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.