Thursday, October 22, 2009

Aluminum bat safety trial

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Fighting off a Helena Senators’ fifth-inning rally, pitcher Brandon Patch checked the runner on first base. The 18-year-old Miles City Mavericks’ southpaw then went into his windup, delivering what looked sure to be another strike.
Instead, the Senators’ hitter connected squarely, smacking the baseball so hard that it was nearly impossible to follow — until it ricocheted off Patch’s head. The ball eventually fell behind first base after traveling, by some accounts, as high as 50 feet in the air.
Patch, pitching in what was to be one of his final games with his American Legion team, collapsed on the mound. He managed to speak briefly to his father and coaches, and to some of the teammates from the eastern Montana town of Miles City, who had rushed to help him. Minutes later, Patch went into convulsions as a horrified crowd watched on from the bleachers.
Within hours, Patch had died from head injuries suffered while playing the game he had loved since he’d been a small child.
“It was just so quick. Everything happened so fast,” Mavericks’ first baseman Kevin Roberts recalled more than six years later in a courtroom, where the bat’s manufacturer is being sued by Patch’s mother for allegedly producing an unreasonably dangerous product.
At issue in the trial that is expected to last at least until early next week is whether anyone could have known the danger that could come from using an aluminum baseball bat, and whether the manufacturer should be held liable for Patch’s death.
“There is absolutely no warning anywhere ... that this bat can create a situation where a pitcher is defenseless,” said Joe White, the Patchs’ attorney.
Metal bats came into vogue in amateur sports in the 1970s. More recently, however, they have come under increased scrutiny and criticism as injuries from fast-moving balls hit by the lightweight bats have mounted.
What makes aluminum bats different from their wooden counterparts is that the weight is distributed more equally in the metal ones, making it easier to swing faster and harder. They’re also generally shaped to have larger sweet spots, the area that produces hard-hit balls.
In 2002, the U.S. Consumer Safety Product Commission ruled that there was inconclusive data to support a ban on metal bats in youth and high school baseball games. Its study found that from 1991 to 2001, there were 17 deaths nationwide due to batted balls. Of those, eight were from metal bats, two from wood and another seven were of unknown origin.
But Patch’s death in 2003 cast new light on the issue when his team refused to use metal bats or play American Legion games against those who did.
Since 2007, high school teams in North Dakota and New York City have also played only with wooden bats. States including Montana and Pennsylvania, home to the Little League World Series, have also considered state laws banning metal bats since Patch’s death, although none has passed.


Anonymous said...

From years of being a baseball coach, I will say that there is a distinct difference between the wood and aluminum/composite bats. Weight to length ratio is different as well as the size of the sweet spot. It would not be a bad thing for youth players to use wood bats. The danger is still there for a pitcher with wood bats but it is reduced compared to the aluminum bats. As technology evolves, the bats get lighter which produces more bat speed. The higher the bat speed, the faster the ball "jumps" off the bat, thus giving pitchers less time to react. I would like to see high schools across the country go to a wood bat only system. However, there is too much money involved at the college level to make the change. In my opinion, if the switch is made to wood bats, you will see better baseball.

Brant said...

If metal bats are so safe, why aren't they allowed in the major leagues? And I think it's only a matter of time until the barrel of one of those maple bats, which break with startling regularity, seriously injures someone.

Anonymous said...

It is bad enough at Legion/High school mound distances as was referenced in the story. But the youth leagues are just as scarier. The net is that Aluminum composite bats are dangerous...Period! The advancements are similar to that of 460cc drivers in golf. Easier to swing, huge sweet spot with a significantly improved result. The ball absolutely flies off of the bat when used. To make matters worse, Big Barrell composite Bats (which are outlawed in most leagues but allowed in certain local leagues-Cecil & Chartiers Houston for example) can turn a smallish average hitter into a youth league Babe Ruth. Take that a step further: when a big, heavier kid uses a Big Barrell, the results can be scary. Add to that short mound distances in the younger ages and this is a ticking time bomb. If Pennsylvania passes wood only there would be a lot of informed parents breathing a sigh of relief. Wood bats dont eliminate the danger, but it sure would reduce it.

and Brant-you miss the point. No one is saying in that article that metal bats are safer in that story. Quite the opposite.

Dale Lolley said...

Only Little League Baseball mandates that bats be 2 1/4 inches in diameter. Every other organization allows 2 5/8s - which is what high school and up use - and 2 3/4-inch bats.
And you can get just as much velocity off a 2 1/4-inch bat as you can a bigger one. In some cases, you can get more because the 2 1/4 bats are more evenly weighted and don't have as much resistance, therefore generating more bat speed.

At the youth level, metals or composites make sense because you can't afford to replace a bat or two every game.

High school and up should be using wood.

By the way, the NCAA recently voted to do away with composites at that level. It's only a matter of time before that trickles down to the high school level and lower.

Brant said...

Sorry you misunderstood me. What I was alluding to is that there are always defenders for the metal bats who try to claim they pose no risk. And what I'm saying is that if metal bats are safe, why do we not see them at the major-league level. It's because they're NOT safe. I could have been clearer on that.

Anonymous said...

Our adult fastpitch softball league went from ASA regulations that allowed composites to wooden bats. The change was unbelievable.
We went from hitting over 85 homeruns for the season to 7. Also, using wood in youth leagues allows hitters to focus on solid contact and hitting line drives rather than 'sliding' the bat through the zone and letting the bat do the work. Wood bats in practice and regular season will give your youth league a distinct advantage come all star time when composites are allowed.
I have never heard anyone say composite bats pose no greater risk than their wooden counterparts.

G-man said...

I have played adult slow-pitch softball for thirty years. I have gone from wood bats to aluminum, to double wall aluminum,triple wall, ceramic and now to composite. The composite bats have made the game extremely unsafe. As a composite bat is used more and more the exit velocite increases as the glue inside the bat breaks down. I have seen pitchers and infielders injured with broken bones. I myself have had my leg broken from a batted ball coming off a composite bat. And i know players who shave the inside of the bat walls and roll(compress) their bats to increase the break down of the glue inside the bats. Todays kids need to use wood bats to learn the fundamentals of hitting. And not use aluminum or composite bats to inflate their and their parents egos ( "my little Johnny the Homerun hitter").