MLB could have instituted a program at the beginning of this season to help prevent maple bats from shattering, but was prevented from doing so.
That's a provocative headline, and it's true. First, a bit more information on yesterday's near-tragedy in Florida from cubs.com's Carrie Muskat:
MLB had Welington Castillo's broken maple bat shipped to a lab to be examined in hopes of determining why it broke on Sunday. A piece of the bat impaled Cubs outfielder Tyler Colvin in the chest as he was running from third to home. Colvin was hospitalized in Miami in stable condition.
According to a Major League Baseball official, the rate of maple bats breaking dropped 35 percent from 2008 to '09, and another 15 percent from '09 to '10. The decline is proof that MLB's tougher standards for maple bats are working.
When they examine Castillo's bat, they will find the same thing that virtually every study made on this matter has found: Ash bats crack, maple bats shatter; regardless of "proof" of "tougher standards", that didn't prevent Colvin from being injured yesterday.
This issue was examined in depth on multiple occasions by Jason Rosenberg on his "It's About The Money" blog; here's a post he made yesterday after the Colvin incident, which includes videos, still photos and links to several of his past posts on the issue.
Most importantly, he refers to the Lowell Report (link opens .pdf), a report commissioned by MLB in 2008 after the incidents I reported on yesterday. It's an evaluation of a product called the BatGlove, which is something quite similar to the Australian product mentioned in this Bleed Cubbie Blue post this morning.
The report was well received and MLB was going to mandate it for the 2010 season, but according to Phil Rauso, director of research and development and design at BatGlove:
MLB does know of a fix for this problem and so do all the major bat manufacturers. Rawlings is actually responsible for keeping it off the field in 2010 after MLB's Dan Halem said it would be mandated for this current season.
The BatGlove product, as noted below, is legal under baseball rule 1.10 and would, as the Lowell Report stated, eliminate virtually all of these injuries. Rauso went on to explain how it works:
There is a special kind of clear tape that the bat manufacturer or player can apply to the lower 18" of a bat (allowable under MLB Rule 1.10) that has been tested at Lowell/UMASS, the approved MLB testing facilities that has passed 3 rounds of tests over the past two years. This tape has proven 100% successful in keeping the bat in one piece even after it shatters and breaks and can be applied to a bat in less than 45 seconds. MLB testing facilities also showed that the tape does not change the trajectory of the ball or the performance of the bat. In other words, the players hands never touch the tape and you would never know anything was on it because it's clear. At a cost of less than $5 per application they refuse to use it. It was also issued approval for use in professional game-play for the 2009 season by the Players Union and the Health and Safety Commission yet they made it impossible for this tape to be used on the field and refuse to allow this tape to be put on a bat that is already allowable under their own rules? Why would MLB and the bat manufacturers go out of their way to let these bats continue to break and injure players and spectators if they know of a fix that has already been approved?
According to Carrie Muskat's post:
This spring, MLB put into place more stringent rules that banned several types of maple bats in the Minors. As part of the new rules, restrictions have been placed on the density of sugar maple that can be used to manufacture Minor League bats. In addition, bats made out of several types of maple will be completely eliminated by the companies approved to make bats, meaning the bat makers must use North American sugar maple.
Those regulations apply only to Minor Leaguers not currently on 40-man rosters and without any Major League experience. Thus the rule does not require the approval of the Major League Baseball Players' Association.
Well, that's great, and in maybe five to ten years, if minor leaguers can't use these types of maple bats and get accustomed to using different types of woods, the ones that crack will eventually fade away from baseball. The Cubs' Jeff Baker already says he won't use them:
“It’s just not worth it to me to use that kind of bat,” Cubs infielder Jeff Baker told reporters after the game. “I don’t want that on my conscience.”
And the Milwaukee Brewers' Corey Hart has begun using a new bat made out of sugar maple, the RockBat made by Roland Hernandez at a small Wisconsin-based company:
"We are under the radar in Major League Baseball," Hernandez said. "But we are a company based on science."
He thinks that his bat will make the banjo hitter, the line-drive hitter, and the big boppers of the game better and more consistent hitters.
His bats are made of sugar maple, though he also hawks a laminated bat that is not allowed in the majors. The wood itself comes from the forests of northern Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Canada.
So far, right-fielder Corey Hart has been the poster boy for the RockBat. Fortunately for Hart and Hernandez, Hart started using the bat about the time he got hot at the plate.
Another article on RockBats from last June explains why they're becoming popular:
With over 2200 bats studied, new rules were adopted in December, 2008. And one major change called for manufacturers to orient their maple and birch bats for flat-grain contact.
With the majority of the industry still trying to understand the new wood technologies that were recently adopted, Hernandez contacted the Milwaukee Brewers about a special independent project to survey every bat that was received by the Brewers and assigning it a rating. This was not inspection, it was rating. Bats that achieved an "A+" rating were marked, and players gravitated to those bats for use in games. Basically, bats that were found to have an "A+" rating possessed superior properties, which results in superior performance and durability.
Comments from the Brewer players included... "It's nice to know that I have a good piece of wood when I'm up to bat"... "Our bats sound better, compared to the other teams"... "No broken bats this week!"
Why won't MLB encourage this type of bat? They could provide subsidies, encourage research and educate players about this type of bat -- not necessarily only by this company.
But in the meantime, BatGlove's product could help reduce the danger of shattered bats. According to Rauso, Rawlings raised a safety concern based on test data that was made in a manner inconsistent with the Lowell testing, and that's apparently why this was not implemented by MLB this year. Here's more from BatGlove on how they tested bats.
I welcome any response from Rawlings and/or MLB to this article.
In 2007, Mike Coolbaugh, a coach with the Double-A Tulsa Drillers, a Colorado Rockies affiliate, died after being hit in the head by a foul ball. After that incident, MLB mandated that all base coaches wear helmets on the foul lines -- this after some similar close calls.
Wasn't yesterday's "close call" for Tyler Colvin close enough? Do we have to wait until a player dies on the field before changes are made in bats, changes available now? I have no personal connection nor financial interest in the BatGlove, but it sounds as if it would solve the issue and still allow players to use the bats they want to. For as this quote from BatGlove's website states:
"If we're going to wait for somebody to actually get killed or impaled, we're going to wait way too long." - Joe Maddon / August 2010
Maddon is right. We've now had "impaled". Please, MLB. Don't wait until a player, coach, manager or fan is killed.