For the past few days I have been writing about the recent controversy and the moves and mandate by professional baseball to secure the safety of its fans and players in 2009. With the advent of the maple bat came problems that baseball did not think would effect their fan base and on field players with shards of bat coming to harm them. After the increase in injuries and incidents concerning the maple bats. The Frontier League took it upon itself to ban the maple bat model from league play until they could be made safer for everyone in the ballpark.
Along with this bat companies and the MLB have established studies and procedures to help eliminate a lot of the past problems with the maple bats. MLB instituted a mandate that all bat from this time forward will be tested to check for seepage and grain before they leave the factory. If the bats are not deemed to be ” certified ” by the inspector, they will not be able to be used in a baseball game. This is just a first step by both the bat companies and MLB to secure the safety of everyone and to again bring back confidence in the game.
It is truly a first step as the MLB scientists and bat engineers and development teams further try and discover and update bat designs and shapes to eliminate this current terror from the field. With further safety developments and new techniques, the factories and MLB will further the upgrading of the current bat design and institute mandates and rules to insure the safety of everyone around the game. But there are also people outside the realms of the baseball community have solutions or inventions that could also speed up the changes and revolution of the baseball bat.
People like New Jersey inventor Ward Dill, who is a MIT graduate and inventor of a bat that is said to be almost unbreakable by today’s standards. Okay, so the bat is not totally unbreakable, but it is guaranteed not to break, crack, or shatter for an entire year, or Dill will replace it free of charge. What current MLB bat company can say that in a contract? Dill invented this bat as an alternative to the current metal bats used in the college ranks and below.
With the MLB never going to the metal bat as an option, it give a great alternative to teams that have players who might be professional prospects to help them develop their skills for the next level, where wooden bats are the mandate. As stated before, the bat is guaranteed to not break, shatter or crack for an entire year. This revolutionary maple bat consists of 12 wedges of wood bond by space age polymers and adhesives and employing a unique clamping technique.
“The result is that it is very strong, and as a result of it being strong, it is safe.” Dill boasted at a news conference. ” It is impossible for this maple bat to shatter in the way the maple bats shatter in the major leagues today. The worst thing that can happen is a crack.”
To solidify his point, Dill conducted a exhibition of a player taking batting practice using just a single bat. After a usual batting practice routine, the bat was examined and there were no cracks, or signs of wear and tear on the model. And most importantly, the bat did not break even after a change in grip and facing of the bat.
The bat also plays the baseball like a traditional wooden bat. A sweet spot on this bat is still a sweet spot. It also resonated with the same crisp sound upon impact that current bat models make with contact with a baseball. Dill currently has his model out in 6 independent sporting goods stores in the New Jersey, New York area. The bat would have to undergo extensive MLB testing before it can be released and approved for game use by any of the leagues minor league or major league clubs and players.
That might be the next step for this “bat of the future“, but to some people the price tag might seem high until you consider all of it’s good points. The bat is currently on sale for about $ 100 dollars for an adult model. This would be a considered a luxury for most baseball players, but considering that most metal bats are going for over that amount, it might be a bargain. Also to consider is the fact that since it is guaranteed for one year, it will be replaced without cost. The usual bat prices for a wooden maple bat are between $ 50-75 dollar a bat. Considering you might need at least 12 bats a year, the saving are huge for a minor league or amateur player.
Another inventor in the northeast also thinks he has the solution to the MLB problem with a wood that is currently unavailable in the US. A retired history professor who still plays baseball in the amateur ranks has an invention that will eliminate the problem. George Preston is not your typical museum curator. He currently runs a small museum on 162 street in Harlem in Sugar Hill, but his love is baseball. Even at 69, Preston still plays right field and second base on his amateur fast-pitch baseball team.
But it is his invention of a bat, made from a wood unknown in America for bat production that might be his greatest discovery. Preston began to notice in 2008 that bats were breaking in the majors more frequently than they once had. More and more players were having their bats made from maple instead of ash–ash trees were under attack in North America by a wood-boring beetle, and hitters found that maple produced a harder and lighter piece of lumber.
But maple bats are also more brittle. Hitters have complained that their bats can explode on impact, even when the ball connects with the thickest part of the barrel. The result has sent players and fans ducking for cover. Preston, who had recently retired from teaching art history at City College of New York in 2006, began looking in Ghana for trees and wood that could be used to make bats that wouldn’t break. He found a tropical hardwood tree that grew straight and had the right weight and density.
He taught craftsmen in an area village how to spin the tree’s logs into bats and dry them in kilns, and now he brings home a load of bats after each trip to West Africa. He’s sold a dozen of them to players in his league ( they’re $90 each ), and he uses one himself every time he’s in the batter’s box. He’s applied for a patent for the design. Preston has used the bats for several years and has proof that the bats crack, but do not fall apart or even expel shards like the current maple bats. He even remarked than even when they do crack, the still drive the ball and do not just fall apart upon impact.
Preston finishes each bat himself with a Danish clear varnish that give the bat a dark red tone. Then he stamps each bat with the same logo, ” Made In Mamfe-Ghana Baseball Ltd.” Fine craftman ship and detail go into each bat, with the final inspection falling upon his shoulders before he ships or delivers bats to local players or teams for use in games.
“Major League Baseball needs to do something about all these bats breaking before something really bad happens”.
Preston held one of his bats on his shoulder as he looked out over the Bronx, where cranes jutted into the air over the construction site of the new Yankee Stadium.
“I’d like to sell these to one major league club and let the battle with the fastball begin,” he said. “This bat would be great for Johnny Damon. Damon’s always breaking bats.”
So as we can see, America is also getting involved in the move to make the MLB ballpark safe again for everyone. People in all walks of like want t feel safe and secure when they enter or watch a sporting event. Until 2008, the people in the front rows and above the dugouts in baseball did not have much to fear except for the odd foul ball. But last season they had a new reason for fear and constant field vision during games. MLB and the bat companies are doing more and more to secure the confidence in the public again.
But it is the invention of America that might finally find the answer and the solution to this controversy. Maybe it will be the independent baseball bat manufacturer who finds a solution, or maybe someone like Wade Dill or George Preston will develop a solution then get involved with MLB or another manufacturer and turn a dream into a safe haven for everyone who enjoys baseball.
This is the last part of a 3 part series on the current maple bat controversy. I have decided that tomorrow, 1/23/2009, I am going to profile two of the current inventors who have decided that have viable alternatives to today’s bats. Both have promoted safety and reliability of the bats, even at an affordable price for MLB teams and players. Hopefully in late 2009, we will no longer have to address this kind of matter and we can all feel safe and secure, even in the front rows at our favorite ball parks around America.
There is nothing quite like the breaking of a bat during a baseball game. the sound of the wood splintering after the perfect pitch blended with the sight of the hitter holding the remnants of his destroyed weapon make for a thrilling sight for baseball fans. Lately however, broken bats have been anything but amusing and colorful. Bats are no longer just breaking; they are exploding and sending fragments everywhere and not concerned about damages or injuries to others.
Today’s bats are not breaking cleanly, or even staying together at the barrel, but hurdling shattered remains in all directions without regard for safety. And the one thing that has been constant in all of these matter of shattering shards being propelled at spectators, players and even MLB officials, is that they have not yet become lethal.The culprit is plain and simple to baseball officials. The maple bat has brought upon the major league baseball diamonds a new fear and a constant reminder of safety issues that need to be addressed before a critical injury takes a life on the field, or in the grandstands.
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig is aware and concerned about the matter. In this 3rd installment on the maple bat controversy, I will be addressing the MLB leadership moves so far to curtail further damage. I will also inform you of two inventors who believe they have a solution to the epidemic that is plaguing the bat world. Hopefully this series has enlightened a few people to the real dangers and the consequences of turning away from this issue. At stake is maybe a life, or a permanent injury to a fan or player that could have been avoided if action was taken swift and forceful beginning in the Spring of 2009.
Some people have asked me how the MLB could let such an issue proliferate? Well, for starters, the collective bargaining agreement between the players union and the baseball owners makes it difficult for baseball, like a large tractor-trailer, to make swift and sharp turns. In 2006 labor negotiations, the owners did ask the players union for permission to change the official bat specifications over the concern for the maple bats, but the players opposed those specifications.
Currently baseballs approved bats can have a barrel no larger than 2 3/4 inches, with handles no thinner than 16/19th of an inch diameter, and a total length of no more than 42 inches.In comparisons, the bat that Babe Ruth used in 1927 was a 35-inch bat with a weight of 40-ounces. The funny part is that Ruth, the father of power hitting, did not need such as weight or mass in his bat. Because the bat already has so much more mass than the ball, bat speed ( velocity ) is much more significant than the mass.
Selig decided that he needed to get the collection of varied opinions together from both the owners and the players union and commissioned the MLB Health and Safety committee to address this situation on June 24, 2008. The 16-member panel convened in New York to discuss what steps could be taken to either eliminate or curb the problem. The committee consists of 8 members of the players association, and 8 members of the MLB management. They discussed the issue of the maple bats during their meeting. They went over the facts that maple bats show a surface hardness of 20 percent over the typical ash bat, and spent the bulk of the meeting going over the specifications currently on the MLB books concerning the bat’s handles, weights, thickness and overall durability.
Before this meeting ever began, MLB had been investigating the maple bat situation by gathering from all 30 teams the remnants of all broken bats over the course of at least 6 weeks to try and give more evidence to the committee about the bat controversy. The maple bat balancing act that the committee was trying to foster would have to satisfy not just the owners, but also the players. What ended up coming out of the June meeting was that MLB needed to do more experiments on the bats, and also consult with bat manufacturers and seethe formulation of the individual bat from billet to completed model.
The committee knew that in light of the situation that an agreement of overall opinions during this first meeting would be unheard of considering they needed to satisfy all parties with their recommendations. They also knew that the players would veto any action that would of boycotted the use of the maple bats. An idea of extending the protective netting might help the fans, but still players would be at risk having to stand within 150 feet of the batters box, with no protection. And the idea of having one bat inspector who would monitor and approve bats before delivery would be costly and not very effective because of bats already out in the MLB system could be used without officials noticing before their breakage.
One bright light did come out of the meeting, the members agreed upon an idea to increase the bat’s dimensions. Be it a larger bat handle larger than 16/19th of an inch, or a smaller weight-to-length ratio ( 34 inch bat would weigh 30.5 ounces ). Another option brought up was a smaller barrel ( 2 3/4 inches ) would actually chafe a few players because of a change in the bats hitting surface. That would give hitters less bat space to hit and would require them to re-define their swings accordingly.
For now, MLB is sending its samples to Jim Sherwood, who runs the Baseball Research Center at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and conducted a test in 2005 that showed maple provides no greater performance off the bat than ash but does break differently, snapping instead of cracking. MLB did institute new bat rules in December 2008, and the news was not met well by current bat manufacturers who feel their bottom line will be affected by the new regulations.
This regulation is viewed by the bat manufacturers as a costly addition to current bat production because of the change in the location of the bat manufacturer’s stamp on the bat. It will take a retooling of the lathes and machinery used to burn the logo into the bats and the desired location for the MLB’s new stamp would hinder sales and recognition of the product. Starting in 2009, all bats are mandated to have the bat company’s stamp on the edge grain and no longer on the face grain of the bat. Stamps were to be located on the face grain ever since they were invented, and it has been a common practice to teach players to use the bat with the label facing towards them in order to hit the ball 90 degrees from the label.
Extensive testing from MLB during a six-month-long study of maple bats showed hitting on the wood’s face grain would bring about fewer breaks than the edge grain. Baseball hired the Forest Products Laboratory, a government entity, along with Harvard statistician Carl Morris, and wood-certification company TECO to analyze more than 2,200 bats broken in MLB games between July 2 and Sept. 7 2008. Their primary task was to figure out why the bats are breaking and make suggestions to limit future breaks before a serious or mortal injury. Their scientific conclusion was that the former conventional wisdom that discouraged face-grain contact was actually wrong.
The teams’ research and testing found that the large percentage of shard inducing breaks, or ones in which barrels with splintered ends go airborne like medieval weaponry were actually due to a poor “slope of grain” on the wood itself. The best quality of wood to use for baseball bats have an even grain, and some manufacturers were using low-quality wood with large barrels and thin handles, leading to increased breakage and bat damages. The other suggestion, about hitting on the face grain, came from Roland Hernandez, a TECO employee.And Hernandez should know a thing or two about the bat manufacturing process having been the owner of a previous bat company, Rockbats, which made maple bats for the MLB. He then began to work at Forest Products Laboratory before finally going to work for TECO. Rockbats was the only company to suggest hitting on the face grain. No MLB player currently uses Rockbats in games.
But another bat manufacturer even went beyond a simple word with the press about this new regulation and sent a memo to every bat company owners and operators, and to the MLB key man in this investigation, Roy Krasik . Romeo Filip wrote a email containing 696 very terse and subjective words to show his distaste for the MLB’s new mandate. He states that the tensile strength of wood runs down its edge grain. Hitting against the grain would produce bats that will snap more violently and towards the center of the field and not down the foul lines.
Filip’s company, Diablo Bats isn’t doing much business right now. He is in a group of about 30 companies that produce some form of a maple bat for the MLB players. He says that the MLB study, that cost around $ 500,000 dollars has doubled the licensing fees required to sell bats to MLB players. Plus the addition of a insurance policy with at least $ 10 million dollars in coverage is now mandated by MLB.
So the MLB studied the regression analysis of bats that had broken on the field in 2008, tested the actual wood, and also compared models and brands to see who’s might be considered a safer alternative to the current bats out on the market. They studied both ash and maple bats to give ample scientific proof for both models without bias or prejudice on the types of bats. This testing did finalize the thinking that with ash bats, players should still hit with the edge grain to prevent shelling or flaking of the bats during the hitting process.
MLB also visited three current bat manufacturers plants to view first-hand the bat making process. They included in this tour the plants of Hillerich & Bradsby, the parent company of Louisville Slugger, and also The Original Maple Bat Corporation, the home of Sam’s Bats. What is unique about Sam’s bat is that their original maple bat was actually a bet made in a bar in 1996 by an old MLB scout, Bill McKenzie to Sam Holman, who dabbled a bit in carpentry and created the bat producing company out of a bar bet.
MLB then released their 50 page study which is not available to the public, and bat manufacturers’ were not content with the scientific merit of the findings. One company posed a question to the MLB Health and Safety committee during a conference call asking if they had conducted testing on bats that weren’t breaking to see why they preformed better than other models. MLB’s answer to this was “No”. They decided not to submit the study to a peer review , figuring that the checks and balances from the large assortment of scientists would be enough variety in opinions and findings. One bat manufacturer has stated that the MLB’s new regulation can be beaten. the current MLB test to find out if a bat has a even grain is to place on ink dot on the bat handle, and if it bleeds more than a quarter of an inch diagonally, the bat will not be certified. He states that by rubbing 250-grit sandpaper over the handle before the test, it closes the pores on the wood and masks its true grain.
The confusion is spiraling all the way down to the players, who know that the new models will arrive before spring training. Bat makers are trying to call the players in advance to let them know about the regulation changes, and why the bats will have a different look to them in 2009. Even if the bat companies now suggest that the players hit with the face grain, the players have adapted their own ways of hitting and might not take to the change at first. But after a period of time they will also have to adjust and find ample ways to combat the new bats and their face grains.
MLB will again meet with the bat manufacturers some time during spring training and discuss the drying process that the bats go through in their bats production. Also under consideration during that meeting will be the shape of the bat and the way it might break under pressure. This is considered the first steps in trying to gain a foothold on the problem. The committee might be more of an evolving group right now considering that more scientific tests and findings are revealed all the time.
Also not revealed to the public would be any penalties or even fines that could be imposed if someone uses an non-certified bat or even hides the fact they are using such bats in their games. This will be an on-going and basically be a feel-in-the-dark period for baseball during Spring Training. Hopefully by the time the player take the field in April, MLB and the players will have adjusted, and the batting controversy will begin to fade into the background with the game again being the lone giant on the field.
The MLB management will continue evolving the batting controversy until it is finally considered totally safe and injuries and bat shards are again a thing of the past. hopefully in 2009, this will be the beginning of a great revolution in the bats used by professional baseball players. And with the changes already starting to take the game to another level, hopefully a death or serious in jury will not propel us into a last second ban or elimination of any type of bat.
is an open letter to all of the Boston fans who either read or even
hate my Tampa Bay Rays talk from time to time. I thought you all might
like to know what kind of classy guy you got when you signed Rocco
Baldelli a few weeks ago. You might have saddened people like me who
got to know this quiet guy who was never at a loss for words or time
for the Rays and other teams fans.
Boston got to see about Baldelli over the past few seasons is small in
comparison to the Rocco we all got to know and consider one of the
greatest all-time Rays. We all were taken aback in April 2008 when
Rocco pretty much said goodbye to all of us at a late Spring Training
press conference when he announced his illness and that he might not be
back ever to a baseball diamond. You could see the tears begin to well
up in his eyes as he considered life without baseball.
you what, maybe the millions of prayers and well wishes given to him
over that time helped to rebuild the man we thought would patrol center
field for the Rays until he retired. It is a part of life that people
move on from your ball club. But people like Rocco leave a lasting
impression that will still be there for years to come. From his
leadership in the clubhouse and on the bench during his recoveries over
the last few years, Baldelli has been the perfect team mate. Always
there for help and to lend a hand.
you are getting one of the true class acts in baseball, and I thought
you should know about this incredible ad placed in the St Petersburg Times
today by Baldelli thanking the team;s fans for their support. Even when
he was injured, he used to take the pitching stats and make styrofoam
impressions of his team mates and then give them to others to auction
off for charities and for fund raising events.
will truly miss Baldelli for his play on the field for the Rays since
2000 when he was drafted. He is one of those guys who makes hitting the
ball seem simple because of his nice and clean stroke to the ball. His
effortless running and fielding made you think of a young Joe DiMaggio,
who Baldelli was linked to early in his career. You got a guy who as
real on the field as he is off it, and Boston is a better town for him
care of this guy and he will reward you with more than just timely hits
and runs. He will show you what it takes to be a professional
ballplayer and how to treat both the fans and the city like a winner
day in and day out. Truly Boston, Rocco is a diamond in the rough, so
be nice and polish him every once in a while so he doesn’t tarnish, and
he will shine bright for Boston.
This is the 2nd installment of my little blog series on the epidemic of bat breakage in the MLB. If you did not read the first installment, I wrote it on 1/20/2008, and please feel free to check the archive for the blog.
Susan Rhodes is not a usual attendee to a baseball game. But why is it that on May 25, 2008, she was in the wrong place and the wrong time and met the barrel end of a tomahawking bat that shattered more than her jaw that day. She was sitting 4 rows behind the Los Angeles Dodgers dugout, usually a safe place for everything but the occasional foul ball. She ever saw the shard coming towards her, she was instead watching the play develop as the ball headed into the outfield. She suffered a concussion and the force of the bat fractured her jaw in two places.
Broker bats have been commonplace ever since the advent of baseball, but the Rhodes accident along with Rick Hellings impalement and both players and fans injuries have brought a new danger to the game of baseball. Even the men behind the plate, the umpires have not been ruled out as victims in this saga of wood and pressure. So has America;s favorite pastime been invaded by a new dangerous trend, and is the maple bat the sole item responsible for this trend?
Babe Ruth’s hickory bats are long gone and now it seems that the old memory of those heavy and cumbersome pieces of lumber show a simpler time in the era of baseball. It now seems that the obsession with ash bats for the last couple of decades has dwindled and is almost a forgotten bat material to most major leaguers’. Thanks to the popularity of the maple bat during Barry Bond’s run to the home run title more and more players are opting for this potentially lethal bat type. But we are not blaming Bonds for the recent problems, he did not design, test or even manufacture bat for a living, he just used them as a tool for his trade.
Atlanta Braves Manager Bobby Cox got a first hand account of the danger on June 19, 2008. While Cox was sitting in the dugout, like Rhodes, he was watching the ball and did not see second baseman Kelly Johnson’s bat shard coming towards him in the dugout. The bat ended up going above his head, but like Rhodes, he never saw the bat coming his way at any moment before it struck the dugout wall.
On June 24, players like Mariners’ pitcher Aaron Heilman and Royals catcher John Buck were members of a Major League Baseball committee to look into this new danger and try to decide what should be done for the safety of everyone in baseball. Scientists and engineers have also been consulted on the ever growing problem. By using the basics of science, they know the ways that according to MLB standards, a baseball bat should be shaped and hit. And they have studied the way it can react and also break under pressure.
Early in the annuals of baseball, bats also broke, but not at the regularity that they do today. The maple versus ash bat controversy did not exist because neither bat was developed at the time for use by baseball players. As we mentioned before, at the time Babe Ruth was swatting balls into the grandstands, players used hickory bats every time up to the plate. During those days hickory was a common wood and it is still known today as a truly strong wood to use in industry. But though time, batters wanted a lighter, more fluid wood to use for hitting, and the hickory bat became a dinosaur of modern bats.
Even though ash was not as strong as hickory, it did possess that lighter feeling in your hands, and could be sanded down easier to conform the handle to your touch and liking with simple sandpaper. The problem with most wood is that its overall strength can be totally compatible with weight. So if you desire a strong wood to produce your bats, you will get a heavier model because of the weight. And in simple contrast, if you go lighter wood, you get lighter overall weight, but you give up some levels of durability under pressure.
It is said that in the 1990’s, Toronto outfielder Joe Carter might have swung the first maple bat, and his shot to win the World Series for the Blue Jays might have been viewed by opponents as the key to power in that decade. Because he was using a maple bat, players began to look into its cost and usage and began to request them by the dozens. With maple now as an alternative, it was appealing because it showcased more strength without the cumbersome bother of weight . And because of it strength, it quickly got a reputation as the tool that would let you hit farther and longer in games.
Ash had a tendency to produce flakes of ash that came off the bat like snow, but it held together better and did not separate at the barrel end. Because of the flaking, players did not go through bats as often, and that was the main reason they stuck to them for so long. But in 2001, during Bond’s display of power and strength, players became obsessed and craved this new bat type, and quickly put ash bats in the dark recesses of the locker room or garages of the players.
For 50 years, white ash was the preferred wood for baseball bats, but with over 50 percent of all players using maple now, it was a quick and revolutionary change for the game. Maple and ash bats all break a certain way because of their unique characteristics. Ash tends to flake or chip in smaller chunks and do not propel through the air, while maple has a tendency to break into larger jagged shards that are propelled by the stored up energy of the bat. But can the change in breakage patterns be attributed to their cell difference and the size of their pores within the wood.
Scientists agree that the tree pores, which transports moisture inside the trees before they become bats shows that ash has more flexibility to it than maple samples. Ash wood has what is considered a ring porous character. within its grains you will find more avenues and pores that can carry moisture throughout the wood. And of you went into the region of its growth ring, where the grain doesn’t exist, you would see that it is more or less solid fiber.
Because the voids in wood are confined to certain areas, the growth planes are considered a weak area of the wood. When an ash bat hits an object, its cell walls would collapse, and that would produce the chipping and the flaking experienced with ash bats. The barrel would just begin to soften and small flaking pieces would begin to fall off the bat. It makes for a great indicator of the lessen density of the wood and its possibility of breakage and snapping while hitting.
Maple on the other hand is considered ring diffuse, meaning that its pore are more evenly distributed throughout the piece of wood. that makes the bat barrel more durable than any other part of the wood, and you do not get the cautionary flaking or chipping warning that ash bats give you before they break apart while hitting.
Cracks form in both types of wood as a bat is used to hit a ball after ball after ball. But the same pore structure that makes a ash bat flake also produces cracks along the channel of the bat. Meaning that it has a long way to go before a crack can materialize to actually crack a bat in half. And batters can see these cracks beforehand and exchange the bat before the process results in an explosion of the bat upon contact.
I know we have all seen a hitter take the barrel end of the bat and bounce it off the ground or the plate to see if they get vibrations out of the bat that will be a sure sign of it breaking. It was an early warning sign of sorts for the wood to let the batter know it was about to take its last swing, or break apart during the hitting process. That made the ash bat a lot safer and more predictable before danger could happen. But it also could happen multiple times during a game, and the cost of replacing a box of bats might have been the deciding factor in hitters looking for alternatives.
Because of the maple bats diffuse pores, cracks in the wood can grow in any number of directions. This could make them more apt to hide the cracks and breaks as they break out towards the barrel. That is the main reason that maple bats produce such a large chunk or shard when they finally do explode after cracking. And sine they do not flake or ship, they do not ever send a warning sign to the batter that his bat is cracking or might end up in the stands or in the infield barely missing a opposing player.
But a culprit that might go unnoticed even by the hitter is that fact that the wood can take on different characteristics considering how the bat was cut from the wood. A billet of misaligned wood can affect it subjectivity to breakage as well as force upon the wood. A bat is considered stronger when the grain lines up with the length of the bat. Because of its dark nature, this grain is considerably harder to see in maple than in the light tones of the ash bat. Maple also has a tendency to not have as straight a grain as ash, which can be instrumental in fatigue and breakage when used to extremes.
If you do not have a bat that is cut with the grain, you will have a weaker bat. That might not be a scientific phasing for you, but it is a stark reality with baseball bats. But can that be one of the multitude of reasons that a maple bat and explode and send shards throughout the stands or infield. Another factor take take into consideration is the fact that the batter could hit the ball in a bad position and make the bat break upon his swing. Which would have nothing to do with the bats chemistry, or it’s compounds or porous material.
The bat comes into contact with the ball in a small area for only one thousandth of a second in most swings. The short time it takes to make that impact can sends upwards of 5,000 pounds of force through the wood. If you hit the ball badly, or not within the are of the “sweet spot” of the bat, you could get this stinging sensation in your hands. That is a visual sign from the bat that it is bending and vibrating to release the force without breaking in your hands.
If the bending is compacted into enough of an area, it can produce a bat break in any type of bat. The bending of the bat can lead to its breaking usually in ash bats at the point of the least material, which on an ash bat, is its handle. The bat that Todd Helton had in his hand on the day that Susan Rhodes got injured broke at the handle and sent the barrel tomahawking into the stands towards her. This leads to another concern about today’s bats. Could a narrower handle on the bat be a reason for the increase in bats breaking and exploding all over the ballpark.
Over 100 years ago, bat handles were a lot more thicker and more bulky than today’s bats used by every level of baseball. Some say the advent of these small handles is a compliance to metal bats that are used at lower levels before players become professionals. Because the metal bats do not possess a thick, rugged handle players are unaccustomed to hitting with the extra meat on the handle. As time progressed, the handle also went through a series a changes to become more streamlined and comfortable to today’s players.
The narrow handle makes a baseball bat made out of wood more prone to breaking and take away the sturdiness of the bat. To make modern bats more accustom to metal bats, did we make the breakage problem worse, or just provide another avenue for the bats to break upon force. Because of the numerous injuries and episodes during 2008, the issue of the bats has come again into the limelight.
Again, another episode that happened in 2008, was on June 24, in Kansas City, as MLB umpire Brian O’Nora was hit in the head, while wearing his protective gear behind the plate during a game. Think about this for a second. Here is a guy less than 3 feet from the epicenter of the bats explosion who had his protective gear popped off his forehead and sustained a gash upon his forehead.
You do not want to think of the repercussions of him maybe not even having a safety device on and getting clobbered with that bat shard. I would love to have a poll done of MLB catchers to see how many of them have to have trainers or medical personnel during or after the game take out splinters or small sharp wood chips from their equipment or their bodies. I think that kind of poll would not help the bat situation, because most catcher see that as part of the game, like a foul ball getting your fingers or cracking you in the inner thighs.
You have to wonder if engineers and scientists have a good theory on why bats crack and break. I know we see multitudes of bats breaking during games today, but is there any true data outsides of the hands of the MLB that can tell us . We know that the MLB has collected bats from 2008 and have analyzed and categorized their breakage and the bats type of wood. So is there real evidence that we have not seen yet that would show that bats are breaking now at alarming rates compared to the past. And to what extent does the maple bat hold either a advantage or a danger as a bat of choice by the MLB players.
Could there be a variable that since ash bats show their breakage points before breaking fully, that the safety factor of these types of bats provide more protection to hitters and others around the batter’s box. Whereas maple bats only show their weakness when struck and will not give any visual sign of breakage before the audible sign of the crack of the bat during a swing. There are probable a dozen of ways to reduce the number of broken bats that have either been suggested or advised throughout the years.
Maybe the action of thicker handles, and the compliance of players to not shave down handles and make them customized after manufacture could be another solution. Maybe the MLB has to provide a maximum diameter for the handles of bats by the manufacturers. But would a thicker handle minimize the shards flying still throughout the stands and the playing surface. If you thicken the handle you will make it safer. But alone will this help some of the problem.
Or is the fact that wood bats fail, that it is a part of the game to see bats splinter and crack. But some of today’s bats do not make a simple splintering or cracking, but produce a missile that takes on speed as it leaves the batters box. So with that in mind, we have to face the reality that bats fail, and that maple bats will fail far more times than ash bat in the future. MLB could be doing a study right now on wood types and maybe implementing restrictions on certain wood types that display more brittle properties in them. Or maybe even think of implementing a specification on the grain alignment to help them stopping breaking in alarming rates in 2009or beyond.
Individually, the teams could set up more protective netting in front of the lower level infield seats in stadiums with the premise to protect their fans. I know that Detroit Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson suggested such a measure on his ESPN.com blog. Because players have their attention and eye towards the batter, they have more ample time to dodge and even see the shards coming towards them. While spectators in those front rows have a tendency to look in other directions because of the multiple attention getting sights and sounds of the game.
That might be a way of protecting the fans, but those people pay good money to sit in those sections and most know the dangers firsthand from foul balls and errant throws to first or third base. To suggest that they are the only ones in the ball park to be protected might not be viewed as well by fans above the dugout, or further down the foul lines in stadiums. And anyways, who want to sit there on the front row and have to look through a net the entire game. If I wanted to look through glass or netting, I would go to an NHL game, not want to watch the greatest game on dirt.
This will be the first in a 3 part series on the maple bat controversy.
The crack of the wooden bat during an at bat at a baseball game is one of the purest sounds echoing throughout the stands. It can be one of the reason we come to the games, to hear that blast of wood send a sphere deep into the day/night with a chance for a home run. That same crackling of the bat is becoming a problem in Major League Baseball. It has set up a menagerie of actions and precautions to keep fans. players, and even the umpires safe from a new menace plaguing the game of baseball.
Some have called for action concerning this plague, while others think it is just the revolution of the game and its equipment, and measures will be done in-house to correct the presumed dangers and possible injuries from it’s creation. Some think that Barry Bonds made this revolution take front stage after his home run hitting display a few years ago. That the extra power and drive that Bonds got out of his maple bats might be the answer to renewing the promise of more homers in the majors. But at what cost do we make those changes. Do we endanger our kids and even ourselves. Do we put the burden on the highly paid players to know what is right and hold them accountable if disaster does occur.
Here is s short story I have heard from the news wire services over the last year that might open eyes wide and make use take notice that we might be on borrowed time here if we sit within 150 feet of the plate. During a Class-A game in Modesto California, a Modesto Nut batter swung at a ball and cracked his maple bat during a line drive. what the crowd did not notice was the ball falling into left-center field for a single, but the spinning end-over-end bat heading towards the stands.
This 24-inch, 26-ounce projectile was hurdling towards a group of eight kids sitting in the front row at John Thurman Field. The bat ended up cradling in the netting that surrounds the seating area just behind home plate. The kids were frightened, but no worse the wear and quickly were chanting again for their ball club. But what was amazing is that the crowd did not follow the ball, but the bat in flight until it got caught in the netting. Most did not even know it went for a single until after the event was unfolded.
But Selig and the MLB’s 16-member Health and Safety committee met on June 24, 2008 to discuss just this kind of destructive force that has entered the baseball world. But why did it take so long for the obvious to become a immediate problem for baseball. Was it after Don Long, the Pittsburgh Pirates hitting coach on April 15th in Dodger Stadium was cut through his left cheek by a shard of bat off his own hitter Nate McLouth. Or maybe one of it’s own employees’, Umpire Brian O’Nora, who was slashed across the forehead by a bat shard during the Kansas City Royals game. O’Nora was removed from the game after a large gash appeared on his forehead, he was treated and released later that night, but you got to remember, he was wearing protective gear and still got injured by the exploding maple bat.
Or maybe it was when it got close and personal to one of the team owners in the MLB. During an Arizona Diamondbacks game on May 15th, Diamond back CEO Jeff Moorad saw a piece of Matt Holiday’s bat come within feet of him and slam into a railing right next to him. Or could it have been the highly televised injury sustained by Susan Rhodes during a Los Angeles Dodger game.
On April 25th, Rhodes decided to attend a Dodger game with a friends and was sitting four rows up from the dugout when Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton came to bat. Helton, who uses a maple bat swung on a pitch from Cory Wade and the ball was struck cleanly, but the bat exploded upon impact and sent a shard into the stands in the direction of Rhodes.
Rhodes was watching the ball fall into center field and did not see the shard tomahawking towards her. When she regained consciousness, she asked her friends what had happened to her. The Dodgers quickly dispatched paramedics to her side and took her to an on-site medical facility.Once stabilized, they offered to give her a ride to a local hospital emergency room, but she declined and wanted to seek attention closer to her home in Sherman Oaks, California.
It was at her local doctors that a CAT scan revealed that she suffered two jaw fractures, one on the upper-left side, where the bat struck her, and the other in the lower right-side, where the force reverberated. After three agonizing days, she underwent surgery to repair the damage and upon completion of the surgery, had her jaw wired for her protection and for faster healing of the injury. A post script to this disaster is that Helton was not even using his own bat, as he borrowed one from team mate Troy Tulowitzki before heading to the plate. Could his error have been using a bat he was not accustom to swinging, and the extra torque might have caused the bat to shatter?
Now this brings about a fine line about the dangers of attending a game. Rhodes is considering legal action after finding out that the Dodgers insurance carrier will not cover penny one of her medical bills. But that leaves to question if the assumed risk of attending the game is put into question by the actions of a player using a bat that can cause harm and damage upon breakage. Warnings printed on the back of tickets and signs posted throughout the seating bowl now specify that bats as well as balls are dangers to spectators.
( Sign posted in Tropicana Field as you come up the stairs towards Section 138) ” PLEASE BE ALERT TO BATS AND BALLS ENTERING THE SEATING AREA. PLEASE DO NOT INTERFERE WITH BALLS IN PLAY. VIOLATORS ARE SUBJECT TO EJECTION”). The problem is, attentive fans- those watching the flight of the ball- are sitting ducks for bats spinning off into other directions. Yet, in terms of whether a bats or ball are equal in terms of risk to spectators, a local court attempted to conduct a determination on the case brought by a woman hit during the 1998 playoff game between the Cleveland Indians and the New York Yankees.
That brings upon another subject here, can a legislative body take upon itself the actions to extend or even mandate that a certain area of the ballpark be screened in for the protection of it’s constituents. Legislators could conceivably pass bills requiring the facility upgrades, but such an effort and cost would be stymied by about 100 years of case laws siding with the baseball team. Because of the limited-duty rule, the ball park owners need to only protect fans in the areas of the ballpark where injuries are “most likely to occur.”
This rule might be outdated since the advent of this rule was established before the advent of the more “lively” baseball after the 1920’s. The possible effects of continuing development of today’s hitters combined with changes in equipment ( maple bats) and the overindulgence of the senses during games from scoreboard noise to crowd induced items ( cowbells) take away a fans attention in a second. All of these elements make today’s stadiums more dangerous than the venues of the past.
It is said that about 65 percent of all major leaguers use maple bats during the season. It is said that 52-55 percent of the bats made by Louisville Slugger for the MLB players in 2008 were maple. People within the industry have said that if the maple bats are dried right and designed right, they should last a long time. But what can be done to make sure the drying process is not skipped, or the bats not subject to high humidity or extreme temperature changes. Do we install bat humidors now in major league clubhouses and only pull out two bats a day to use in the dugout and leave the rest to their humidity rejuvenated hotbox?
People have said that a truly horrendous and maybe deadly encounter with a maple bat might happen in the future. Is baseball and its players playing a bit of Russian Roulette with themselves and team mate and fans, or will the industry become more safety-oriented before 2009 and redesign or re-manufacture the bats prototypes. At the June 24, 2008 meeting, the bat manufacturers were not invited to attend the meetings. the 16 man panel wanted to establish parameters before heading deep into the issue. Things that were under consideration were the additional netting down the baselines. If the players might be illegally modifying the weight-length ratios of the bats by sanding them down, or even planing off wood surfaces. And a primary discussion on if the kiln drying process might be making the maple bats too light for the collision with baseballs.
The last time that baseball changed to the allowable bat specifics was back in 1893, when they outlawed the flat-sided bats. Some people have suggested that Selig should consider a temporary restraining order on maple bats, banning them until safety assurances can be put into place. However, such a plan would be met by huge opposition and possible logistical nightmare. With the majority of players currently having maple bats in their possession, short of players sharing ash bats, Little League-style, there may not be enough bats to equip them in early 2009.
The dangers are real, and will increase as the hitter become stronger and the pitchers increase their velocity to the plate. A disaster will happen somewhere, sometime within the ranks of baseball. I am not sure if it will be a player, a coach or even a fan, but a major injury will call to arms this discussion again and call for reform. Baseball is trying to be proactive here and research and discuss the problem before it festers, but will it be too late.
Or will it take an action in the majors like what happened to minor leaguer right-handed pitcher Rick Helling. While pitching in the game for the Nashville Sound, he was impaled by in his left arm by a 15-inch shard from the bat of New Orleans hitter Craig Kuzmic. The shard penetrated three inches into his arm. The wild part is that the pitch was fouled off and did not even enter the field of play, but split into four shards and propelled out of the batters box towards the mound. Helling was taken to an area hospital, but the injury was not considered life threatening and returned to pitch for the Sound later in the season.
The maple bat because of denser cell structure, did not break like an ash bat. Helling was taken from the game and was lucky to not have it hit any other part of his body. But shouldn’t that be the ultimate wake up call. A pitcher, one of the most vulnerable players on the field to ball hit up the middle is not in danger nightly from a bat impaling him too. Change will come, and hopefully it will evolve before an injury set up a chain of events that will lead to hysteria and not to practicality. It is in the glove of Selig now, along with the MLB Health and Safety committee to bring this home….safe and sound.
One of the biggest questions that I am either emailed or asked in public is what will the Rays be like in 2009? It seems to be on the minds of any baseball fan, not only those wearing the classic “TB” on their caps. I have had New York Yankee and Boston fans ask me the same things, ” Is the offense better?”, or ” Will our pitching stay healthy in 2009?” These questions are right up there with the ” Is there life on other planets?” questions right now in my mind.
I actually think it is too early to even consider any type of prediction or even attempt to find those answers until they begin to hit and throw the ball in a few weeks. People forget that a bulk of some teams, including the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and the Rays will not be presenting 100 percent of their their true lineups this Spring because of the World Baseball Classic. The classic this year will take a measurable amount of players from all 30 MLB teams rosters, but there are three teams that train in Florida where the bulk of the eyes of the American League will be from Feb. to late March 2009.
That is because the three teams that have a shot at either retaking or defending the American League title will not be up to full potential strength until after teams have begun to be eliminated from the classic. We all know that their are certain teams that might not make it out of the first round, but people thought that about Korea in 2006, and they almost shocked the world by beating Japan. So with the “borrowing” of some of their starting players for a short period of time during the spring, the Rays and others in baseball, might use the time wisely and bring up some of their prized prospects to give them some needed seasoning and work against the major league players still in attendance.
This is not to mean that the two leagues, the Cactus and the Grapefruit will be water down at all, but it will suffer from some identity crisis in the beginning of the spring games. And would it really be so bad if an unknown pitcher took advantage of his situation and totally made a name for himself in the absence of his team’s dominating pitchers. But isn’t that what Spring Training is really all about, to give the rookies and the minor leaguer’s a chance to change the minds of those people in charge about sending them down and make them sweat the fact that they might have to keeping them around until the last moment.
That is the great thing about baseball. A guy like the Rays prospect Rhyne Hughes can come in and fill in some games for Carlos Pena while he is with the Dominican Republic squad and maybe turn some heads. We all know that Hughes had an outstanding Arizona League season, and might be able to turn his off season playing time into a shot at an upper level of the franchises minor league system. But it can also go the opposite way for a team. It could further show the defects in their system by showing their depth is actually pretty shallow in comparison to their anticipation of their minor league system. But like I always say, that is why we play 162 games before we even think of championships.
But the true tradition established the last few years with the Red Sox, Rays and Yankees will not be on display until late in the spring when all the teams have their usual guys back in house and hopefully physically able to compete the rest of the spring. For example, the Boston Red Sox have a total of 15 players that will compete in the classic. Almost their entire starting infield and designated hitter will play in the WBC, and then you include players like Daisuke Masuzaka and Hideki Okajima who will be competing for the 2006 champion Japanese squad. Boston will also only be missing one outfielder for the classic, Jason Bay who is playing for Team Canada.
Then you have the Yankees, who will send 13 total players throughout the classic’s rosters, and also will be 3/4 of their starting infield during the classic. Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are already committed to playing for their countries, but besides Melky Cabrera and two relief pitchers, the Yankees have a larger contingent of minor leaguer’s going than most teams. They will have 7 players in their minor league system going to the classic, including Zhenwang Zhang, who will be playing for Team China.
The you have the current American League champion Tampa Bay Rays who will be sending 8 starters to the classic. You have 3/4 of their infield also participating, with Akinora Iwamura playing for Japan, and starter Matt Garza throwing for Mexico in the classic. Grant Balfour will be throwing for the Australian team, and Dioner Navarro will catch for the Venezuelan team. Out of the Rays roster, they will be missing two starters as Scott Kazmir has also committed to playing for the US team along with Evan Longoria and J P Howell.
But what about those questions posed to me earlier in the post, what do I think at this moment. Well, we all know what happened in 2008. Will this team be able to effectively defend their American League crown knowing that the big boys in the A L East not only reloaded, but outspent and out hustled everyone else in baseball to again try and take the top spot away from the Rays. Will the huge money spent on pitching and hitting in New York be enough to overtake the confident team in the south. And if you are a Yankee fan, the pitching right now looks superior to everyone, but not one pitch has even been thrown yet.
It might be too early to claim victory with an entire season of games still left to play in the season. I admit that the Yankees will not be the shell of a team that we saw in 2008, but at what cost will they be more powerful. A lot of things have to gel for this squad to really propel itself past the top two current ” Beasts in the East.” that is not to say that even in Boston they are done making changes or acquiring the rights pieces to fight for their title. Believe me when I say that the Red Sox pretty much have a stacked arsenal of pitching arms that even make the Yankees jealous.
Some people predict a close A L East, with the second team not even making the playoffs because of the parity of the division might make then winner only post about 92 wins in 2009. I can see that scenario happening without a problem. This division is not all Yankees, Red Sox and Rays though. Toronto and Baltimore also will have a huge say in who will represent this division in 2009. Toronto will still have a great pitching staff that will defy and derail a few winning streaks , and the Orioles will be young and hungry, and that is a bad team to have to play 17 times a year.
Predictions can go out the window for this division in 2009. No one will be able to predict the amount of wins, or the team that will rise to the top. This might be the best fight for a right to play in October that baseball has seen in the long, long time. Will the money enhanced team be the final winner?, or will it be the team with a heart as big as the dome they play in nightly?. Or could it be the squad that just added pieces and did not rehash or even redesign itself in the off season to fit it’s division?.
After the next 50 days, we will begin the prelude to 2009’s MLB season. With all of the AL East contenders playing in Florida, it will be a fun month of March watching the battles and the adjustments by every squad. But until the teams get their guys back from the classic, we will not be able to fully comprehend or even evaluate the team with any true clarity. But the great thing is that this spring we will be able to see a lot of the future stars for these teams compete and maybe even show us what is in store for the next 6 years coming out of their minor league systems.
This years spring training might not be about the stars getting ready to play the season. It might belong to the guys who are struggling at the minor league level to show that they belong and maybe make a few roster decisions harder come April. But then again, you have to love watching the young pups playing hard, working for positions, and fighting for their collective lives on the diamond. Spring is going to be fun this year. Hopefully the hottest action is not in the air, but on the turf this year. We will be better fans for it.
With the recent addition of reliever Lance Cormier to the Rays Bullpen, can there be an alternative reason to sign another reliever right now for the team. Could this be a insurance policy signing in case Troy Percival is not ready to take the mound in spring training and the team might be without him to begin the 2009 campaign. It just seems a bit wild that the team added another body to the Bullpen when at least 11 relievers right have shots at securing a spot on the 25-man roster. And this does not include the prospects of either Jeff Niemann or Jason Hammel not having slot for them come April 1st with the team.
But let’s get back to Cormier, who in 2008 was with the Baltimore Orioles along with current Rays, Chad Bradford. Cormier was signed by the Orioles on January 21, 2008 with an invite to spring training and a minor league contract in his hand. During the season, he went 3-3 with an 4.02 ERA in 12.1 innings for Baltimore. During 2008, he posted a .240 average against right-handed batters, and was also a great ground ball out pitcher. During his last 9 appearances in 2008, he allowed only 3 earned runs over 15 innings, and lowered his ERA from 4.61 to a year ending 4.02 ERA. In his only start of the season on September 3rd against the Red Sox, he threw 3 scoreless innings on 2-hits.
Cormier has the distinction of being drafted three time during his MLB career. He was first drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1998 in the 40th round, but he did not sign with the club and instead attended the University of Alabama. While at Alabama, Cormier did play for the Crimson Tide’s baseball squad and then again in 2001, the Houston Astros drafted him in the 10th round. Again Cormier decided to not sign and went back for his senior season at Alabama. Last, but not least, the Arizona Diamondbacks drafted him in the 4th round in 2002, and he signed with the team.
Cormier made his way through the Diamondbacks minor league system and made his first start at the major league level against the Tampa Bay Rays on June 19, 2004. In the contest he allowed 5 hits in 1 inning and went on to lose 11-4. After the game he was sent back to the minors and he worked hard to become the June Pitcher of the Month for the Diamondback organization. He was brought back up to the majors on July 29th and he won his first start against the Houston Astros 6-4. In that game he threw 6 innings, struck out 5 batters and recorded his first major league hit.
He then went on to lose his next two starts and the team put him in the Bullpen. From August 29th to September 11th, he handcuffed opposing hitters to an imposing .134 average. In 2005, Cormier appeared in 67 games for the Diamondbacks. His 7 wins tied him for 4th among National League relievers. He began the season by throwing 18 scoreless innings, and ended the year by compiling a 1.09 ERA over his last 9 games. During the off season, Cormier and starting pitcher Oscar Villareal were traded to the Atlanta Braves for catcher Johnny Estrada.
Cormier appeared for the Braves for the first time on April 3, 2006. He struggled during his first year with the Braves and at one point was demoted to the minors on August 21, but that demotion did not last long as he was recalled on August 25th and stayed with the Braves the rest of the season. During the 2007 spring training in Florida, he suffered a strained right triceps and went on the 15-day disabled list. He spent the next two months on the disabled list before starting against the Chicago Cubs in his season debut. He ended up surrendering 8 earned runs in 4 innings against the team. He got his second start against the Cubs later in the week and was again hammered as he then gave up 5 earned runs.
Cormier was sent down to Triple-A Richmond for seasoning, and after he threw a complete game shutout for the Tide, he was recalled by the Braves. On August 3rd, in his first action since coming back up, he gave up 2 earned runs in relief against the Colorado Rockies. But on August 11th , he got his first start since June 3, 2007. He allowed 4 runs in 4 innings in that contest and left with a no decision. He then won his next outing allowing only 2 runs in 7 innings. The next start he strung together two consecutive wins for the first time in his career.
Cormier ended up the 2007 season with the Braves and suffered through a 2-6 record with a 7.06 ERA. The Braves decided to designate him for assignment on November 30, 2007 to make a roster spot for returning pitcher Tom Glavine. The Braves officially released Cormier on December 7, 2007.
The scouting report on Cormier shows that he has a fastball and a cutter that are thrown about the same velocity. His fastball tops out at 90 mph, while his cutter ranges from 86-89 mph. His cutter is an excellent pitch for him to induce ground ball out to both sides of the plate. He has a 12-6 curve ball that breaks between 76-78 mph. He also has a sinking change up that he uses rarely to hitters in the past.
So here is the low down on our newest member to the Rays 40-man roster. His versatility as either a long reliever or a short innings guy can be beneficial to the Rays in 2009. With his ground ball numbers showing an ability to get the ball to the infield, his addition should be well suited for the Rays. Even if his signing is not a preamble to protection because Percival may not be ready in time, because he has American League East experience, he is valuable to the Rays in the Bullpen. Cormier will meet his former team mate Chad Bradford when both men report on Feb 14th to the new Rays Spring Training Complex in Port Charlotte, Florida.
It was learned earlier today that Tampa Bay almost lost one of their baseball icons over the holiday season. Rays Senior Advisor Don Zimmer was said to have suffered a small stroke during the holidays and is resting and recovering now with a great chance for total recovery. For this to be kept under the covers for this long is an amazement to me. Maybe it is because I view Zimmer as a living treasure trove of information, stories and is just plain fun to talk to about baseball, fishing and life in this area when the streetcars went down Central Avenue and the Vinoy was an abandoned building rotting away with time and not a 5-star resort nestled on the waterfront in St Petersburg.
That last statement might be interesting to some people in St Petersburg, but Zimmer has lived here, and most of the time in Treasure Island, Florida. Zimmer first fell in love with the area when he was a player with the New York Mets. He is as much an institution to this area and to the Rays as the Don Cesar Hotel, and even the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Of the people who have been associated with this franchise, he has to be one of the top 5 people listed on almost everyone’s list. The only other people in my top list with him are Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff, who might have a chance for the Hall of Fame starting in 2010.
I am here today to write a living tribute to the man also known as “Popeye” who has meant so much to the game of baseball and to fans of the American League East. Every team in this division has a Don Zimmer story or event. And it is for that reason that we should celebrate this amazing life and career on January 17th, which is also the date of his 78th birthday. So please feel free to remember and also visualize the times and career of this player and manager that has had a incredible life both on and off the diamond. Something you might not know about Zimmer, he wed his beautiful wife Soot ( Jean ) in Elmira, New York during a baseball game. Zimmer first began dating her in 10th grade.
Zimmer is as famous as a player as he is a manager in his years in baseball. Most people remember him as the feisty and skilled shortstop of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who broke into the majors in 1954. For the next 12 years he played in the majors, and found his first taste of success in 1955 with the World Champion Brooklyn Dodgers. But he also has dealt with adversity playing shortstop for the New York Mets in 1962 when they lost 120 games.
His time in baseball was almost cut short by a in 1953 while with the St Paul minor league squad. In a game, Zimmer was struck in the temple and did not regain consciousness for 13 days. With pressure building on his brain, he had hole drilled into his skull to relieve the building pressure and suffered from blurred vision and went from 170 to 124 pound while trying to regain his motors skills to walk and talk. He was only 22 years old when he was told his baseball career might be over for good.
But Zimmer rose above the complications to regain his motor skills and again play the game he loved for a living. He was again hit by a Cincinnati fastball in the cheek in 1956 and broke his cheekbone. Again he rose from the ashes and after a steel plate was inserted into his head, again trained to begin playing baseball. If nothing else, Zimmer was a test to the art of positive thinking and determination in this point in his career. Most people would have called it quits and went about a life after baseball. But not Zimmer, he still loved the game, and the people in it.
In 1958, Zimmer followed the Dodgers to their new home in Los Angeles, then moved from the Chicago Cubs to the New York Mets and the Cincinnati Reds in 1962. He then returned to the Dodgers in 1963 before finally moving onto the Washington Senators where he played his last game on the field on October 2, 1965. In his 12 years in the majors leagues, Zimmer appeared in 1095 games, compiled over 773 hits,79 homers, with 352 RBI’s and a lifetime .235 batting average.
During his playing career he got to go to the fall classic with the Dodgers in 1955 and 1959, and was selected for the National League squad of the 1961. Although his hitting was not his best aspect of the game, his fielding was never called into question, He was versatile enough to play third base, second base, shortstop , and even caught 33 games in his final season in Washington in 1965. Zimmer also had the honor of playing in 1966 in Japan with the Toei Flyers.
But it was in the dugout where the feisty ex-player gained the respect of everyone in baseball. He started out as most do, in the minor leagues until he first stood on the field as the Third Base Coach for the Montreal Expos in 1971. He did the same in 1972 with the San Diego Padres, but 11 games into the season, he was called upon to replace Preston Gomez as manager. Zimmer remained with the Padres until the close of the 1973 season when he was fired and he moved on to the Boston Red Sox for the next 2 1/2 seasons.
Zimmer was then a key figure in the 1975 World Series with the Red Sox when in Game 6 a ball was hit into shallow left field and Zimmer coaching at third base yelled to base runner Denny Doyle, ” No, No No” upon the catch in shallow left. Doyle misunderstood Zimmer and tried to score and was thrown out at the plate. The play helped set up one of the most memorable moments in Red Sox history as Carlton Fisk hit his memorable game winning home run later in the contest.
In 1976, the Red Sox did not come out confident and playing up to par, and Johnson was fired and Zimmer was given the reigns of the young Boston team. From 1977-79, the Red Sox won at least 90 games for Zimmer. His 1978 squad won 99 game, still the 4th best record by a Red Sox team in their hallowed history. But that same season, he was remembered more for the collapse after leading the A L East by as many as 14 games. Zimmer was the unfortunate skipper at the helm when the New York Yankees finally caught the Red Sox in a series dubbed, “The Boston Massacre.” That year the team went back and forth with the Yankees before Bucky Dent sent a stake through their hearts in a one-game playoff on October 2, 1978.
During that span Zimmer made a few questionable moves that were played out in the newspapers and in the stands. He did not get along with popular pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee and further stuck the dagger in their feud when he gave the last game start during the “Boston Massacre” series to a triple-A pitcher Bobby Sprowl instead of Lee. Zimmer also might have overused Carlton Fisk during that season starting him in 154 of 162 games. Fisk would begin to have sore knee problems and missed a bunch of time in 1979 due to arm problems.
Zimmer also kept a suspect Butch Hobson at third base even as elbow problems began to surface with the players throws to first base. Zimmer held firm to the belief Hobson could play until after a series of bad errors he was forced to call up Jack Brohamer to replace Hobson. The Boston debacle was not the last stage for Zimmer as he moved on to mange the Texas Rangers in 1981, then moved onto three stints with the Yankees and also the San Francisco giants between 1982 until 1989 when he took over the Chicago Cubs.
In that season, Zimmer won a divisional title for the Cubs, and was named the Manager of the Year by major league baseball. Zimmer returned to Boston in 1992 to help one of his former players, Butch Hodson with the club. Zimmer went onto coach on the first expansion staff of the Colorado Rockies in 1993, and in 1996 began a long tenure as the Bench Coach of the New York Yankees. He was on the bench for 4 of their World Series Championships. He also took over the Manager’s position when Joe Torre was recuperating from prostate cancer in 1999. Zimmer went 21-15 in Torre’s absence, then returned to his usual spot in the dugout again. Those game were never officially credited to Zimmer, who won over 906 games as a manager in the major leagues.
But the event that further made him into a legend was the game between the Boston Red Sox and his New York Yankees during the 2003 ALCS. When a brawl began on the field, Zimmer went out onto the Fenway field and was face to face with Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez who threw the nimble Zimmer to the turf by his warm up jacket. The scene became world famous and made Martinez an instant enemy to Yankee fans throughout the nation.
In another game, Zimmer was sitting on the bench when Chuck Knoblach hit a screaming foul ball into the dugout and got Zimmer flush on the head. Zimmer used the event to evike some humor as he came out the next day wearing an army helmet with “ZIM” written in it in white. Since his time with the Yankees, Zimmer has been the Tampa Bay Rays Senior Advisor helping the squad with expertise during Spring Training and he can often be seen down on the field in his Rays uniform during Batting Practice chatting with coaches’ and players’ daily.
Zimmer currently wears number “60”, for 2008 was his 60th year in professional baseball. Every season, Zimmer moves up one more uniform number. In 2009, Zimmer will be issued the number “61” jersey. During 2008, Zimmer was the last member of the Brooklyn dodger organization still serving in some capacity in baseball. Along with living in Seminole, Florida now with his wife, he is a proud author of 2 books, “The Zen of Zim” and ” Zim: A Baseball Life.”
Thank goodness that this past holiday season did not take this great warrior away from us. The guy truly believes he has more baseball to enjoy in life, and if you have ever had the pleasure to speak to this man about baseball, you can see the twinkle in his eye as he remembers some of the greatest moments in the game. Zimmer is recovering and is slowly getting back to his normal lifestyle.
With less than 30 days until the Rays head to Port Charlotte, Florida for the first time away from their old St. Petersburg training complex, Zimmer might not be at this years site for the first time in a long while. but the accent should be on him regaining his strength and his stamina so he can sit in the seat behind home plate again in 2009 and see his Rays again contend for the American League East title.
I can not imagine a year without Zimmer in the organization, but you know that it will come to and end at some moment in time. Hopefully we did not see the last of this great warrior as he threw out that first pitch before Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS. I truly think we have not seen the last of this great titan of the sport. He has risen before from worse odds to again smile and enjoy this great game. Hopefully his next seat will be within range of yelling at Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his players in 2009.
In the past, major league teams have always had a third alternate jersey for special occasions or maybe a day game right after a late night contest. It makes the efforts of the clubhouse staff more efficient with the flow of a early game after a extended late night contest, and also provides a nice alternative for hot afternoon games. The Tampa Bay Rays are the third team in the American League East to announce this off season that they will go to the third optional uniform.
Like the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles, who announced earlier in the off season they they too will have a third option available for 2009. Some of the cynical folks around baseball think it is just a ruse to get the fan base to buy another jersey for around $ 229 dollars and further the team’s financial coffers. But as one woman told me when she saw the new dark blue Rays jersey, “It will just help bring out the accents in my eyes better than the white jersey.”
For whatever reason the team and the fans buy the new jersey, the fact still remains that the team did not go the option of including the name “Tampa Bay ” spread across the front of the jersey. Why is it that the team will not have an away or road jersey with the team’s location on it. Is their bond with getting back to baseball traditions extending all the way to not even showing their geographical pride in the area, or just another ploy to not have to change the jersey if a drastic measure comes about a few years down the road.
You hope it is not a ruse by the teams management to hide the fact that the attendance in the Trop. has not been up to snuff for them in their 3-year plan. I am not upset that the St. Petersburg area is not listed anywhere on the jersey, so do not start up that line of misguided comments. The new jersey will be highlighted by the usual Rays logo with its swashbuckling “R” flowing from the chest area of the uniform. A major change will be an enhanced sunburst on the jersey that will be more pronounced and brighter in color to go with the added baby blue piping on the jersey.
Now I like the jersey, and the one I saw also contained the “devilray” patch still on the left sleeve. Thoughts have been circulating over the past year that this old icon of the old teams name and uniforms might be returned to the sea in 2009. The option might still be there for that to happen by the first time the uniforms are used during a May 1st game against division rivals, the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field.
You would think that they team might of had an commemorative patch to be worn in 2009 to celebrate their first American League pennant, but none was on display that day. There is still time for the team to announce such a patch, probably near the end of spring training and closer to the team’s home opener on April 13th when the New York Yankees come to town for 3 games. It is also the night that the team will unveil their first banners in the rafters of Tropicana Field for their 2008 championships. Banners will be displayed for the team’s success in their American League East divisional crown, and in their 2008 American League Championship on that night.
I actually like the jersey because it reminds me of the old green third uniform the Rays had in 2008 before the Rays logo and basic uniform colors changed to a blue and white based home uniform. It is made of the same fabric as that years jerseys and will reflect heat and absorb moisture to help with dehydration and extreme hot weather outdoors during the season. It is also a great item for kids based on the dark color. We all know that kids have a tendency to eat half their food at games and wear the other half on their shirts and pants. But in the long run, it is an attempt by the team to keep up the extended excitement of the Rays success in 2009. The uniforms might not a victory magnet for the Rays, but with the community becoming more aware and more excited daily about the team, more options for team based wear is a fantastic way to show your spirit and pride in your hometown Rays.
With the deadline coming up fast for arbitration, the Tampa Bay Rays have gotten two of their eligible players signed to contracts for 2009. The Rays announced late tonight that reliever Grant Balfour has agreed to a one-year , $1.4 million dollar contract. He was the second Rays player to sign in recent days joining right fielder Gabe Gross, who signed for one-year, $ 1.255 million dollar deal on Weds.
That leaves the Rays with only three players who might be going to the arbitration table to exchange figures for their 2009 season. Rays 2008 MVP shortstop Jason Bartlett, starting catcher Dioner Navarro and utility infielder Willy Aybar are the only unsigned arbitration eligible players left for the A L Pennant winning Rays.
Most people will remember Balfour in 2008 as the Rays player who most resembles a patient from a mental institution based on his on-the-mound antics of cursing and screaming at himself. But besides that behavior,Balfour had a career season in 2008 after not making the Rays roster out of spring training for the Rays. The hard throwing Aussie went down to the Durham Bulls on April 2nd, and immediately began to work on his return to the Rays. While in Durham, Balfour appeared in 15 games in Durham and posted a 1-0 record and an outstanding .038 ERA, with 8 saves for the Bulls. On May 29, 2008, the Rays bought Balfours contract from the Bulls and he was brought up to replace Troy Percival, who began his first 15-day Disabled List visit for a left hamstring strain.
For the year, Balfour pitched in 17 of the Rays last 34 games of the season. During that stretch, he pitched scoreless relief appearances in 15 of his last 16 appearances. For the year, Balfour tied with J P Howell for the team lead in relief wins with 6, which was one win off the team’s current relieving record. During 2008, Balfour lead all MLB relievers with a 12.66 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched ratio, and also struck out 36 percent of the batters he faced in 2008, also tops in the majors.
His ending 1.54 ERA was the 4th best in the American League, and his .143 opponents batting average was best in the American League, but only second best in the majors behind only Carlos Marmol of the Chicago Cubs, who posted a .136 for the season. Balfour allowed only 3 home runs and 11 extra base hits all year long. His .230 Slugging Percentage was the second best average in the American League behind Joey Devine ( .168 ) of the Oakland A’s.
During a second Disabled List visit by Percival in July for another left hamstring strain, Balfour earned 3 of his 4 saves in 2008. If you combined his time with the Rays and the Bulls in 2008, Balfour went 7-2, saved 12 of 13 save chances, with a 1.23 ERA. Also of amazement is the fact he held batters’ at both levels to a .123 batting average in 2008.
In the 2008 postseason, Balfour did not fare as well as during the regular season. The usually confident Balfour ran into trouble and appeared in 10 games going only 8.2 innings and gave up 11 hits and 6 earned runs during the Rays postseason run. His 6.23 ERA showed he was battling throughout the postseason with control, further evidenced by his 8 walks and only 7 strikeouts during the playoffs.
Outfielder Gabe Gross came to the Rays in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers on April 22, 2008. In his last game with the Brewers the night before, he came around to score the winning run in the team’s victory. To obtain Gross, the Rays sent minor league pitcher Josh Butler to the Brewers. During the course of the season, Gross began to platoon in right field with Eric Hinske and Jonny Gomes and was a key defensive substitution for the Rays in later innings in games.
Gross started in 78 of the 141 games since he was acquired from the Brewers. 4 of those starts were in center field for the Rays. He entered the game 39 times in 2008 as a late inning substitution. During 2008, he hit a career high 13 home runs. His prior career best season total was 9 home runs in 2006, with the Brewers. Gross hit a monster 437-foot 2-run home run on August 6th against the Cleveland Indians to tie the score for the Rays. During the 2008 season, Gross was credited with 5 outfield assists in right field.
Tampa Bay went on to win 10-7 on a 3-run blast by Carlos Pena later in that inning. Gross also combined to hit .293 in August with 4 home runs and 11 RBI’s for the team. During the 2008 season, Gross had 3 walk-off RBI’s tying the clubs record for a single season. The first came on May 13th against the New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera when he singled home Jonny Gomes for the winning run. The came his walk-off homer against Matt Thronton and the Chicago White Sox. This homer was also his first homer off a left hander in his career. The last one came on June 21st against Houston Astros reliever Doug Brocail when he doubled to score the winning run.
During the 2008 postseason, Gross also did not have a very productive post season as he only appeared in 10 games and went 1-19, with 2 RBI’s to post a .174 average for the playoffs. Gross was responsible for several defensive plays during the postseason playing 61.2 innings and garnishing one outfield assist for the Rays. It is expected in 2009, that Gross will be sued primarily in right field, but could start in center field the first week of the season while B J Upton is still rehabbing from his off season shoulder surgery. The Rays have primary plans to use Gross as a rightfield starter against right handed pitchers in 2009.