Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press/AP Photo
If you saw the video of Tuesday night’s latest MLB maple bat victim — umpire Kerwin Danley, attended to on the field after a piece of the Rangers’ Hank Blalock broke and struck him in the sixth inning of Texas’ game in Toronto, it’s another near-miss-reminder of the ridiculous approach that the game has taken to this problem.
Sure, they collected a bunch of broken bats last season — more than 2,200 broken bats were collected during a 2 1/2-month span, and 750 of them were broken in multiple pieces. Then a special committe sat down with the USDA’s forest products laboratory to creat new guidelines for a safer grade of wood used in bats. (story linked here)
And here’s what we’ve got to show for it. Again.
After a 10-minute delay Tuesday, Danley was put in a neck brace and carted off the field on a back board, taken to a local hospital with a possible concussion.
Reports are that the hockey-style facemask Danley wore may have saved him from worse injury. Danley never lost consciousness on the field, had feeling in all his extremities and was able to answer questions through the severe pain.
“The bat got all helmet and that’s a good helmet to have for it because a lot of us don’t wear stuff where the protection is (over the side and back of the head) and I believe that’s where it hit him,” said crew chief Dana DeMuth after the game. “That’s a very good helmet to have, it’s just very uncomfortable, but when you got a delicate head and you’ve had head injuries before, it’s one of the best things to have.”
Danley, 47, is the same ump who was knocked unconsious by a flush fastball delivered by the Dodgers’ Brad Penny during a game at Dodger Stadium last April 26.
This time, Blalock hit a pop up off Toronto’s Roy Halladay that went off the handle, and the barrel smacked Danley. Oh, and this was an ash bat, not the dreaded maple. Still, it’s a sign of the times. Dry timber. Not treated right.
We’ve helped document the stories last year of plate umpire Brian O’Nora gettinghit in the head and cut by a shattered piece of maple bat. Pittsburgh coach Don Long was cut in the face by another maple bat shard. And nearly one year ago, Susan Rhodes, sitting behind the visiting dugout at Dodger Stadium, was hit in the jaw by a broken maple bat and had two fractures and multiple surgeries. And a lot of blue bandages and gauze to show for it.
In March, USA Today did a piece on how players would react to the new bat guidelines — that is, if they could figure them out (linked here).
The new rules, simply put, are that:
= A bat label must be rotated 90 degrees (not facing the pitcher) so that bat makes contact against the grain. That’s with maple. With ash, a batter has to hit with the grain.
= Maple bats have to be two-tone so the quality of the wood can be checked on the light-colored handle.
== Maple bats also must have an ink dot on the handle. It will bleed into the wood and provide a clearer look at the quality of the grain.
And how are we doin’ with all that?
Our previous post links:
== An update in December (linked here)
== An update in November (linked here)
== The Dodgers’ Derek Lowe avoids somehow getting hit with a flying barrel in September of last year on an ESPN Sunday Night telecast (linked here)
== Another fan is hit in August (linked here)
== More followups in July, including Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki putting himself on the DL after he shattered a maple bat in frustration tore open his hand (linked here)
== An early July update (linked here)
== A late June update (linked here)
== A later June update (linked here) after we wrote a newspaper column about it (linked here)
== Susan Rhodes’ initial story in late May, ’08 (linked here)
== A post on Popular Science’s website that examines the broken bat problem (linked here)
During one blog posting, we brought up a story we found on Ward Dill (linked here and linked here), the MIT grad from New Jersey who talked about his product, the Radial Bat, made from 12 wood wedges glued together. That’s him at his bat turning machine above.
His bat still isn’t approved by the MLB, which says the bat has to be one solid piece.
In light of Danley’s injury, it was worth trying to connect with Dill to see how he was progressing with his shatter-proof bat idea (radialbat.com company website linked here). Even if one of his bats break, it’s limited to a couple of wedges, leaving the other nine or so in tact. The barrel won’t separate from the handle.
Ward had a meeting with MLB officials last fall but hasn’t seen any progress.
Here’s a brief Q-and-A:
Q: Maybe the broken-bat epidemic is an entry way to getting your company more publicity, but do you feel the unfortunate circumstances in the MLB makes a product like yours to the forefront for a worthy cause before someone gets seriously hurt — or dies?
Ward: “We’ve had this designed patented a year before all this was happening and we’ve gained a lot of experience in the marketplace to make even more improvements.”
Q: How have they been game-tested?
Ward: “They’ve been now used extensively on all levels, from Little League to adults leagues to pro leagues. We’ve had a lot of wear and tear put on them. The rules for Triple-A baseball are the same for the major leagues, but many pro players have used the Radial bat and are concerned about the problem. They don’t like the idea of their performance becoming a danger to others.
“Last August, Yogi Berra took some of my bats and gave them to some Yankees players. Cody Ransom (the team’s starting third baseman with Alex Rodriguez out) tried them out in batting practice. A few days later, Jim Thome’s agent called to get some for him and the Cleveland Indians to use. They’ve been used during Winter Leagues and in spring training. They’ve been on the college and high school levels. They’ve proved to be durable and a joy to hit with.”
Q: What’s been your reaction to having a product like this but still seeing people — players, umpires, fans — continue to be injured?
Ward: “It’s really made me anxious over time. It takes my breath away with I see these injuries happen. Please, why does this have to happen again?
“We all know by now that maple bats are 12 percent more dense than ash bats, and since a lot of players used metal bats growing up, they like the thin handles, but when you shave a maple bat, or any bat, down to the thin handles, you take all the moisture out of them. They dry, they’re brittle, they break easier. And with maple, the breaks are both sharp, and the sound of a broken bat sounds the same as a well-struck ball, so the fielder has no warning.
“I don’t see any of the new rules having a positive impact. It’s true that the failures of the wood are probably when a player hits against the grain, but when you see a barrel shatter, it has nothing to do with the type of grain. When you put it all together, you have a lot of broken bats still and a lot of dangerous situations.
“It’s difficult to change traditions and adopt new rules without changing the integrity of the game. But I hope people aren’t hurt more. I’m afraid they might be.”
Q: The stories of fans and umpires and coaches getting hit are one thing, but maybe the reason nothing has been done further is because a player really hasn’t been hurt seriously yet, right?
Ward: “There are stories of a pitcher who several years ago was impailed in the forearm by a broken bat. Another less severe but not less important aspect of this is something we see frequently, where a ball and the barrel of the bat come to the infielder at the same time. If the fielder can’t get the ball because the bat is in the way, then a routine out becomes a hit. That compromises the game right there. We don’t want to see the game continue to deteriorate.
Q: On top of your bats appearing to being more safer, are they also more ecologically friendly?
Ward: “There are some very complex woods out there. You may have heard of the Emerald Boring Beetle, threatening the existence of ash trees. That’s a huge problem now. But with our bats, we don’t need a 3-inch diameter piece of wood, so we’re good with our supply of much narrower boards. We don’t waste that much wood, either, when we turn a bat. But as green as you may want to be with this, the main issue should be a player’s health.
“I believe we are building relationships with some important people in baseball and enough of them are aware of what we have to offer and are knowledgeable. I think there’ll be a door opening in the near future.”
Just as long as it’s not after another baseball person is seriously injured.
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