
I personally enjoy cracked bats for a couple reasons, first off, I believe, depending on the player, that the batter used their favorite bat until they can no longer use it, or it breaks. I also like the fact that a crack adds character to the bat, it tells a bit of the story of the bat as to why it was taken out of play, it will also differentiate itself from similar bats from the same player. When I receive a broken bat, I often times feel more comfortable with the fact that the bat was used in big league action. It can be fun to imagine what kind of pitch caused the bat's demise.
The other element of uncracked/cracked bats are those bats which are professionally repaired. Repairs can be of such high quality that it is near impossible to ever notice the bat was cracked. There are strictly "uncracked" collectors who are willing to own a bat which was repaired and there are no remaining signs of the break. Again, this comes down to personal preference. Often times bats are repaired so that the bat will either grade higher or simply have a "cleaner" look to it. I personally do not mind repaired cracks if the bat had an alarming crack or one which compromised the overall integrity of the piece. If the crack is not threatening to the durability of the bat, nor visually detracts from the appearance, I prefer that the bat is left alone and remains as it did when removed from the field of play. There are collectors who strongly oppose any repair whatsoever and refuse to own a bat that has been repaired. A sloppy repair job can often times do more harm than good and have a negative impact on the bat's appearance. Signs of excess glue, nails, missing wood or removed pine tar/tape can really be a turnoff compared to the bat's previous, non-repaired state.
Knowing the individual player's typical behavior when disposing of bats can also play a very important role in determining which example to collect. Some players, such as Albert Pujols and Mike Trout are known to cycle through bats fairly frequently. Therefore, there are an abundance of true gamers which were removed from game play and entered into the game used hobby, free of any cracks. A high quality Trout bat can easily be found without any cracks and is typically preferred by most collectors. Other players such as Mark McGwire were known to typically use bats until they cracked, at least during his Cardinals days. Therefore, when collecting his Cardinal bats, I would prefer a cracked version. Early career Tony Gwynn bats, I would like to see were cracked since he typically stuck with his favorite gamers until they broke. Later in Gwynn's career, he began inscribing the bats he used for base hits and removing them from play prior to breaking. A late career Gwynn bat would be perfectly acceptable and sometimes preferred, uncracked.
Bats with a piece of wood missing from where the bat broke, either big or small, can also play a big role in whether a collector decides to purchase a bat. Some collectors will have nothing to do with a bat that has any wood missing from the bat, whether on the handle or barrel. Typically, any missing wood from a bat will have a significant impact on the bat's value. I personally, try to avoid bats with any pieces missing unless it is a nominal amount of wood or the bat was used for a significant event and/or comes with exceptional provenance.
Whether you prefer cracked or uncracked bats, it all comes down to personal preference and each collector is allowed to collect what they enjoy. Considering the significant money that a lot of these bats trade for, it is critical that the collector has no resignations about their purchase and truly enjoy everything about the bat they have chosen to purchase and add to their collection.