Does Someone Have To Be Killed Before MLB Does Something About Shattered Bats?

MLB keeps talking about "doing something" about shattering maple bats. There was another injury on Sunday. When, MLB? When someone gets killed?

The photo accompanying this post is of the bat of the Cubs' Welington Castillo shattering in the second inning of today's Cubs game at Miami. A piece of it hit Tyler Colvin in the chest, causing a fairly deep wound only inches from his heart. According to Paul Sullivan in the Tribune, Colvin is going to be OK:

There was no immediate word on the depth of the wound, though it was only a few inches from his heart and could've been much more serious. In the photo accompanying this, the sharp end of the larger piece of Castillo's broken bat is what went into Colvin's chest.

The Cubs said there was minimal external bleeding. Colvin may remain in the hospital overnight for tests, and there's a possibility he will be shut down for the season, though it's too soon for any decision.

"Only a few inches from his heart." Seriously, do we need to see a ballplayer bleed to death on the field of play from a shattered bat before MLB does something about this dangerous piece of lumber? Two years ago, Pittsburgh Pirates hitting coach Don Long was seriously injured by a shattered bat from then-Pirates outfielder Nate McLouth:

The scar on Don Long’s left cheek still puffs around the edges, fresh enough that it looks like a misplaced zipper instead of the mark of someone who lived too hard. Like every scar, this one has a story, and it involves a piece of shattered wood, about two pounds heavy, that tomahawked 30 feet before slicing through his face.

Nate McLouth thought he just missed the sweet spot of the bat. It was April 15, the eighth inning, and the Pittsburgh Pirates were getting pummeled at Dodger Stadium. Long, the Pirates’ hitting coach, milled about the dugout until he heard McLouth hammer Esteban Loaiza’s 0-2 pitch. Long looked up and tracked the ball down the right-field line. He had no idea baseball’s greatest weapon was headed right at him, and that had he been positioned an inch to the left or right, he might not be here to talk about it.

Jeff Passan's Yahoo column from May 9, 2008, linked above, goes into great detail about a MLB study made three years earlier, and even begins with the statement: "Someone’s going to die at a baseball stadium soon." Only a couple of weeks before that column was written, Susan Rhodes, a Dodger fan, went to a game at Dodger Stadium and was seriously injured when the Rockies' Todd Helton shattered a maple bat. Note: the photos accompanying that article are particularly disturbing, both of Ms. Rhodes' face and of the bat.

Players claim to like maple bats because they're "harder", but Passan points out the difference between maple and ash, which had been the preferred wood for bats until this decade, found in the 2005 study:

Ash bats crack while maple bats snap.

About two weeks ago, this debate was revived in Oakland when Athletics reliever Brad Ziegler was hit on the back when a maple bat used by the Angels' Mike Napoli shattered:

As Oakland manager Bob Geren pointed out Friday, had Napoli's bat rotated another 10 or 20 degrees before it struck Ziegler, it could have done more damage or even impaled the reliever. Napoli said he was using a maple bat from maker SSK on Friday.

"That's one of the things we've been talking about with maple bats for a long time, the inherent danger," Ziegler said. "It didn't seem like bats broke like that -- with the barrel end flying all the time -- 10, 15 years ago. Now that's happening a lot, almost every game or every other game. It was just a matter of time before someone got hit with one, I just wish it wasn't me."

Maple bats have become more prevalent in baseball over the past couple of decades, replacing ash bats. Although maple bats can pack more punch than their ash counterparts, maple bats tend to break in fuller shards as opposed to flaking like ash ones.

Maple bats seem to break in pieces nearly every game, although the incidence of this may be down this year via anecdotal reports. For 2009, the last year I could find data online, the sale of maple bats was reported down:

Louisville Slugger, which has approximately 60% of the professional bat market, says the sale of maple bats has dipped this year to 45% from 52%.

Regardless, the incidents recounted above, including the one earlier this month in Oakland and today's involving Tyler Colvin, tell us this: MLB needs to do something about this issue before someone gets killed. There has to be a wood out there that has the properties hitters want, and the durability that will prevent these kinds of injuries.

Now, please. Before it's too late.

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