You've heard of the much-discussed "auto czar" in connection
with the auto bailout. Now, there may be a bat czar for major league baseball.
One of the victims will be bats totally covered
in paint, such as those used by slugger Manny Ramirez.
establish strict guidelines on wood grain in an effort to dramatically reduce
broken and shattered bats that have threatened players and fans sitting in the
Most significantly, producers must certify that bats have an
acceptable slope of grain. Tests at the Baseball
Research Center at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell determined shattered bats often had a slope of grain that ran close to diagonal to the
bat. Bats are the strongest when the slope of grain runs as parallel as
possible to the shape of the bat.
James A. Sherwood, professor of mechanical engineering and
director of the Baseball Research Center at UMass Lowell, predicts there will
be a "90-percent reduction in the number of
bats that break into multiple pieces" as a result of the new rules on slope of
Thirty-two sanctioned manufacturers must comply with the new
system effective immediately. Bats arriving at the 30 Major League parks will be
examined and certified before they can be used by players. Nine recommendations were presented last
month to baseball's Safety and Health Advisory Committee by the Baseball Research Center
and other experts. All the recommendations were accepted by the panel and were
announced at the MLB winter meetings, which are making more news in connection
with potential free agent signings ranging from slugger Mark Teixeira to pitcher
Don Fehr, the executive director of the players' union, says
"I'm not only pleased, but I'm actually proud of the work that's been
done." The safety committee was established under collective bargaining as part
of the current Basic Agreement. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig directed the committee
to tackle the escalating problem of shattered maple bats. They were told to even consider the potential
banning of maple bats from league play. That didn't happen. Between July and September of 2008, more than
2,200 bats shattered in major league play.
The problem escalated due to a dramatic increase in the use
of maple bats. "After Barry Bonds broke the Major League home run record using
a maple bat, many other players hoped that the same magic would work for them,"
says Sherwood. "The problem is that it's hard to grade maple as compared to
The nine recommendations are as follows:
1. All bats must meet specific slope-of-grain wood-grading
requirements that apply to the two-thirds length of the bat that constitutes the
handle and tapered regions.
2. All manufacturers must place an ink dot on the face of
the handle of sugar maple and yellow birch bats to allow easy viewing of the
slope of grain of the wood. Sherwood
says the flow of the ink allows a quick inspection of the capillary formation
of the wood grain.
3. The orientation of the hitting surface on sugar maple and
maple bats must be rotated 90 degrees (one-quarter turn of the bat). The edge
grain in maple that is currently used as the hitting surface is the weaker of
the two. The manufacturers must rotate the logos they place on these bats by 90
4. Handles of sugar maple and yellow birch bats must be
natural or have a clear finish to allow for grain inspection.
5. Manufacturers must apply serial numbers to each bat or use
some other method of tracking each bat they supply. This is a well-known quality-tracking
measure in the industry.
6. Bat manufacturers are required to participate in an
MLB-sponsored workshop on the engineering properties and grading practices of
wood as they relate to baseball bats.
7. MLB representatives will regularly visit manufacturers to
check on the procedures.
8. Audits will be conducted
randomly to monitor implementation of the procedures.
9. A third-party bat certification and quality control
program will be established to certify new suppliers, approve new species of
wood, provide training and education to bat manufactures and address issues of
The program will be funded through a higher administration
fee that must be paid by companies that manufacture bats. Fees will rise from $5,000 to $10,000. So
far, the research project has cost MLB approximately $500,000. Part of the
motivation for the project has been financial.
Liability insurance requirements for possible injuries caused by a
shattered bat have risen from $5 million to $10 million an incident.
On April 25 at Dodger Stadium, a shattered barrel of a bat
spun into the stands, breaking a woman's jaw.
Also in April, Pirates coach Don Long was struck below the left eye by a
Major League Baseball used consultants other than UMass
Lowell to develop the new standards. Other key players included David
Kretschmann, a general engineer for the Wisconsin-based USDA Forest Service,
the federal government's primary research facility for wood products, and Dr.
Carl N. Morris, a professor of statistics at Harvard University.