Baseball Bats today come in many different varieties, from the standard $20 wooden bat to a state-of-the-art, $300 aluminum model (Sports-werd.com, 2002). Each type of bat has its own advantages and disadvantages, and each has a unique feel and sound. On both the college level and professional levels of baseball, the types of bats allowed vary in material. Yet, while the baseball bats may differ, there are still many similarities that make both aluminum and wooden bats comparable in the world of baseball.
Baseball bats in the first phase came in varying shapes and sizes. In the 1850's, players made their own bats and experimented with different lengths and mass. Due to the wide variety of bat size, and thus the wide differences in batting ability, a rule was made in 1859 that bats could be no larger than 2.5 inches around. A rule to limit the length of the bat to 42 inches was enacted in 1869. This rule still applies today (Baseball-bats.net, 2003).
In 1884, one of the most famous bats was developed, and is still one of the most famous names in baseball bats today, The Louisville Slugger. While watching a Louisville player named Pete Browning break his favorite bat and become frustrated, 17-year-old John Hillerich wanted to help. Hillerich worked as a woodworker with his father. He approached Browning and offered to make him a new bat. Browning accepted, and together they selected the piece of white ash for the bat material. Browning went three for three the next day, and demand for the bat quickly grew (Baseball-bat.net, 2003).
Until the 1920's, most bats were made of white ash wood. In 1924, however, a patent was issued to William Shroyer for the first metal baseball bat (Baseball-bat.net, 2003). While used somewhat, the new metal bats were not seen on a national level until the first aluminum bat of 1970, produced by the Worth company (Sports-wired.com, 2002). From their one-piece aluminum bat to the stronger grade aluminum of the Easton bat in the late 1970's, the aluminum bat began to gain popularity (Mitsuda, 2002). Most recently, Titanium bats were introduced in 1993, and in 1995, the Easton company created the lightest grade aluminum bats to date (Baseball-bat.net, 2003).
Although aluminum bats are very popular, as are white ash, a single incident introduced yet another type of popular bat. In the 2001 professional baseball season, Barry Bonds hit a record 73 home runs in a single season. It was soon discovered that Bonds was using a maple wood bat, rather than the standard white ash bat. As other players tried the bat, sales soared, and a new rage in bats was born (Baseball-bat.net, 2003).
The debate over which type of bat is better has raged since the introduction of the aluminum bat. Currently, the NCAA uses only aluminum bats (Kelly, 2000), while the professional leagues use only wooden bats (Baseball-bat.net, 2002). While some tout the safety of the wooden bat (Kelly, 2002), others point to evidence of increased performance of the aluminum bat (Crisco, Greenwood, 2000). Yet both types have distinct attributes that make them equally unique and equally reliable.
The wooden bat of today resembles the wooden bats of 100 years ago. The largest change is that of the type of wood. Early bats used hickory for the bat material, while modern bats use ash and maple as well (Conley, et al., 1997). Each type of wood has its own advantages and disadvantages.
White ash is used because of its inflexibility, sturdiness, force, weight and "feel." Lighter bats are easier to swing, and thus result in a faster swing. Maple bats have become popular in recent years, as well. Maple bats cost more than white ash, but they often last longer because of their high strength. Hickory bats, while used in the early years, are almost non-existent in the professional leagues of today. Hickory, while strong and extremely hard, is also extremely heavy. Hickory baseball bats weigh too much for most ball players to successfully swing (Baseball-bats.net, 2002).
Aluminum bats, on the other hand, are lighter and stronger than wooden bats. The technology put into aluminum bats has increased dramatically over the years, creating bats of aircraft grade aluminum and stronger alloys. Most recently, the introduction of the double-wall and carbon fiber bats, and bats that use a "cryogenic" manufacturing process have further increased the ability of the material (Baseball-bats.net, 2003).
Because the aluminum bat is lighter than the wood bat, using the aluminum bat means the player has more control over his or her swing, which has advantages. Adjusting the swing in relation to the pitch is easier when more time can be given. Once a wooden bat is swinging, adjustments to that swing are difficult (Calder, 2000).
According to research done by Keith Keonig of Mississippi State University's Aerospace department, there is a large correlation between swing speed and the weight of the bat. "We've found a fairly noticeable difference in the swing speed for the heavier bats," Koenig stated, after being commissioned by the NCAA to test this relationship. His studies found swing speeds of around 65 miles-per-hour for 28- ounce bats and about 63 mph for those weighing 30 ounces.
According to the research, even this slight reduction can vastly increase a pitcher's ability to react to a ball hit in their direction (Koenig, 1999).
On the other hand, because the wooden bat is heavier, it has less "recoil": This means that a wooden bat moving at the same speed as an aluminum bat will hit the ball with more force, and thus will hit the ball farther. In addition, a wooden bat does not vibrate as much in the player's hands, which is far better for a player's wrist and hand joints over long periods (Calder, 2000).
Another major difference is that wooden bats are solid, while most aluminum bats are hollow. This means that, for a wood bat, if the manufacturer wants to make the bat longer or fatter, the bat must be heavier, which might be a disadvantage. For aluminum, compensation for length or diameter can be made by making the aluminum shell thinner. Without having to add weight, the balance of the aluminum bat can be maintained without added burden, which is a definite advantage for aluminum (Nathan, 2002).
Another consequence of the solid wood bat is that the center of gravity is further from the hands, since most of the weight is in the barrel of the bat. For an aluminum bat, because it is a thin shell, the weight is more evenly distributed and less concentrated in the barrel, and thus has a balance point nearer to the hands. Therefore, a batter can often get a higher bat speed with an aluminum bat than for a wood bat of comparable weight and dimensions (Nathan, 2002). Therefore, the aluminum bat can significantly outperform wooden bats.
This was verified by a study done by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) in 2002. In the study, seven bat models were tested by 19 right-handed players of varying skill level. The bats and the balls were marked with tape that could be sensed by infrared cameras placed around home plate. Motion capture software was used to record and analyze the swings with various bats, as well as the properties of the balls (Crisco, et. al, 2002).
The average speed of a hit off the fastest bat tested, an aluminum bat, was 93.3 mph. The slowest bat, a wooden model, had an average hit speed of 86.1 mph. Hits made with the wooden bats exceeded 100 mph only 2% of the time, compared to 37% of the hits with the fastest metal bat (ScienceDaily, 2002).
Conclusions based on this data included that higher batted ball speeds could be achieved with a metal bat, due to faster swing speeds. In addition, faster ball speed could be due to the greater elastic properties found in aluminum bats (Crisco, et. al, 2002). The research concluded that, due to consistent weight and dimensions, metal baseball bats can significantly do better than wooden bats
However, the consistent distribution of weight for an aluminum bat also has a downside. Because there is less weight on the wide part of an aluminum bat than for a wood bat, the bat produces a less effective collision with the ball. The ball will leave the bat faster for a heavy bat than for a light bat. Thought an aluminum bat may weight the same as a wood bat, the propelling of the ball from the bat when swinging depends on the weight of the impact point on the bat. A typical aluminum bat has less weight in the barrel than a typical wood bat and is therefore less effective (Nathan, 2002).
Aside from the effectiveness of the bat, there are other differences. Wooden bats, for example, are more likely to break upon impact with a ball near the middle of the bat (Russel, 2003). Bats usually break near the handle,…