Bryce Harper is the Washington Nationals prospect for the #1 overall pick in the 2010 draft next month had one heck of a going away game. He is 17 years old. That’s right folks; he was born in 1992. All gasps aside, the Nats are looking to get the young guy on the team for many reasons, but the main one is his grotesque power. And he proved that in what is mostly likely his final game for the College of Southern Nevada. He hit 4 home runs for 10 RBI. The stat is astounding. But the stat alone begs a new question about metal bats. Should we eliminate them?
Through modern technology, companies can create lighter aluminum bats for faster bat speed, and therefore faster ball speed. Baseballs are optimized to come off of the bat at well more than 90 miles per hour. It is dangerous for everyone involved, but mostly the pitcher, who after his windup and follow through is often less than 55 feet from the plate. In 2003, Brandon Patch was pitching in an American Legion game and was hit directly in the head with a ball off of an aluminum bat. He was dead the same day. This alone should be enough reason to switch to wood bats. One death is too many.
Metal bats also affect player development. In a month’s time, Bryce Harper is not going to have the benefit of swinging a lighter, more responsive bat. He’ll be swinging the same bat as everyone else, putting him at a competitive disadvantage. I’m not saying the kid won’t figure it out, like other major league stars, but it is a learning curve on bat speed and sweet spots. Pitchers are also affected by the metal bats. They pitch to different parts of the plate, and the sweet spot is the entire bat. It’s a real problem all the way around.
Wooden bats have their own risks. Maple bats are known to explode when they’re broken. Shards of wood fire across the field, and too often into the stands. Eventually, a spectator who isn’t paying attention will be killed. Or maybe just one who doesn’t have enough time to react. After studies by the Baseball Research Center at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Jim Sherwood proved that maple has no performance advantage over ash bats, but ash bats simply crack. They don’t shatter. But even with the risks that maple bats hold, it’s less than those of metal bats.
It is time now for both the NCAA and for Major League Baseball to act to save lives. The NCAA needs to only use ash bats, and high schools and little leagues across the country need to follow suit. Major League Baseball needs to either prohibit maple bats or adjust weight and diameter requirements to be closer. No one should be allowed to have a 34 inch bat that weighs only 30 ounces. It’s a real addition to the problem.
If the NCAA makes these changes, you won’t see many (if any) more 4 home run games from guys like Bryce Harper. Nor will you see as many 25-11 stat lines like CSN had in their win. But we’ll have far fewer stories of people dying after being hit by a ball off of a baseball bat, and that should be the #1 priority.