According to Major League Baseball, 2,232 baseball bats were broken by batters from July to the end of the regular season. 756 of these bats broke into multiple pieces. An MLB research team was brought in after several high profile accidents seriously injured spectators, a base coach, and, finally, a plate umpire. Additionally, a number of close calls were reported including one with a team president and one with Bobby Cox, manager with the Atlanta Braves. The researchers found that maple bats were three times as likely to shatter into multiple pieces than more traditional ash bats.
The researchers’ recommendations were presented to MLB in December. While there are very likely numerous reasons for the dramatic ruptures fans witness with maple, researchers are currently focusing on the structure of wood grain for maple bats. Most notably, maple grains need to be as straight as possible. Unlike ash, straight grains for maple are harder to find. Regardless of the type of wood, researchers feel bats are much more likely to fail when the so-called “slope of grain” is greater than one inch over a 20-inch length of the bat (just under 3-degrees). In addition, the face of the bat that strikes the ball needs to be reconfigured by moving the trademark a quarter of a turn for maple.
To this end, researchers have made a number of recommendations to MLB and these recommendations have essentially been converted into regulations. A summary of these regulations is given below:
- Bats must adhere to a slope of grain requirement of just under 3-degrees for the handle and taper regions.
- Bat makers must place an ink dot on the face grain side of the handle for maple and birch bats to gauge the slope angle
- The hitting surface for maple and birch needs to be the face grain, not the edge grain, meaning a quarter turn (90-degrees) placement of trademarks on bats
- Handles for maple and birch bats must be either natural or clear finished (to see the grain and ink dot)
- Bat makers need a system to track maple and birch bats that leave their shops
- Bat makers need to participate in an MLB sponsored workshop on engineering and grading of wood
- Bat makers will be visited and audited for manufacturing processes and tracking systems
- Audits will also be made randomly (does that sound familiar?) at ballparks
- An on-going third-party certification program needs to be set up to deal with any new innovations that come along in the future
In addition, Major League Baseball has doubled its bat certification fee from $5,000 per company to $10,000. They’ve also doubled the liability insurance requirement from $5 million to $10 million.
In the end, it is hoped that these measures will reduce the number of dangerous broken bat episodes for everyone enjoying America’s pastime. However, these may be just the first steps that will be taken. Only time will tell.