I don't know about you guys/ladies but if you've heard Vin Scully in the last 3 years he has complained almost every game about the bats. Now he has proof behind his knowledge:
In 2005, alarmed by the increasing number of broken bats, baseball gave $109,000 to a man named Jim Sherwood and asked him to compare maple bats with the ash ones that used to be the norm. Sherwood runs the Baseball Research Center at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, and the conclusion of the study did not jibe with the hundreds of players who swear maple leads to better performance.
“We found that the batted-ball speeds were essentially the same for the two woods,” Sherwood said. “Maple has no advantage in getting a longer hit over an ash bat.”
The study also found something evident to anyone watching baseball: Ash bats crack while maple bats snap.
Even so, something about the maple bats caused a frenzy. Sam Holman, who started the Original Maple Bat company out of Canada to give players an alternative to the softer ash, supplied Bonds with his first maple in 1999. Word spread, and soon Sam Bats, as they’re called, showed up across baseball. Chuck Schupp, the director of professional sales at Hillerich & Bradsby, the parent company for Louisville Slugger, saw the abundance of Sam Bats in clubhouses and urged his company to join the maple fray. More than 20 bat makers now are licensed to sell maple bats for about $65 a pop, compared to $45 for ash bats, and the demand isn’t lessening.
“I feel like they’re harder,” McLouth said. “Whether or not that’s scientifically true, I’m not sure. But psychologically, I feel like they are.”
Players love their bats irrationally. Ichiro Suzuki keeps his in a silver case. Kosuke Fukudome weighs his to the gram. Jeff Cirillo slept with his. Some talk to them, kiss them, massage them. Anything to keep them happy.
So when in 2006 MLB broached the issue of maple bats during the collective-bargaining negotiations, it did not go well. The union wasn’t receptive to a unilateral ban and didn’t budge at the thought of at least imposing specifications to lessen the likelihood of breakage.
MLB scoffed at putting nets in front of the seats closest to the field, as the NHL did after a stray puck struck and killed 13-year-old Brittanie Cecil. The discussions went nowhere quickly, and it ended with them agreeing to table the issue until a later date. Both sides spent the next year focusing on the Mitchell Report, and only after the Long incident did they revisit it.
“We have provisions in the agreement,” union leader Don Fehr said Thursday by phone. “There will be a committee that will be put together and meet on it. We’ll look at it in good faith.”
Said Rob Manfred, MLB’s lead labor counsel, in a statement through a spokesman: “Baseball is aware of the bat issue. We have done scientific research in the area. We brought the issue to the bargaining table in 2006 and we are embarking on a detailed consideration of the issue with the union in the context of the Safety and Health Advisory Committee.”
When that happens, the thickening of the bat handle seems the likeliest compromise. Sherwood said the study showed that as the size of the handle increases, the potential for broken bats decreases. Players might object to thicker handles because they add weight, and every 10th of an ounce counts.
An outright ban is unlikely to muster union support, and it would be a logistical nightmare: Schupp said Hillerich & Bradsby would need at least 18 months to fill the orders of ash bats for all their clients.
Though, as one union source noted, after long struggles the players agreed to add earflaps onto helmets and ban amphetamines. If MLB is insistent enough, and perhaps willing to sacrifice something in return, the players might agree to forgo maple.
“I do not anticipate players will jump up and down and say, ‘You can take our bats away right away,’ ” the union source said. “If that’s backlash, I do expect some, yeah. Players may say, ‘Aren’t there other things you can do first?’ ”
Yes, though sources said MLB, while not sold on an outright ban, will push for one. The day after Long was hit, officials received video of the McLouth at-bat from multiple angles. One particularly gruesome shot came from a field-level camera pointed toward the dugout.
That afternoon, MLB officials contacted the union to set up a meeting to discuss maple bats.