• Video: Safer Slugger?
June 28, 2006
There's risk inherent in almost every sport we play, even baseball. Recently a 12-year-old boy pitching in a game in New Jersey was hit in the chest by a line drive. Steven Domalewski's heart stopped for several minutes, and he's been in the hospital ever since, fighting for his life.
A state assemblyman decided a new law was needed to make the game safer. The player who hit Domalewski was swinging a metal bat, and there are some who argue metal or composite bats are more dangerous, allowing for more bat speed, making the ball travel farther, faster.
"You can see the way the ball propels from a metal bat versus a wood bat..." lawmaker Patrick Diegnan Jr. told me. "Most estimates indicate a ball travels 20 miles-per-hour faster off a metal bat than a wood bat. In addition, there's a trampoline effect... the ball is propelled off a metal bat like a trampoline. There is science to back it up and it's inherently dangerous."
The kids I talked to at the ball field agreed, and so did their coach, Glen Cullen:
"There's no doubt in my mind the metal bats give greater bat speed and certainly help kids get more distance, and from what I see, the ball really just jumps off the aluminum bat, explodes off the bat."
"Have you ever had a concern about kids getting hurt?" I asked him.
"I've had concerns seeing balls hit back to the box... thank God there wasn't anybody in the way of that, they wouldn't have gotten a glove up."
But are the concerns legitimate? Certainly kids have been hurt, and at least 16 have been killed by balls hit with metal bats since 1991, including 18-year-old pitcher Brandon Patch, hit in the head by a line drive during a game in Montana in 2003.
Diegnan says only two kids were killed by wood bats during this same stretch, but considering roughly 90% of young players use metal bats, the ratio doesn't necessarily suggest the composition of the bat is to blame.
Rick Redman, a spokesman for the Louisville Slugger bat company, says every study he's seen suggests aluminum and other metal bats are safe. There are plenty of variables, including the size of the batter, the core and compression of the ball, even atmospheric conditions, that can affect the speed and potential danger of a hardball. He says plenty of coaches and players would rather swing metal, and the company supports their right to do so. They'd certainly sell more wood bats if metal were outlawed, and since wood bats are much more likely to break, they might even make more money. He thinks the New Jersey State Legislature should listen to baseball's governing bodies and not overreact to an unfortunate tragedy on the field.
I also spoke to Steve Keener, the President and CEO of Little League International, which hosts the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania every summer.
He prefaced his remarks with sympathy for Steven Domalewski, his family, teammates, and community. Keener wants kids to play, but play as safely as possible, and says LLBI is doing all it can to reduce the potential for injuries and deaths. For example, they created breakaway bases, eliminated the on-deck position on the field, improved batting helmets, made long model chest protectors and facemasks, and created strict standards for baseballs AND bats. And his kids swing metal.
Keener says his organization started diligently tracking injuries from batted balls in 1993 or '94, when 140 pitchers (out of the 3 million kids total in the league) were hurt. In each of the past four years, the numbers dropped to between 24 and 19. The standards for Little League bats limit performance to a level close to wood, Keener says, and he believes they're good for the game.
One thing a metal bat won't do, he points out, is splinter in half and fly towards a player like a spear.
So what about this potential ban in New Jersey? Let me know what you think, since it could be law by the end of 2006.
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For the record, I conducted an unscientific experiment at the field where we shot our story, taking roughly ten swings each with a wooden bat I've kept in my office for years, and with a couple of Little League aluminum bats kids there gave me to try. The metal bats were shorter than my wood bat, and probably a bit lighter. I hit the fence twice with the wood, including one high enough to be considered a home run, and I hit the ball OUT of the park twice with the metal bats (on the first pitch with the first metal bat, and the second pitch with the second metal bat). I've never played organized baseball (but play softball often). All that being said (and this is not an endorsement, just an observation), the metal bats certainly seemed to perform better.
• E-mail Rick
I saw your report tonite on "FOX Report," and it made me think of one thing: hasn't the argument against metal bats in the major leagues been because the light weight of the bat gives the batter greater swing velocity and therefore allows him to hit the bat harder, giving batters an unfair advantage? (sort of the same affect as corking ones bat?)
I would think the same would hold true in Little League play.
Great swing, by the way. The Yankees may come calling...can you pitch?
Keep up the good work, Rick!
— Lisa (New York, NY)
My name is Jerome Young. I have been a coach in Little League baseball or an umpire in Little League for over 20 yrs. now. And while watching your report of the aluminum is exactly right, kids today hit the ball harder and farther than ever, to the point where it is very dangerous.. I could tell you several stories about seeing kids get hit in the face in chest etc. off a bat that was all bat and very little ability! I also have written to Little League (that sponsors Little League World Series) and asked them that if they wouldn't ban aluminum bats, at least put restrictions on them. I got no response. There are bats out there that are a -11 this means the bats weights 11 ozs. less than its length. I also called Louisville Slugger and tried to have a wooden bat tournament and was asking them if they would sponsor it for me. They turned me down and replied that the real money is in aluminum and that they spend $ 3,000,000 dollars a year on research and development on bats.. I guess money talks. Some of these bats cost upward of $300. I was happy to see that someone has put a priority on trying to stop this, but mark my words it won't happen because 1) These bats do help a kid hit farther and harder than he really can and 2) parents enjoy seeing there kid hit the ball over the fence even though it was all the bat.. I would love for you (FOX) to do a follow up on this and see where the banning of the bats go.. In any event I would like to personally thank you and FOX NEWS for having the goombas to report this story.. Have a good day
Just a thought on the metal bat thing. So, what happens if you have an 18-year-old on a High School team if metal bats are banned for those younger. Does the 18 year old on the same team get to use the metal bat? Also, what about the Little League World Series. If only some states ban metal bats then what happens during the series, some can use metal bats and some can't. The ones who haven't used them would be at a disadvantage.