When asked about the use of aluminum bats, high school baseball coach, Gene Schultz, said he knew that because of the durability of metal that they were going to last, but he did not think that they would take over the high school baseball scene as they have (High pp). Personally, Schultz said he would like to see high school ball do what the college have done and go back to "good 'ol wood ... cracked bats, broken bat singles and inside pitches are all part of true baseball" (High pp). According to Schultz, metal bats have certainly increased the offense in high school baseball, but if they were really good for the sport, then the Major Leagues would be using them (High pp). He adds that bunts have gone for doubles, inside pitches for home runs, and a 95-pound freshman can hit a baseball 350+ feet (High pp). Schultz said he was surprised that more high school pitchers are not injured by the "liner" up the middle, and believes that metal bats have turned baseball into a high scoring game, rather than a strategic battle (High pp). When asked if he would like to see a return to the wood bat for high school players, Schultz answered, "Yes" (High pp).
The issue of wood verses aluminum bats came to a vote in October 2002, when the baseball committee of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association voted to require wood bats beginning in the 2002 tournament play and in all games starting in 2004 (Dreyfuss pp). The rationale behind this move is that balls hit off aluminum bats travel faster than balls hit off wood, thus a pitcher has less time to avoid being hit by a line drive (Dreyfuss pp). John Crisco, director of Brown Medical School's bioengineering lab, put the issue to test, using two wood and five metal bats used by 19 batters who had played on the high school, college or semipro level (Dreyfuss pp). Results indicated that four of the metal bats did make the ball go faster than the wood bats, however the fifth bat was similar in performance to the wood (Dreyfuss pp). The balls were pitched at speeds of 50 mph to 66 mph, and hit off the bats at average speed ranging from 91 mph to 93 mph with the metal bats and 86 mph with the wooden bats (Dreyfuss pp). Only 8% of balls hit off wood reached speeds of 95 mph or faster, compared to 50% of balls off the metal bats (Dreyfuss pp). Although the major leagues use only wood bats, aluminum bats are common in college, high school and youth baseball (Dreyfuss pp).
In 2002, an eight-member panel in Oklahoma awarded damages to a high school pitcher who had been seriously injured by a batted ball (Reichert pp). His attorneys claim the verdict is the first to hold a bat manufacturer liable for such injuries, and that this case, Brett v. Hillerich & Bradsby Co., No. CIV-99-981-C (W.D. Okla. 2002), has put the industry on notice that players' safety, not how well the bat works, comes first (Reichert pp).
The plaintiff, Jeremy Brett, alleged that a high-performance aluminum bat known as the Air Attack 2, manufactured by Louisville Slugger and used by Little League, high school, and college players throughout the United States, was defective because it caused batted balls to achieve dangerous speeds (Reichert pp). His lawsuit claimed that the bat hits balls so hard and with such speed that pitchers have no chance to react in order to protect themselves from being hit (Reichert pp). Brett's lead counsel, Joe White, Jr., stated "We contended that the bat was too good ... It is clear that Louisville Slugger knew or should have known that the bat's propensity to hit balls at such as great speed puts pitchers in danger" (Reichert pp). White and his co-counsel used the manufacturer's internal documents to prove this fact, including one in which the designer of the Air Attack 2 warned the company's president and engineers that the bat could cause serious injuries (Reichert pp).
In a memo dated February 4, 1995, the designer, Jack MacKay, wrote, "We don't need to continue this performance increase and danger increase to keep sales going up. It makes no sense, and we're going to get someone hurt" (Reichert pp). In another memo two years later, MacKay wrote, "We need to shut the [bat's] performance down to an acceptable level and be the company that restored the integrity of the game and made it safer" (Reichert pp).
Co-Counsel, Kelly George, claims that Louisville Slugger simply ignored these warnings, and went on to say that baseball was designed around the wooden bat (Reichert pp). The distances between home plate and the pitcher's mound and between the bases were set according to the performance of wooden bats, and "Louisville Slugger introduced these 'superbats' that are just too good, but the distances on the field remained the same" (Reichert pp). George went on to say that high performance aluminum bats "threw the game out of balance," and cited that scores in college games are in the teens, such as 20-16, 17-12, while in Major League games, where only wooden bats are used, the scores are 3-2, and 4-1 (Reichert pp). George claims the reason for high scores is the aluminum bats, saying, "they wok too well" (Reichert pp).
The reason the aluminum bats, such as the Air Attack 2, is that they are made from a high-tech alloy known as C405, which lets bat manufacturers design thin bat walls that curve inward when a baseball strikes (Reichert pp). A pressurized bladder inside the barrel supports the walls and helps them rebound, and when the walls spring back out, they propel, or 'trampoline,' the ball from the bat (Reichert pp). Because the walls of the bat curve inward, the balls do not deform like balls that are hit with wooden bats, "they maintain their aerodynamic shape and travel more quickly" (Reichert pp).
Experts testified that after a pitcher releases a baseball and completes his follow-through, he is roughly 52 to 54 feet from the bat-ball collision point, thus when a batter hits a ball directly back at the pitcher, the pitchers needs a minimum of four-tenths of a second to perceive the ball and react by fielding, defecting or dodging it (Reichert pp). However, tests concluded with the first generation Air Attack bat, which is less powerful than the Air Attack 2, showed that batted balls traveled at speed up to 118 mph -- more than 170 feet per second, thus a pitcher who was 54 feet from home plate would have less than a third of a second to perceive the ball and react, and according to experts, that is not long enough (Reichert pp).
George maintains that bat manufacturers are competing in a performance race, and are in the business of manufacturing the highest performing aluminum bat possible, and the profit margin is so great that their economic interests outrank regulation (Reichert pp). George said that they were not advocating going back to wooden bats, but were advocating a return to wood-like performance (Reichert pp).
In April 1999, Brett, a junior at Enid High School in Enid, Oklahoma, delivered a fastball, the batter fired a line drive right at him, and according to the catcher testimony, Brett had not completed his follow-through before the ball hit him on the right side of his head and ricocheted to the first base dugout area (Reichert pp). Brett fell to the ground in convulsions, the impact crushed his skull and resulted in a lemon size blood clot which was removed by surgery, and his skull fracture repaired with 5 metal plates, 12 screws, and 75 staples (Reichert pp).
White said he had heard many anecdotal accounts of baseball players who have been hurt by batted balls, including six pitchers on one high school team that had been struck by balls batted off high-performance bats in one season alone (Reichert pp). He said he had heard of children who had lost eyes and had their faces crushed, and that stories like this were consistent: "The kids do not have a chance to defend themselves against batted balls" (Reichert pp).
The National Collegiate Athletic Association, NCAA, which adopts and promulgates playing rules for intercollegiate athletics, revealed in a 2000 report that there is "an acceptable level of risk in baseball," but that level is acceptable for games played with wooden bats, it has not been adjusted to account for use of powerful aluminum bats (Reichert pp). The National Safe Kids Campaign, a nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C., also recognizes that risk of physical injury is inherent in sports, however, estimates that roughly half of all children's sports' injuries can be prevented (Reichert pp).
Currently, no single body is authorized to set bat-performance standards, although in August 1998, the NCAA passed rules to make aluminum bats used in college…