By now most of us have seen or heard about the injury to Cubs outfielder Tyler Colvin. In a game on Sunday September 19th, the Cubs’ Tyler Colvin was struck by the jagged end of a broken bat by his team mate as he was advancing home from third base. Colvin suffered a collapsed lung when the jagged end of the bat hit him in the chest. Colvin is currently hospitalized and will miss the remainder of the season. Not only is it a shame Colvin’s bright rookie season is cut short, but his injury again high lights the potential for injury by maple bats.
The reason that we hear so much about maple bats is because as compared to the other major species of wood bat maple is much more prone to separating into multiple pieces than its ash counterpart which typically cracks, but remains in one piece. Ash is a less dense species of wood and has flexibility which allows the bat to bend more. Maple is much denser and doesn’t offer that flexibility. This density makes it very popular with players because the hardness makes the ball go further. Since maple is denser, the bat does not flex and it tends to separate when it breaks.
Colvin is the latest of cases in Major League Baseball involving injuries sustained by broken maple bats. Two years ago Pittsburgh Pirates hitting coach Don Long was hit just below his left eye by a broken bat and still has the scar to prove it. The injury risk is certainly real; however there are some factors that may make a ban hard to push through at the professional level.
First is that MLB rules stipulate “that a bat may be made from a single piece of wood without regard for species.” It would require an official rule change subject to negotiation with the union. The pop in maple has made it a very popular choice for Major Leaguers over the last decade. An estimated 60% of big leaguers swing maple bats regularly. Secondly, the supply of the other primary species of wood, ash is in jeopardy thanks to an invasive species called the Emerald Ash Borer. We have covered the Emerald Ash Borer previously on the World Bats Blog.
Major League Baseball has already implemented guidelines for slope of grain for bat manufacturers. Before a maple bat can be used at the big league level it must be evaluated for slope of grain. Basically, they are looking to certify that the grains of a maple bat are straight as it is believed that a bat’s durability is impacted by the straightness of its grains. You may notice when watching a big league game that just above the hands some bats are missing paint and a line is drawn along the grains. This is to signify the bat has been tested for slope of grain. Additionally all bats are now given a unique serial number and that serial number is noted each time a bat is broken so that bat manufacturers can trace the broken bat back to the manufacturer and they can in turn trace it back to the pallet of wood on which it came.
One thing that most people outside of the bat making industry do not seem to realize is that not all maple billets are created the same. Most hitters these days want a big barrel on their bat in lengths that often exceed 34 inches. World Bats has found that there are precious few maple billets that are high enough quality to produce a solid bat with a big barrel in these lengths. One of the things that we do that helps us have great quality is to limit our production of these larger bats. We hand select each billet and analyze it for multiple quality factors before turning it. For example, if we have an order for a 34″ JR243 there may only be ten billets out of one hundred that we feel will make a durable JR243. Most of those 90 that don’t make our grade would make a fine 33″ CR271, for example. It is our goal to produce safe bats that last. We have told our customers that we may have a difficult time filling their orders for these larger maple bats because we don’t want to risk their safety or our credibility. Our concern for their safety has been well received and they understand.
So what is the answer to the question of drawing a line between player safety and our sales goals? World Bats is just one cog in the wheel, and as such we don’t have the clout to push industry standards. We will continue to provide the best education we can for our customers. It’s our belief that having accurate information will lead to informed decisions. We seek to provide the best information available. One thing that we firmly believe in is offering birch to our customers. Birch is a relatively new product in the bat market. It offers hardness like a maple bat, but has the flexibility of ash bats. To learn the full details of the different wood species visit the “Our Wood” page on worldbats.com. We have found through our testing and customer feedback that birch tends to break like ash, it will splinter, but it generally holds together in one piece. Perhaps birch will become the new maple as safety concerns mount. World Bats is committed to using the best quality wood, regardless of species, to produce safe and durable baseball bats. It’s a commitment we’ve been dedicated to since day one. We know that bats are going to break; after all, the pitchers are trying to get us out. But rest assured when you step into the batter’s box with a World Bat, you are using a product that has been made from the best materials available.