Peter Funt Peter Funt, 4/1/2010 [Archive]

Baseball's Bat and Gall

Baseball's Bat and Gall

By PETER FUNT

       

As a lifelong baseball fan, I wish the game no ill. But you know what I hope? I hope that when someone is seriously injured by a broken bat, the victim gets a good lawyer and sues Major League Baseball for many millions of dollars, and wins.

Then, of course, the dangerous types of wooden bats - the ones that break in half and fly across the diamond and increasingly into the stands - will be banned. Why baseball is waiting for it to play out this way, as it surely will, is beyond batty.

Last summer, MLB was sufficiently concerned about the danger of broken bats to commission a study. Three months of research led to some superficial 'guidelines'' for bat manufacturers and, of course, a plan to conduct additional studies.

Meanwhile, bats are breaking with alarming frequency. During a game in late June, Red Sox shortstop Nick Green found himself trying to field a ball and dodge a broken bat simultaneously. He opted to deflect the bat barrel with his arm as the ball went between his legs. The splintered bat head stuck in the ground like a lawn dart.

'Lord, that was very scary,'' said then-manager Manny Acta, whose Nationals team faced the Sox that day. 'We have seen bats split in two in the last couple of years, but I've never seen a bat travel that far and that fast toward that guy.''

A few days later, the Giants' Pablo Sandoval broke his bat, sending both the bat head and the ball beyond the second baseman. During his very next time up, Sandoval's replacement bat broke in a similar way, and this time the splintered bat head went flying into the stands behind first base. This is all too routine.

The problem is with maple bats, which, according to MLB's research, are three times more likely to break into separate pieces than bats made of ash. Maple bats have been used by Major League players for only about 10 years, but they soared in popularity after Barry Bonds turned to maple (and other substances) to set the record for homers in a single season in 2001. Since then, the ranks of players using maple bats has climbed to about 60 percent.

Many factors contribute to broken bats - from their size and shape to the condition of the wood from which they are made. But the major concern among ballplayers and fans is that maple bats, although roughly 20 percent harder than ash, tend to break into sharp, jagged pieces.

Last season, a bat barrel fractured the jaw of a woman seated behind the visitors' dugout at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. In another incident, Don Long, a coach with the Pirates, was hit in the face with a flying piece of a maple bat as he sat in the dugout. And during a game between the Rockies and Royals, home plate umpire Brian O'Nora was hit on the head by a chunk of a maple bat.

Ironically, Bonds's record notwithstanding, there is no scientific evidence that hitters do better with maple bats. But players' habits are difficult to change, and a ban on maple would require collective bargaining between MLB and the players' union.

There are economic considerations as well, since as many as 30 companies are now licensed to make maple bats for the Big Leagues.

But it's not as if baseball hasn't ever been forced by tragic circumstances to implement new safety precautions. Two seasons ago, a minor-league coach for the Tulsa Drillers was struck in the head by a line drive as he stood near first base. Mike Coolbaugh's legacy is that his death led to the rule that all base coaches must wear protective helmets.

Why must there be another Mike Coolbaugh before baseball does away with dangerous bats?

Peter Funt may be reached at www.candidcamera.com.

© 2010 Peter Funt. This column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. newspaper syndicate. For info call Sales at (805) 969-2829 or e-mail Sales@cagle.com.

Peter Funt is a writer and public speaker.He's also the long-time host of "Candid Camera."A collection of his DVDs is available at www.candidcamera.com.



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