Ever since Barry Bonds started using them in 2001, the use of maple bats has been in the rise. Now, a baseball culture icon, Sam Holzman, of Sam Bats, gave Bonds one of the pricey maple bats which run from $65-$75 each, and when he did, it created a wave of players using them. Albert Pujols and Alfonso Soriano are but two others that use maple bats.
But, while players say that they can hit balls further with maple bats, as opposed to the traditional ash bat variety, that claim does not seem to stand up to scientific rigor, and worse, maple bats break with more regularity, thus creating a serious danger to players, coaches, and fans.
Jeff Passan the national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports has published an expansive article on maple bats – a fascinating read into the pros and cons of maple bats, and whether there will be any possible restrictions of the bats that seem to break more often than the ash bats that were the only variety any player used for generations. The story covers the injury of Pirates hitting coach Don Long, who had his cheek gashed in a broken bat incident that caused Long to have a severed nerve in his face. The incident has caused management to consider some form of restrictions on the maple bats. As Passan reports:
MLB scoffed at putting nets in front of the seats closest to the field, as the NHL did after a stray puck struck and killed 13-year-old Brittanie Cecil. The discussions went nowhere quickly, and it ended with them agreeing to table the issue until a later date. Both sides spent the next year focusing on the Mitchell Report, and only after the Long incident did they revisit it.
“We have provisions in the agreement,” union leader Don Fehr said Thursday by phone. “There will be a committee that will be put together and meet on it. We’ll look at it in good faith.”
Said Rob Manfred, MLB’s lead labor counsel, in a statement through a spokesman: “Baseball is aware of the bat issue. We have done scientific research in the area. We brought the issue to the bargaining table in 2006 and we are embarking on a detailed consideration of the issue with the union in the context of the Safety and Health Advisory Committee.”
When that happens, the thickening of the bat handle seems the likeliest compromise. Sherwood said the study showed that as the size of the handle increases, the potential for broken bats decreases. Players might object to thicker handles because they add weight, and every 10th of an ounce counts.
As Passan notes, an outright ban seems unlikely, anything is possible these days, given labor relations. If someone were to get seriously injured, and management were to push hard enough, the MLBPA might be more willing to negotiate a ban on the popular bats.