Maple Bats Need to Be Addressed

Published September 20, 2010

| FoxSports

Sunday was a wakeup call -- another wakeup call for a sport that continues to expose players, coaches and fans to unnecessary danger.

Imagine the outrage if the Cubs' Tyler Colvin had suffered a more serious injury when a broken fragment of a maple bat punctured his chest as he ran from third to home.

The rate of maple bats breaking dropped 35 percent from 2008 to '09 and another 15 percent from '09 to '10, according to a ranking major-league official.

Such a decline -- 50 percent over two years -- offers proof that MLB's tougher standards for maple bats are working.

But one tragedy would be too much.

Colvin was in stable condition at a trauma center in Miami on Sunday night, a tube inserted into a chest to prevent a collapsed lung. He is expected to be hospitalized three or four days, and his season is over.

And that's the good news.

"Hope it won't take the death of a player/fan to get maple bats banned," A's reliever Brad Ziegler wrote in a tweet on Sunday night.

Ziegler, who was struck by a large portion of Mike Napoli's broken maple bat on Sept. 3, should talk to his union.

The union resisted a ban on maple bats in the 2006 collective-bargaining talks, but has since worked with baseball to impose more stringent regulations on manufacturers.

Ash bats, which feature softer, lighter wood, usually splinter into smaller pieces. Maple bats snap and break into larger parts.

MLB banned several types of maple bats in the minors this season, but the ban applied only to players who are not yet members of the union.

Supporters of maple bats no doubt will warn against an overreaction, but MLB and the union need to revisit the topic immediately.

Sunday was too close a call.

THE PIRATES: WHAT A MESS

Here's the ugly truth about the Pirates:

It's a good bet that they will lose 100 games next season, too.

What member of their projected 2011 rotation gets you excited? Who are their star-caliber position players other than center fielder Andrew McCutchen and possibly third baseman Pedro Alvarez?

No question, the Pirates are doing some good things in the draft and internationally. But many of their top youngsters are a long way from contributing -- and by the time they do, McCutchen might be gone.

Pirates president Frank Coonelly has said that the team's performance is "unacceptable." Rival executives expect the team to make changes. But while manager John Russell clearly should be in jeopardy, his replacement might not fare much better.

Coonelly's handpicked general manager, Neal Huntington, appears safer than Russell, but Coonelly himself has declined to say that Huntington will be back next season. Huntington has held the job only three years, and Coonelly, in the opinion of some rival executives, is the de facto GM.

Huntington made a terrific deal on July 31 for reliever Octavio Dotel, landing right-hander James McDonald and minor-league outfielder Andrew Lambo from the Dodgers. But several of Huntington's other trades were questionable, and now it appears he held on too long to left-handers Zach Duke and Paul Maholm.

Duke is a likely non-tender this off-season. Maholm, signed through 2011, has regressed significantly.

Coonelly declined to respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

REAL GUIDELINES OR NOT?

The quote is from the Oct. 16, 2005 edition of the New York Times .

"They're promoting from within without interviewing anybody, and that's how they're getting around it."

The quote is from Frank Robinson, who is now baseball's senior vice-president of major-league operations. He was referring to teams that were hiring managers without following the commissioner's guidelines on minority hiring.

I could not reach Robinson for comment on the Dodgers' promotion of hitting coach Don Mattingly to manager, but I would love to hear his thoughts.

Baseball, mind you, did not disapprove of the Dodgers' hiring of Mattingly, who had signed a contract last winter stipulating that he would become manager after Joe Torre departed.

The team had groomed Mattingly as Torre's successor and kept the commissioner's office informed of their plans. Mattingly was their guy; an artificial search would have changed nothing.

Baseball is satisfied with the Dodgers' recent track record on minority hiring. Three of their four top executives below general manager Ned Colletti -- assistant GMs Kim Ng and De Jon Watson and director of pro scouting Vance Lovelance -- are minorities.

The Dodgers, however, never have had a minority manager, and it's a slippery slope when baseball starts granting selective exemptions to its guidelines. The interviews alone have value, helping candidates gain experience.

Either enforce the guidelines, or ditch them.

JUST SAY SO, JOE

If Torre is not going to manage the Mets next season, then he should come right out and say it: "Under no conditions will I manage the Mets."

Torre, however, is ruling out nothing. That is his absolute right, and probably the smart thing to do. But his position will lead to inevitable speculation, by his friends and by the media, about his next move.

For Torre to label such speculation as "so irresponsible" -- as he did Sunday in a conversation with Dodgers beat writers -- is disingenuous.

Torre was referring to a New York Post story that quoted an unnamed friend of his as saying that the Mets might be the only team that could lure him back to managing next season.

At this moment, the best guess is that Torre will not manage again -- he is 70, his daughter is going to high school, he might want to pursue other avenues, such as partial ownership of a club.

But none other than Braves manager Bobby Cox said over the weekend that he thought Torre might manage again. Such talk will continue until Torre retires from managing completely.

NEEDED AT CITI FIELD: A STRONG GM

The Mets are at a crossroads.

They will gain financial flexibility when the contracts of center fielder Carlos Beltran, closer Francisco Rodriguez, left-hander Oliver Perez and second baseman Luis Castillo expire after next season.

But they do not know what to expect from lefty Johan Santana coming off shoulder surgery, and soon must decide whether their future should include shortstop Jose Reyes and third baseman David Wright.

If ever a team needed a GM with vision, it's this one.

Ownership needs to make the right choice to replace Omar Minaya, and then allow that choice to implement a long-term plan.

Rival executives say that ownership -- specifically, COO Jeff Wilpon -- is too involved in baseball matters. But perhaps Wilpon would back off, as he did in the early years of Minaya's tenure, if he had greater trust in his GM.

Reyes will be one of the first orders of business. The Mets are expected to offer him an extension this off-season, but don't need to rush into anything. It will be difficult for the two sides to reach agreement on Reyes' value; he missed time this season with a thyroid imbalance and was slowed by an oblique injury.

The most likely course for the Mets would be to pick up Reyes' $11 million option, then let the situation play out. But the new GM, whoever it is, would be wise to explore trades for Reyes and Wright. The Mets are not going to win a World Series with either any time soon.

The team is not bereft of young talent, but is it star-caliber talent? One scout, for example, compares Ike Davis to Adam LaRoche and catcher Josh Thole to Jason Kendall. The Mets would be happy if those assessments proved accurate, but ultimately they need more high-ceiling players. Trading Reyes and/or Wright would be one way for the Mets to increase their talent pool.

DUDA LOOKS LIKE A PLAYER

Jerry Manuel, who almost certainly will not be the Mets manager next season, says that rookie left fielder Lucas Duda should merit "strong consideration" when the team puts together its outfield.

Duda, 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, was the Mets' seventh-round pick out of USC in 2007. He is 5-for-10 since his 1-for-33 start, and Manuel is intrigued by his potential.

"I like him a lot," Manuel says. "I like a big guy that is fluid, not stiff. When you can hit line drives the other way as well as he does, you know the other stuff will come."

The Mets' 2011 outfield appears set with Jason Bay in left and Beltran and Angel Pagan in the other two positions. But the team could open a spot by moving Beltran, who is owed $18.5 million next season and holds a full no-trade clause.

Moving Beltran would be a good idea regardless of the Mets' plans for Duda, and Beltran isn't necessarily opposed to the idea.

"I'd like to finish here," Beltran says. "At the same time, maybe the organization has a different plan. My plan will be to get ready to play for this organization."

AROUND THE HORN

-- If Cardinals manager Tony La Russa wants to return, it seems highly unlikely that management would dump him and risk upsetting Albert Pujols -- not when the team's top off-season priority is to sign Pujols to a contract extension.

Then again, Pujols knows that La Russa will not be his manager forever, and likely would be comfortable if the Cardinals replaced him with, say, third base coach Jose Oquendo. Ultimately, Pujols' decision will be governed by money, not by his manager.

The real question is the state of the relationship between La Russa and the Cardinals' front office and ownership. The team's recent decision to lessen the responsibilities of Jeff Luhnow should lead to greater efficiency. Luhnow had been in charge of scouting, player development and international operations -- each a significant area of responsibility.

-- One of the top priorities for Cubs GM Jim Hendry in his managerial search is finding someone with whom he can talk freely. He didn't always enjoy that kind of relationship with his previous two managers, Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella, both of whom had great stature.

Eric Wedge would fit; he played at Wichita State when Hendry coached at Creighton. Fredi Gonzalez would have fit; he and Hendry have known each other for decades and worked together with the Marlins.

Hendry would have a similar comfort level with Mike Quade, the Cubs' interim manager, and Nationals third base coach Pat Listach, a minor-league manager with the Cubs from 2006 to '08.

Could Hendry connect in the same way with Cubs Triple A manager Ryne Sandberg, a Hall of Famer? Perhaps, but Sandberg -- like Baker and Piniella -- is a big name in the sport, creating a different dynamic.

-- A new manager might want to pick his own pitching coach if the Brewers fire Ken Macha, but the team actually seems to be making progress under Rick Peterson, who has one year left on his contract.

Lefty Chris Narveson, 4-1 with a 3.71 ERA since the All-Star break, is developing into a usable starter, and rookies Zach Braddock and John Axford have helped upgrade the bullpen.

The team is second in the NL in ERA in September after ranking 13th, 15th, 9th, 14th and 14th in the season's first five months.

-- Braves center fielder Nate McLouth says, quite simply, "I feel it again."

McLouth never felt his career was in jeopardy during a season that included both a concussion and demotion to Triple A. But he concedes that his confidence took a hit.

"It was more of a test of me as a person than as a baseball player," McLouth says. "Everything is so visible to everyone. It's tough to deal with. That's all anyone wants to ask you about. But it made me better as a player and as a person."

-- Rockies second baseman Eric Young Jr. is a marvelously talented offensive player, an igniter at the top of the order. His defense, however, is so shaky the Rockies might be better off playing Jonathan Herrera, a solid all-around type, in the final two weeks.

It's a delicate balance for manager Jim Tracy; the Young-Dexter Fowler combination in the 1-2 spots has helped fuel the team's surge.

-- The Braves' off-season needs: A middle-of-the-order hitter in left field, veterans in the bullpen to replace closer Billy Wagner and setup man Takashi Saito and a right-handed hitter to complement Freddie Freeman at first base.

The first need, at least, is familiar. The Braves have spent the past several years looking for a big bat in left field.

-- Here's how I know that Mets manager Jerry Manuel is telling the truth when he says he doesn't read the New York papers: He wasn't even aware that Derek Jeter was struggling offensively.

Manuel surely knows that his job reportedly is in jeopardy, but he continues to put on a brave, dignified front.

What, Jerry worry?

"I tell these people I'll be around 10 more years and no one will ever know," Manuel says, laughing.

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