The Tyler Colvin incident Sunday has re-opened the debate on maple bats, and it should. After watching countless examples of jagged bat fragments flying through the air in recent years, I’ve long feared a tragedy at the ballpark. I know I’m not alone. A’s reliever Brad Ziegler, who wound up with a six-inch gash in the back of his right shoulder when hit by a maple bat fragment less than three weeks ago, calls these flying fragments “a two-pound tomahawk flying through the air.”He wants them banned.
This is one instance where baseball should be pro-active, rather than reactive, before there’s a fatality. I’m aware that there has been an ash infestation that has led to a severe ash shortage in North America, as I discussed in this piece two years ago. Rob Manfred, MLB’s executive vice president of labor relations, told Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune yesterday: “People say ban maple bats. We couldn’t play if we banned maple bats. There’s not enough ash available. If you banned maple, you’d find there’s not enough high-quality ash available. We’re dealing with an ash blight in the United States.”
I’m also aware that MLB and the Players Association have already had a joint study on this matter and instituted some safety measures that went into effect during the 2009 season. That was a positive step, but just a step. The incidents of broken bats are down, but this problem is far from solved.
I don’t know what the solution is. The “BatGlove” mentioned in the Tribune piece — described as “a thin, clear plastic wrap” that is designed to keep the bat together when it breaks — sounds promising. Perhaps more dramatic regulation of maple bats is necessary. Maybe another source of ash, or an alternate wood or composite, can be found that works for hitters and doesn’t result in the bat becoming a missile when broken.
All I know is that if this problem is not seriously addressed, there is going to be a much uglier outcome at the ballpark one day.