The Associated Press
LAS VEGAS — Scary scenes of broken maple bats sailing into the stands or dugouts soon could be a thing of the past. At least that’s what Major League Baseball hopes.
All bats used in big league games soon will have their own serial numbers and ink markings for tracking, part of the first step in the sport’s efforts to decrease the number of broken bats and ensure a safer environment for players and fans.
By the start of the 2009 regular season, the plan of MLB’s safety and health advisory committee is that all bats will have been certified by MLB and that the 32 manufacturers making them will be held to a new list of standards surrounding their production. That means keeping track of different models and how frequently they are breaking — a process that has a lot to do with determining the quality and slope of the wood’s grain.
“When you have a matter which is susceptible to the kind of sophisticated and detailed analysis and recommendations which this group was able to make, that can tell you what the issues are,” union head Donald Fehr said Tuesday at the winter meetings. “I’m not only pleased but proud of the work that’s been done. We think this is going to go a long way to solving the issue.”
The committee conducted field and laboratory tests, reviewed video of breakages and consulted with manufacturers and experts to come up with nine recommendations to be adopted immediately, San Diego Padres CEO Sandy Alderson said. The committee isn’t sure how many fewer bats will break this season, but it believes there will be significant progress.
During a two-month stretch last season, 2,200 broken bats were collected and 750 of those broke into multiple pieces. Also included in the count were bats that cracked but stayed in one piece. Among the committee’s findings were that maple bats were three times as likely to break in multiple places as their ash counterparts. Experts insist both types of wood should break at a closer rate — and the slope of the grain is one of the primary contributors to breakage.
Among the requirements adopted by the committee are that all bats now must conform with newly adopted slope-of-grain wood grading techniques, with manufacturers placing an ink dot on the handle so a person can easily view the slope of grain. The makers also must implement a method of tracking each bat, like a serial number, and will be required to attend an MLB workshop. Baseball officials also plan random audits of bats in ballparks around the league.
And, over the next year, the committee will study whether a bat’s geometry — its shape and the relationship of barrel size to handle size — and drying methods also contribute to the number of breakages.
Each bat manufacturer will now be charged a $10,000 administrative fee, up from $5,000 previously, that will be used in part to help fund further research. Insurance requirements also have been raised.
“We know tremendously more about wood and bat construction today than we did just a few months ago, and I believe there’s more to be learned,” Alderson said. “The recommendations adopted for 2009 are one step in the process.”