Results tagged ‘ maple bats ’

Sunday Rewind: “Are Maple Bats the Bad Guys?”

This is the 2nd installment of my past series on the epidemic of maple bat breakage within Major League Baseball. If you did not read the first installment, I wrote it on 1/20/2009, and please feel free to check the archive for the blog. As has been my custom during the off season, this is a posting of a blog written during the 2009 season. So hopefully you will enjoy this look into the past.
 

 

Susan Rhodes is not your usual attendee to a Major League Baseball game. But why is it that on May 25, 2008, she just seemed to be in the wrong place, and the wrong time, and met the barrel end of a tomahawking maple bat that shattered more than her jaw.  She was sitting just 4 rows behind the Los Angeles Dodgers dugout, which is usually a safe place at an MLB game. Rhodes never even saw the shards of the broken bat coming towards her, she was instead watching the play develop as the ball headed into the outfield. She suffered injuries that included a concussion and a fractured jaw in two places. 
 

 

Watching players break bats at the plate has been a commonplace sight since the advent of baseball, but the Rhodes accident along with Rick Hellings impalement have shown that there might be a new level of danger to the game of baseball.  Even the men behind the plate, the umpires, have not been ruled out as innocient victims in this saga.  So has America’s favorite pastime been invaded by this new dangerous trend, and could the expanded use of maple bats be the sole item responsible for this trend?
 

 

The hickory wooden bats used by hitters like Babe Ruth are long gone from baseball, and now it seems that those heavy and cumbersome pieces of lumber showcased a simpler and safer time.Thanks to the growing popularity of the maple bat during Barry Bond’s run to the Home Run title, more MLB players opted for this potentially lethal bat wood type. I am not blaming Bonds for the recent problems, he did not design, test or even manufacture any of these bats for a living, but just used them as a tool for his trade.


 


 

 

And Atlanta Braves Manager Bobby Cox got a first-hand account of the dangers posed by maple bats on June 19, 2008 while Cox was sitting in the  Braves dugout. Like Rhodes, Cox was watching the hit ball and did not see Braves Second Baseman Kelly Johnson’s maple bat shard coming end-over-end towards him in the dugout. The bat shard ended up going just above Cox’s head, but like Rhodes, he never saw the bat piece coming towards him before it slammed into the back of the dugout wall.
 

 

 

All throughout the annuals of baseball, bats have broken when hitters went to the plate, but not at the regularity they do today. The maple versus ash bat controversy did not exist back then because neither bat was fully developed at that time for use by baseball players.  At the time Babe Ruth was swatting balls into the grandstands, players used heavy hickory wooden bats. During those days, hickory was a commoningly used wood, and it is still known as a strong wood to use for baseball bats. But batters wanted a bat that uses a lighter, more fluid wood for hitting, and the hickory bats quickly became extinct like the dinosaurs.


 


 

 

Even though ash is not as strong as hickory, it does possess a lighter feeling in your hands, and the wood can be sanded down with limited sweat and pain to conform the bat handle to your personal touch and liking with just a fine grade sheet of sandpaper. The problem with most other woods 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 model bat that is heavier because of the woods density. And in simple contrast, if you go lighter wood, you get lighter overall weight, but you can give up some safety levels of durability under the constant pressure bats go through every time you go to the plate to hit in a game. 
 

 

In the 1990’s, Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Joe Carter might have swung the first maple bat, and his Home Run shot to win the World Series for the Jays might have been a key moment to the potential power of maple bats. Because Carter used maple as the wood of choice for his bats, players began to look into its cost and usage and quickly began to request them by the dozens from bat manufacturers. 

With maple now seen as an alternative to the customary ash models, it quickly became more appealing to hitters because it showcased more strength without the cumbersome bother of weight to quicken a player’s bat speed through the hitting zone. And because of it strength, it quickly got a reputation as the tool that would hopefully let you hit farther and longer in games.

 
 


 

 

Ash bats, which were currently the rave, had a tendency to produce flakes of ash that came off the bat like snow, but held the bat intact and did not separate at the barrel end like maple bats. Because of the flaking, players did not go through bats as often, and that might have been the main reasoning that many hitters stuck to ash bats for so long. But during Bond’s display of power in 2001, MLB players became obsessed with them and craved this bat type, and quickly put ash bats in the dark recesses of the MLB clubhouses. 
 

 

For 50 years, white ash was the preferred wood for baseball bats, but with over 50 percent of all MLB players now craving maple, it was a quickly changing the game.  Maple and ash bats both break a certain way because of their woods unique internal 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 basic wood cell difference and the size of their pores within the wood, or is there another culprit?
 

 


Scientists agree that ash wood cell structure has more elastic flexibility than their maple wood cousins. Ash wood has a ring porous character within its grain where you will find more pores that can carry moisture throughout the wood. And if you ventured into the region of its overall growth ring, where the grain doesn’t exist, you would see that it is a more solid fibered wood than maple.

 
 


 


Because the voids in wood are usually 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 greater visual indicator of the lessening density of the ash wood bat and its possibility of breaking or snapping when used while hitting.
   

 

Maple on the other hand are 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 signs that ash wooden bats give you before they break apart while hitting.

 

 

 


Cracks do tend to form in both types of wood as a bat is used to hit ball after ball after ball. But the same pore structure that makes an ash bat flake, also produces cracks along the channel of the ash bat. This brings about a more durable bat type that has a long way to go before a crack can materialize to crack that bat type in half. And MLB hitters can see these visual cracks signals long beforehand and replace their ash bats before the end process results in an explosion of the bat upon contact with the ball.   
 

 

I know we have all seen a hitter take the barrel end of the bat and bounce it off the ground, or Home Plate to see if they get vibrations waves out of the bat that is a great signal of its breakage. It is an early warning signal by the wood to let the hitter know it was about to get its last swing, or break apart during the hitting process. That made the ash bat a lot more safer and predictable. But it also could happen to hitters during 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 to ash bats. 


 


 

 

Because of the maple bats diffuse pores, cracks in the wood can grow in any number of directions. This could make them apt to hide the potential cracks and breaks  as they slowly or instantly 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 since they do not flake or show any form of chipping, they do not send any visual warning sign to the hitter that his bat is about to crack and might end up in the stands, or somewhere on the field barely missing an opposing player.
 

 


But each type of wood can takes on different characteristics considering how it is cut too. A billet of misaligned wood can affect it tremendously to produce an unexpected breakage. A baseball bat is considered stronger when the grain tends to line up with the length of the bat. Because of its basic dark color, the grain on a maple bat is considerably harder to see than in the lighter wood tones of an ash bat. Maple also has a tendency to not have as straight a groove in their grain as ash wood, which can be instrumental in early bat fatigue and breakage.

 
 


 

 

If you do not have a bat that is cut “going with the grain”, you can easily produce a weaker bat model. But can that be one of the reasons that a maple bat can just explode and send shards throughout the stands or infield?  Another factor to take take into consideration is the fact that the batter could hit the ball in a bad hitting position and make the bat break with his upward or ackward swing. Which would have nothing to do with the bats chemistry, or it’s compounds or porous material.
 

 

The MLB approved baseball bat models comes into contact with the baseball in a small area for only one thousandth of a second on most hitters’ swings. The short time it takes to make that initial point of impact can sends up to 5,000 pounds of force through the wooden bat. If you hit the ball badly, or not on the “sweet spot” of the bat, you can sometimes get that stinging sensation in your hands. That is a visual signal from the bat that it is bending and vibrating to release the force without breaking apart in your hands.

 
 


 

 

If the bending is compacted into enough of an area, it can produce a bat break in any type of bat, even ash wood. 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 area. The maple bat that Colorado Rockies hitter Todd Helton had in his hands on the day that Susan Rhodes got injured broke at the bat’s handle and sent the barrel tomahawking into the stands towards her. This leads to another area of 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 any level of baseball.  Some say the advent of these small handles is a compliance to metal bats that are used before players become professionals. Because the metal bats do not possess a thick, rugged handle players are more accustomed to hitting without the extra meat on the bat handles. As time progressed, the handle was streamlined and made more comfortable to today’s players. 
 

 

The narrow handle makes a baseball bat made out of wood more prone to breaking and take away the basic sturdiness of the bat. To make modern bats more accustom to metal bat handle types, did we make the breakage problem worse, or just provide another avenue for the bats to break upon force.

  
 


 

 

 And could the events that happened on June 24,2008 during a game in Kansas City show that people on the field are not protected from these maple bat shards. In that contest, MLB Home Plate Umpire Brian O’Nora was hit in the head with a maple bat shard, while wearing his protective gear behind the plate. Think about this long and hard for a moment. Here is a guy, less than 3 feet from the epicenter of the bat’s initial explosion point who had his protective gear completely popped off his head and produced a bloddy gash upon his forehead. 
 

 

You do not want to think of the injury repercussions of him not even having a safety equipment on himself and then getting clobbered with that same maple 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 maple bat splinters or small sharp wood chips from their catching equipment or from out of their bodies. I think that any kind of poll like this actually would not help the bat situation because most catcher see this as part of the game, like a foul ball getting your fingers or cracking you in the upper thighs during an at bat.

 
 


 

 
You know engineers and scientists have a common theory on why bats crack and break. We know that the MLB has collected hundreds of wooden bats since 2008 and have analyzed and categorized their breakage and  the bats wood type. But is there any real evidence that we have not seen that would show why these bats are breaking at alarming rates compared to the past.  And to what extent does the maple bat hold either a  hitting advantage or a personal dangerous weapon as a bat of choice by the MLB players. 
 

 
Or is just the true fact that wooden bats fail. That it is a part of the game for bats to splinter and crack. But the reality is that some of today’s bats do not make a simple splinter or crack, but produce a missile that takes on speed as it leaves the batters box. And 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 possibly 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 gideline to the  specifications on the grain alignment by bat manufacturing companies to help stop bat breakage in alarming rates in 2009 or beyond.


 


 

 
Individually, the MLB teams should set up more protective netting in front of some lower level infield seats in stadiums with the premise to protect their fans.  I know that New York Yankee center fielder Curtis Granderson suggested such a measure on his ESPN.com blog back in 2009.  Because players have their attention and eyes trained towards the batter, they have more reaction time to dodge, and even see bat shards coming towards them. While spectators in those front row seats have a tendency to look in other directions because of the multiple attention getting sights and sounds of the game.  
 
 
Some might view this as the ultimate steps to protecting the fans in those exposed sections, but those fans also paid good money to sit in those sections, and most know the dangers beforehand from foul balls and errant throws to first or third base. To suggest that they are the only ones in the ball park  that might needed to be further protected might not be viewed so well by those fans above the dugout, or further down the foul lines in stadiums. And as 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. 
 
 
 

 

Sunday Rewind: “Bat Changes…They are A-Coming”

 
 

 

Recently I wrote about the recent maple bat controversy and the possible moves and mandates by Major League Baseball to  try and better secure the safety of its fans and players in the future. With the advent of the maple bat came  previously unknown problems that baseball did not think would induce injuries or harm to their fan base or affect MLB field players with large shards of bat coming  directly at them during breakage.

After the increase in  both fan and player injuries and incidents in the last few seasons in connection with the maple bats, something had to be done before a real tragedy happened in the stadiums. The Frontier League took it upon itself to ban the maple wooden bats from league play until they could be made safer for everyone in the ballpark. Along with this same line, bat manufacturing companies and the MLB commissioned studies and inacted procedures to try and help eliminate a lot of the past problems with the maple bats.

MLB instituted a mandate that all types and styles of maple bats will be tested from time to time from today forward to check for unusual seepage and grain damage before they leave the  manufacturing plants and are delivered to any minor league or Major League player or team. If the bats are not deemed to be ” certified ” by the inspector at the manufacturing plant, then 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 try and unify to secure the safety of everyone within the stadium, and to again bring back confidence in the safety procedures used by teams and leagues around the game.
 

 

It is truly only the first step as the MLB scientists and bat company engineers and future 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 bat producing factories and MLB will further study the upgrading of the current bat designs and institute mandates and rules to insure the safety of everyone around the game. But there are also private sector inventors’ outside the realms of the whole baseball community  who might some interesting solutions and innovative inventions that could also speed up the changes and revolution of the wooden baseball bat.
 

 

Inventors like New Jersey native Ward Dill, who is also a MIT graduate and designer of a bat that is said to be almost unbreakable by today’s baseball standards. Okay, so the wooden bat is not totally unbreakable per se, but it is guaranteed not to break, crack,or shatter in any form for an entire year, or Dill will replace it free of charge. What current MLB bat manufacturing company can or would back-up their product like that in a contract? Dill first invented this bat as an alternative to the current metal bats used in the college ranks and below, but with maple bats exploding all over the place, maybe it has other applications at the MLB level.
 
 


 


With the MLB never ever going to even consider the metal bat as an option ever, it gives a great wooden bat alternative to teams that have players who might be professional baseball projects right now to help them develop and fine tune their hitting skills for the next level, where wooden bats are the mandate. As stated before, this model wooden bat is guaranteed not to break, shatter or crack for an entire year, which on a minor league salary could be a blessing. This revolutionary maple bat consists of 12 wedges of wood bond by specially developed space age polymers and bonding adhesives and employing a unique clamping technique to help promote safety. 
 
 

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 to promote his innovative wooden model bat. ” 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 unique claims, Dill conducted an exhibition where he had a player taking his usual pre-game batting practice using just a single wooden bat. After performing a usual batting practice segment, 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  the “sweet spot” of the bat into the area of the pitched baseball. 
 
 

The bat also plays upon the baseball like a traditional ash or maple 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 wooden bat model out in 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.
 


 

 
 

But that just might be the next step for this “bat of the future”, but to some people the price tag might seem high as 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 way over that amount, it might be a bargain in the long run. Another fact to consider is that since it is guaranteed for one year, and breakage or defects found within that year will get that bat replaced without cost.

The usual bat prices for a wooden maple bat are between $ 50-75 dollars a bat. Considering you might need at least 12 extra bats per year, the saving are huge for a minor league or amateur player trying to learn to hit after years of using a metal bat for hitting.
 

 
Another inventor in the northeast also thinks he might have an additonal solution to the MLB increasing problem with a type of wood that is currently unavailable in the United States.  A retired History professor who still plays baseball in the amateur ranks, has an invention that could possibly eliminate the current bat breakage problem. George Preston is not your typical museum curator. He currently runs a small museum on 162 street in Harlem,New York, but his first true love is baseball. Even at 69, Preston still plays Rightfield and Second Base on his amateur fast-pitch baseball team.
 
 

But it might be his current invention of a type of wooden bat, made from a wood product unknown in America for current bat production that might be his greatest discovery. Preston began to notice in 2008 that bats were breaking in the Major Leagues  with more frequency than ever before. And with more MLB players having their bats made from maple instead of ash because of the insect attack in ash trees in North America by a wood-boring beetle, and the common fact most MLB hitters seemed to think that the maple manufactured bats produced a harder and lighter handling piece of lumber to use at the plate.

 

But maple bats are also have a tendency to be more brittle. Hitters have complained that their bats can sometimes simply explode on impact, even when the ball connects with the thickest part of the bat barrel. The result has sent players and fans ducking for cover in more games than you can imagine in the last few years. Preston, who had recently retired from teaching Art History at City College of New York in 2006, began looking towards the thord-world country of Ghana for trees and  a type of wood that could be used to make bats that wouldn’t break as easily, or splinter into shards or projectiles. He found a tropical hardwood tree that grew straight skyward and had the right weight and density to produce a quality wooden bat.


 

 


He then began to teach craftsmen in an Ghana village the art of how to spin the massive tree’s logs into bats and dry them in kilns, and now he currently brings home a load of bats after each trip to West Africa. He’s sold a dozen of them to players in his own league (they’re $90 each), and he uses one of his model himself every time he steps into the batter’s box. He’s applied for a patent for the design and hopes to have MLB test and ultimately approve his model for league play. Preston has used this type of wooden bats for several years and has mounting proof that the bats crack, but do not fall apart or even project dangerous shards like the current maple wooden bats. 

He even remarked that even when they do crack, they can still drive the ball into the field and do not just fall apart upon impact like some of the current maple models used in the MLB. Preston finishes each bat himself with a Danish clear varnish that give the bat a dark red tone. He then hand-stamps each bat with the same logo, ” Made In Mamfe-Ghana Baseball Ltd.”  and is enthusiastic about the Fine craftmanship and details that go into each bat, with the final inspection falling upon his own 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 said. Preston held one of his bats on his shoulder  as he looked out over the Bronx, towards 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 starting to get more involved in the move to make the MLB ballpark safe again for everyone. People in all walks of like want to feel safe and secure when they enter and watch a baseball game. 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 coming their way. But over the last few seasons, they have had a new reason to fear, and have to maintain constant field vision during MLB baseball games. MLB and the bat producing companies are doing more and more research and testing to secure the confidence in the public again to come out to the ballpark.
 
 
 

But it might be that lone design or invention somewhere out there in America that might finally produce a safer option and conclusive answer and final solution to this maple wooden bat controversy. Maybe it will be the independent baseball bat manufacturer/inventor who is currently scoffed at as a fluke or crackpot who finds a viable solution. Or maybe it will be someone like Wade Dill or George Preston who will develop a effective bat solution, then find themselves deep in involvement with MLB or another bat manufacturer and turn a present nightmare into a plausible secure dream of a safe haven at the ballpark for everyone who enjoys both playing and watching the great game of baseball.
 
 

 

Sunday Rewind: “Maple Bats are a Major League Problem”

 

   

 

 


The distinctive crack made by contact of a Major League baseball striking the surface of a wooden bat at a baseball game is one of the purest, and richest sounds to hear echoing throughout the stands during a game.  It can be one of the simple reasons we come to the games, to hear that blast of power upon the wood propelling that white sphere deep into the day/night with a  fighting chance for a Home Run.

That same crackling sound of the bat is evolving into a beehive of opinions and safety discussions in the hallways and lockerrooms among Major League Baseball. It has set up a false menagerie of potential actions and mis-guided precautions to  try and keep fans, players, and even the umpires safe from a new menace that is beginning to plague the game of baseball. 
 

 

Some have called for action concerning this plague, while others think it is just the ever expanding revolution of the modern game and its  feable equipment. And some are led to believe that in-house measures are being done to correct the presumed dangers and possible injuries from it’s creation. Some think that  slugger Barry Bonds  might have ushered in this evolving revolution and took it to the center stage after his  home run hitting display several years ago.

It is the opinion of many that the extra power and  long distance hitting ability that Bonds got out of his own series of maple bats might have been the first public recognition that power hitting might have evolved beyond our present generations hitting materials. But at what cost do we make those  revolutionary changes, and do we expand into other woods or even grainy materials for our future solutions?

Do we endanger our kids and even ourselves while seeking these answers, or do we go about our “business as usual” until a horrific accident happens or a player is impailed on live television before a change is addressed with vigor. Do we put the burden of our protection upon the highly paid players to know what is right and wrong,and do we personally have the right or the audacity to hold them strictly accountable if disaster does occur with that instrument of hitting in their hands.

 

 

Here is a short story I heard a while back from a news wire service like the Associated Press that might open all of our eyes wide and make use take a more concerned pont of reference that we, as fans, might be on borrowed time here if we sit within 150 feet of Home Plate during any level of organized or professional baseball. The incident occured during a Class-A game in Modesto California, a hitter for the Modesto Nuts swung at a pitched ball and cracked his maple bat into several flying shards during a line drive. 

A baseball team’s crowd normally would have followed the flight of the hit ball as it fell into left-center field for a single, and they would have been oblivious to the fact that the projectile from the spinning end-over-end shard of the broken maple bat as it headed towards the stands. Most fans would have never even thought of trying to catch a glimpse of the 24-inch, 26-ounce projectile that was hurdling towards a group of eight kids sitting in the front row at John Thurman Field on that play. But the would have been alarmed to see that the bat ended up cradled in the permanent netting that surrounds the seating area just behind home plate.

The kids sitting directly beyond the netting were severly frightened by the incident, but no worse the wear, and were quickly chanting again for their ball club. But what was more amazing is that the game’s crowd did not follow the ball, but that bat shard during its complete flight until it got caught in the netting. Most of the fans in attendance did not even know it dropped in for a single until after the entire event unfolded.

 

 
 

 

 

So you have to wonder what the bigwigs at Major League Baseball are doing to prevent a accident, or even a possible death from a bat shard hitting a body  during a game. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and his appointed MLB’s 16-member Health and Safety committee met for the first time 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? Did the panel sit idle until the April 15,2008 game at Dodger Stadium when Pittsburgh Pirate Hitting Coach Don Long was cut through his left cheek by a shard of bat off his own hitter Nate McLouth. Or maybe ot took an incident against long time MLB Umpire Brian O’Nora, who was slashed across the forehead by a bat shard during a Kansas City Royals game in the same season.

O’Nora was removed from the game after a large gash appeared on his forehead, but the injuries were treated and O’Nora was released later that night from an area hospital later that night, but you got to remember, as an Umpire, he was wearing some pretty well designed protective gear and still got injured by the explosion with that defective maple bat.
 

 

Or maybe it was when it got close and personal to one of the MLB team owners  during a regularly scheduled game that the danger multiplied instantly. During an Arizona Diamondbacks game on May 15th, Diamondback CEO Jeff Moorad saw a piece of Rockies hitter Matt Holiday’s bat come within a few feet of him and slam into the railing right next to him. Or could it have been the highly televised on camera episode and injury sustained by Los Angeles fan Susan Rhodes during a Los Angeles Dodger home game. 

 

 
 

 

 

On April 25th, Rhodes decided to attend a Dodger game with a group of friends and was sitting only four rows up from the dugout when Colorado First Baseman Todd Helton came to the plate. Helton,who uses a maple bat, swung on a pitch from Dodger reliever Cory Wade and the ball was struck cleanly on the surface of the bat, but the maple bat exploded upon impact and sent a shard directly into the stands in the eaxact location of Rhodes.

 

Rhodes was watching the play as the hit ball fell into centerfield and did not see the bat shard tomahawking towards her in time to ward off its impact with her face. When she finally regained consciousness, she immediately asked her friends what had happened to her.The Dodgers game day staff alertly dispatched paramedics to her side and took her to an on-site medical facility for evaluation.

Once stabilized, the on site medical staff offered to give her a ride to a local hospital Emergency Room, but she quickly declined, and wanted to seek medical attention from her personal doctor closer to her home in Sherman Oaks, California. It was at her local doctors that a CAT scan revealed that she suffered two seperate 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 through her facial tissue. 

After three agonizing days to relieve some of the swelling, she underwent surgery to repair the damage and upon completion of the surgery, had her jaw wired for her protection and for a quicker response time for the healing of the injury. A post script to this disaster is that Helton was not even using his own bat, he had borrowed one from Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki before heading to the plate during that game.

Could Helton’s only error in this situation be the fact he was using a bat that might not have been to his usual specs and he might have found the accidental “soft-spot” on that bat, or could it just be as simple as Helton was not accustom to swinging that weight and length of bat, and the extra torque of the hit might have caused the bat to shatter?

 
 

 
 
Now this brings about a fine line about the always present dangers of attending a baseball game. Rhodes was considering legal action, but after finding out that the Dodgers insurance carrier will not cover  a single penny of her medical bills due to that famous paragraph hidden on the back of every MLB game ticket.

But that leaves the unanswered question if the assumed ticketholder then takes on the entire risk of attending the game and possibily being a situation where the actions of a MLB player using a bat or thrown/hit ball that can bring about the possible harm and damage to anyone sitting or standing in the stadium that day. Warnings are printed in black and white on the back of game day tickets and numerous signs are usually posted throughout the seating bowl to 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 real problem here is, the less attentive fans- those watching the flight of the ball- that become “sitting ducks” for the possibility of maple bats spinning off into their direction. Yet, in terms of whether a bats or ball are equal in terms of risk to spectators, a local Ohio court attempted to conduct a viable legal determination on the case brought by a woman hit during the 1998 playoff game between the Cleveland Indians and the New York Yankees in then Jacobs Field. 
 

 

That brings up another subject here, can a legislative body take it upon itself the try and force or enforce actions to extend or even mandate that a certain area of the ballpark be screened in for the protection of it’s local constituents. Legislators could conceivably pass nonsense binding legislation that will require a facilities upgrades, but such an effort and cost would be stymied by about 100 years of possible case laws siding with owners of the baseball team, and not the government or fans requests. 

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”, and do not need to expand those screens or netting beyond a position that would be deemed “safe” by their own appointed experts.

 
 

 
 
This old rule might be  a bit outdated since this rule was established before the advent of the more “lively” baseball after the 1920’s. The possible effects of continuing development and power producing ability of today’s hitters combined with changes in basic baseball equipment (maple bats) and the overindulgence of the five senses during games from the increasing scoreboard noise to crowd induced items like cowbells seem to add to the notion that the typical fan’s attention regularly gets take away from the action on the field.  And the combination of some or all of these present game day elements make today’s stadiums more dangerous than the venues of the past.
 
 

It is said that in 2008 about 65 percent of all Major Leaguers use exclusively 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 correctly and designed with precision, that the standard maple bat should last a long time.

But what can be done to make sure the drying process is not skipped, or that the bats not subject to high humidity or extreme temperature changes after they leave the producing company’s job site. Does the bat endure as well if it is shipped from a cold locale to a hot and humid location like a Spring Training site? 

Do we maybe have to install bat humidors in a large scale like a cigar humidor in every Major League clubhouse and only pull out two bats at a time for game day to use in the dugout and leave the rest to their humidity rejuvenated hotbox?
 

 

People around baseball have said that a horrendous and maybe deadly encounter with a maple bat might happen in the near future. Is baseball and its players playing a bad game of Russian Roulette with themselves and their fellow teammate and the fans. Or will the industry become more safety-oriented and begin to redesign or re-manufacture the prototypes of the next generation of maple bats with more safety in mind.  At the June 24,2008 MLB Health and Safety committee meeting, the bat manufacturers were not invited to attend the meetings. the MLB 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 actually be illegally modifying the weight-length ratios of their personal maple bats by sanding them down, or even planing off the varnish off their bat’s wood surfaces. And a primary discussion on if the kiln drying process might be making the maple bats too light for the highly explosive collision between the maple bats and hard tossed baseballs.

 
 
 

 
 
 
The last time that baseball changed 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 be a logistical nightmare to enforce with any regularity. With the majority of MLB players having maple bats in their possession, short of the league wide participation of every player sharing ash bats, Little League-style, there may not be enough bats to equip them for their games.
 
 

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 maple 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. The injury was not considered life threatening and Helling did return to pitch later in the season for the Sound.
 
 
The maple bat, because of denser internal 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 for change?.

A pitcher standing on the mound is one of the most vulnerable players on the field to a hit ball being slammed up the middle, but now he is also in danger from a possible bat impaling him too. Change will come, and hopefully it will evolve before a horrific injury set up a chain of events that will lead to mass hysteria and not to the practicality of rules changes or  a maple bat evolution . It is in the hands now of Selig, along with the MLB Health and Safety committee to bring this situation home….safe and sound.

Play Ball!

 

ESPN Article with Q and A on Maple Bats… FYI for MLBloggers

I was out of town and forgot to write an article in advance for Sunday. Here is a reprint of an ESPN.com article I found interesting with a Q and A session about maple bats. It was originally reported by Amy K. Nelson of ESPN, and I found the results to this question very interesting. Hopefully you will enjoy this frank discussion on the bats that have made more than a few MLB players sweat during 2008.  In the coming weeks, I will try and write a 3-part series on the maple bat controversy and the steps being taken to fix this before 2009.



In search of more information about maple bats, we spoke to players
and two experts in the industry — Chuck Schapp of Louisville Slugger
and Sam Holman, owner of The Original Maple Bat Corporation — for
their opinions on the ash vs. maple debate.

1. When were maple bats introduced to Major League Baseball?

It’s
tough to know the exact date, but Holman says Joe Carter first used a
maple bat in a major league game in 1997. Holman, a carpenter from
Ottawa, Canada, first met Blue Jays scout Bill MacKenzie in a local
watering hole where Holman was asked to make a maple bat. By the end of
the 1996 season, Holman and McKenzie went to the Triple-A Ottawa Lynx
and got Fernando Seguignol
to use a maple bat. Holman thinks Seguignol is the first professional
player to homer with a maple bat. By the next season, word about maple
bats had spread and big leaguers with the Blue Jays asked for a
shipment. Schapp says he first noticed players using maple in 1998, and
a year later, Louisville Slugger began production of maple bats.

2. Who makes the maple bats used in Major League Baseball?

MLB
has licensed 32 companies to produce maple bats. Louisville Slugger and
Rawlings are two of the biggest. Holman’s company sells maple bats
exclusively.

3. Where does the maple wood come from?

It
depends on the company. For instance, Louisville Slugger has its own
wood production company, but also outsources with a few different
timber companies, most of them in the New York/Pennsylvania area.
Holman uses a company out of the Catskills, which he says produces
better quality maple.

4. What are the benefits of using maple over ash?

It’s
a very subjective decision. Most players prefer the feel of maple over
ash; ash bats tend to soften faster than maple. “It gets soft and the
grains separate,” Schapp says of the ash. But those players who like a
little more give in their bats, or what Schapp terms “flex,” usually
prefer the ash. “For me, it’s a feel thing,” said Angels second baseman
Howie Kendrick,
who has used an ash bat his entire career, except in 2006. “I like how
the ash has some give.” Holman said that Barry Bonds once told him he
preferred how the maple didn’t bend, so he didn’t have to compensate
with his swing as much as he did with an ash bat.

5. Are the characteristics of a maple bat any different than those of an ash bat?

Yes
and no. Holman says there isn’t a larger hitting area on maple bats.
Schapp adds that the specs are exactly the same for both woods and that
neither one has proven to hit balls any farther than the other. But
Angels center fielder Torii Hunter
said the only time he used a maple bat (for the month of April this
season), he felt the difference in how hard the maple wood made contact
with the ball. “It feels like a car crash at full speed,” Hunter said.
“It’s like you killed the ball. [They're] a little more powerful.”
Kendrick said his ash bat starts to splinter toward the head after just
a week of use, and he uses maples exclusively for batting practice,
because ash tends to break faster than maple. The irony is that maple
bats last much longer, but when they break, it happens with far greater
violence.

6. How many major leaguers use maple bats?

It’s
difficult to know an exact number, but Schapp says that 65 percent of
Louisville Sluggers sent to major leaguers are maple. Hunter said he
tried maple for a month because of all the hype. He quickly went back
to ash. “It’s a mental thing,” Hunter said. Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore
said he used ash for a year, but prefers maple. Sizemore said he
couldn’t really identify a difference; he just preferred the feel of
maple. Because of the recent controversy over the breaking of maple
bats, some players have decided to switch back to ash. Schapp said a
few months ago Jason Bay
decided to go back to ash in part because he wanted to readjust in case
maple bats were banned. “I hope they don’t decide to get rid of them,”
Sizemore said.

7. Who are the most noteworthy players using maple?

Manny Ramirez, Prince Fielder, Dustin Pedroia, Jason Giambi are a few. What about the balls that Josh Hamilton hit at Yankee Stadium during the Home Run Derby? Those were hit with an ash bat. Sizemore, Dan Uggla and Chase Utley were among those using maple for the contest.

8. Why are there more maple bats breaking than ash?

Part
of the reason is the wood itself, Schapp said. Wood is made up of cells
that identify its texture. Ash wood tends to be a longer, leaner piece
of wood. “Ash is longer than maple while maple is more rigid,” Schapp
said. “When [maple] fails, it’s catastrophic.” Each piece of wood also
contains a percentage of water. The water content usually ranges from 6
to 12 percent in a typical piece of wood at the lumber yard. All
Louisville Sluggers — both maple and ash — have 12 percent water
content. Schapp says Louisville keeps it at 12 percent so the bats
won’t dry out. Some players speculate that maple has a tendency to
break violently because maple is a harder wood. Holman, whose bats
contain just 5 percent of water, suggested that the quality of many of
the other companies’ bats might be subpar, thus increasing the chances
of breaking. “I don’t know what the other manufacturers do,” Homan
said. “But to me the quality of wood is not there.”

9. What would it take to make the maple bats safer?

Companies
are researching that now. Louisville Slugger is currently working with
its chemical vendors to find a way to enhance the bats’ durability
without adding weight. Holman said chemicals have nothing to do with
it, and what Major League Baseball needs to do is invest in paying for
better wood, which would raise the cost of the bats.

10. What is the difference in cost between a maple and ash bat?

The
difference is around $15-$20. Louisville maple bats are currently sold
for an average of $65 each, while ash sells for $48.

11. What is the process for ordering bats?

If
baseball were to ban maple bats, Schapp said his company would need a
minimum of six months to adjust. Schapp’s already submitted his 2009
estimates to the timber companies. He says November through January are
his busiest months; that’s usually when the teams place their official
orders for the bats needed in spring training. As for the players, they
normally have their team’s equipment manager place orders whenever they
need more. Sometimes, the players will speak directly with the bat
company representatives, who frequently visit baseball clubhouses.

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