Results tagged ‘ Major League Baseball Health and Safety Committee ’

MLB= Maple Legalized Bats

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.


   
 
 

The Dangers of Maple Bats is a Major League Problem

 

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.
 
 

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