The Safety and Health Advisory Committee that is charged by Major League Baseball and the Players Association to determine the reason why so many maple bats are shattering in big league games said on Tuesday that it is nearing the point where it can soon make "short-term and long-term recommendations to address the issue." The committee was charged by Commissioner Bud Selig back in May with defining a reason for the problem and determining some remedy up to and including the banning of maple bats from league play. The issue was discussed at a committee meeting on June 24 in New York and since then, various entities have been studying the bats for cause and effect.
"They're analyzing all the bats," Selig said last month. "There's a lot of work going on right now. My concerns are the same. Every game I watch there's bats splintering. I'm sensitive about it." The committee said on Tuesday that nearly 1,700 shattered bats were collected from July 2 to this past Sunday for physical analysis. Also, video tape of each of the incidents was reviewed. The video review will continue, although the collection process will now cease because the committee has determined that it has secured a sufficient number of bats for analysis. Two Wisconsin-based entities are reviewing wood-quality issues: The USDA Forest Service's Products Laboratory -- the federal government's primary research facility for wood products -- and Timberco, Inc., an independent accredited certification and testing agency for structural and nonstructural wood products. Dr. Carl N. Morris, a professor of statistics at Harvard University, and Dr. James A. Sherwood, director of the Baseball Research Center and a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, were retained to assist in analyzing the data. Members of the committee are also meeting with MLB's approved bat suppliers to determine possible glitches in the manufacturing process and the level of quality control. The matter began getting attention earlier this season as maple bats continued to splinter regularly, causing injuries to uniformed personnel and fans seated in the stands. On April 25 at Dodger Stadium, a maple bat used by Colorado's Todd Helton shattered. The barrel spun into the stands behind the Rockies' dugout on the first-base side and struck a fan in the face, breaking her jaw. About 10 days earlier in the same dugout, Pirates coach Don Long was struck below the left eye by a bat splinter, leaving a bloody gash in his cheek that needed 10 stitches to close. Maple has replaced ash as the wood bat of choice in the Major Leagues. A 2005 study commissioned by MLB and the union revealed that ash bats do not typically shatter into many pieces while maple bats have a tendency to explode. There are a number of solutions to be taken into consideration, from extending netting from behind the plate down the first- and third-base lines as they do in Japanese ballparks, to placing restrictions on the width of bat handles, to banning the use of maple bats completely. Selig has said he is not in favor of extending the netting primarily because it would not address the source of the problem. Players now have a penchant of seeking bats with a thinner handle and a larger barrel, which gives the hitter more snap in his swing, but creates a tremendous imbalance. Some players even shave that thin handle to make it slimmer. About 60 percent of Major League players use maple bats instead of ash because some say those bats can withstand the rigors of use in batting practice and games. MLB has made equipment changes for safety reasons as recently as this season. Last year, Mike Coolbaugh, coaching first base in the Rockies' Minor League system, was killed when he was hit in the head by a line drive. This year, MLB mandated that all base coaches at the Major and Minor League levels wear protective helmets when they are in their positions on the field.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.