Foul balls are not the only things fans need to be worried about at baseball parks. Flying shards of wood from the broken, maple wood bats of players have made baseball outings even more dangerous for spectators. Susan Rhodes learned this the hard way after having her jaw broken by a fragment of a Dodger player’s bat after it came careening into the stands. Surgeons had to place four screws and a titanium plate in Ms. Rhodes’ jaw. With more bills to come, she and her attorney are deciding whether to file lawsuit to ensure someone pays for the damage. They are not asking for punitive damages since they feel no one needs to be punished, they just want the risk to be accounted for.
There are more incidents that have occurred with maple bats than ash, each involving the bat snapping between the handle and barrel. Colorado Rockies manager Clint Hurdle estimates at least three bats break per game. Frank White, former professional baseball player-turned-TV analyst, was so alarmed by the situation, he began counting the number of exploding bats during spring training and counted at least five per game.
Maple wood bats have only started being used at the end of the 20th Century
after advancements in technology enabled manufacturers to remove moisture from the wood, making it light enough to swing. Presently these bats are all the rage in the major leagues with almost three-fourths of players using them. Players state the popularity is due to the bats having a different feel and sound than the others. They also say the bat feels more comfortable in their hands.
To attempt to figure out why bats are breaking so frequently, Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner, Bud Selig, has ordered an industry-wide study asking equipment personnel to monitor which companies’ bats shatter more frequently. It is also up for debate as to whether or not more bats are breaking in 2008 than in previous years. Sam Holman, the man who designed Barry Bonds maple wood bat, claims bats are breaking more frequently because there are so many companies making so many bats, none of which are high quality.
The problem with the maple bats is not just the wood. A big problem is the fact that baseball players are more interested in the long ball, so they want their bats to have a smaller handle and a large, thick barrel, the tops of which are hollowed out to provide maximum torque and lighten the bat. This design gives the bat a tendency to break when the hitter is jammed near the handle and even when the bat is hit on its sweet spot. Maple bats are so dense, a crack can go unnoticed until its too late and the batter has already hit the ball. Until the MLB study has concluded, players will continue swinging maple bats, and may continue to even after the study has concluded since players have made so much money swinging them.