Are maple baseball bats too dangerous?

September 21, 2010 6:35:15 AM PDT
After a bat broke Sunday and pierced the chest of Chicago Cubs outfielder Tyler Colvin, the risks of shattering maple bats are being debated.

Colvin remained hospitalized in stable condition Monday night. He will not play again during the 2010 season.

The incident was not the first time a shattered bat has caused injuries at a major league game.

A lot of big-league players love their maple bats, but they are also aware that when the bats break, there is a higher likelihood that a maple bat will shatter into flying wooden shards.

Fans have been hit, a coach has been hit, and so has an umpire.

Major League Baseball says it wants to increase maple bat safety requirements yet again, but that the maple bat will not be banned.

Baseball has always been a game with some degree of risk for players and fans, but the notion of a player getting his chest pierced by a splintered piece of wood from an exploded maple bat has done more than raise eyebrows again.

"It was just a matter of time when it'd happen, and it's gonna happen again, who knows how bad the next time is gonna be," said batmaker Dave Cook of Hoosier Bats in Valparaiso, Indiana.

Cook counts Manny Ramirez, Prince Fielder, and Frank Thomas among the big-leaguers who have used his bats.

Cook is a fan of bats made of ash and birch. He is not a fan of maple. Although a lot of players like the pop off their maple bats, hard maple is heavy with a high moisture content. It has to be dried, and if too much moisture is lost, the bat loses its ability to bend.

"Well, maple sugar, hard rock maple is so heavy, to make weight in baseball bats, they have to dry it down to five percent," said Cook. "If you take out all the moisture, it doesn't bend. It's gonna just explode. That's what's happening."

At the end of the 2008 season, a major league baseball study committee came out with a report saying that maple bats were three times more likely to break in multiple pieces. It also said that the problem was not so much with the type of wood, but with how the maple bats were being made.

It imposed new rules governing bat manufacturers dealing with what's called the slope of grain in the maple, along with new specifications on handle thinness and barrel thickness.

The number of "exploding bat" incidents has gone down over 30 percent, but clearly, it's still happening.

The vice president of major league baseball's labor relations, Ron Manfred, says that more steps will be taken next year to improve maple bat safety.

Those steps deal with bat specs and policing how they are made.

If you eliminated maple, Manfred says there's simply not enough high quality ash to meet demand.

Cook makes a bat that combines three pieces of wood: ash, hickory and maple. The bat is used at the collegiate levels and in rookie league, but it is not allowed in the majors.


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