Aluminum Vs Wood Which is Better for Baseball
Aluminum vs. Wood.
Which is Better for Baseball?
CRACK! That was the sound of our nation’s pastime in the early days of baseball. For nearly 150 years, the wooden bat was used in every level of baseball. PING! This is the only sound you will hear on the diamond now, except at the professional level. What happened to the old-fashioned crack of the bat at the amateur level? The wooden bat was replaced by the aluminum bat in the early 1970’s. Since its inception, the debate has been waged across America on which bat performs better and is better for the game. The bats have been analyzed on such factors as performance of the bat itself, the development of the hitter due to the type of bat, safety, and cost. The outcome of this analysis has led to a trend in which communities and leagues are trying to ban the use of aluminum bats- period.
Wooden bats have been used in the game of baseball since the games establishment in 1864. The first bats were made entirely out of white ash which was known for its strength and light weight. The bat is formed from a solid piece of wood that is milled on a machine to exact dimensions based on the weight of bat desired. Wooden bats have the basic design of a club, a thick barrel and a thinner handle. The thinner handle allows the bat to be made lighter which in turn makes the bat easier to swing. Unfortunately, it is the thin handle that causes the majority of wooden bats to break. To compensate for this, manufacturers are now making bats out of harder woods such as maple and bamboo.
In the early 1970’s, the aluminum bat was introduced. At that time, the aluminum bat was radically different from its wooden predecessor. The bat was made out of metal with a hollow core. This allowed the manufacturer to move the center of mass closer to the handle, which allowed for the bat to be swung much faster. Aluminum bats today are made much the same way. The aluminum bat also has a property that the wooden bat doesn’t, the Trampoline effect. The trampoline effect is the ability of the aluminum bat to be elastic and transfer the energy back to the baseball as it leaves the bat (Russell). The bat acts much like a spring for the ball as it is hit. The way the aluminum bat is constructed also allows for an expanded sweet spot, the area of the bat that produces the best result. All three of these characteristics are what makes the aluminum bat so popular at the amateur level.
As the aluminum bat hit the market, the initial question was how will they compare to wooden bats in performance and the development of a player’s hitting abilities? It didn’t take but a little over a decade to answer this question and prove that the aluminum bat had a big impact on the game of baseball. According to the NCAA, “ A near continuous rise in scoring and home runs from 1974…..until the historic 1998 season, when record highs were set in scoring, homeruns, and earned-run averages for pitchers” (Rozin). This increase in offensive is contributed to the way that the aluminum bat is constructed. Due to the trampoline effect, the center of mass being moved closer to the handle, and the enlarged sweet spot, the ball is able to be hit harder and much farther. This means that you don’t always have to hit the ball squarely to get a hit. According to Pat Regan, shortstop for the Miles City Mavericks, “There’s so much more pop to them….If you hit the ball on the handle with a wood bat, it’s a groundout to short. If you hit it on the handle with metal, it can be a double” (Berkow).
Wooden bat loyalists, on the other hand, realize that a wooden bat doesn’t have the construction that is conducive for easier hits. The solid core construction of the bat makes it inelastic, meaning that the energy is not transferred back to the ball as it leaves the bat. Rather, they equate performance of the bat to the ability of the player to produce a hit with a wooden bat. Since the sweet spot is smaller on a wooden bat, the player has to develop better hitting techniques to be able to get a hit. With the right mechanics, a player can hit the ball as far and as hard as with an aluminum bat. Ron Cancini, a former player with the Houston Astros, believes that kids develop bad habits and a false sense of security with aluminum bats (Faiwell). It takes a well disciplined hitter to have a good average with a wooden bat.
As the aluminum bat has gained in popularity, safety has become more talked about due to the high number of injuries reported in the media. Industry spokesmen point to the accidents that happen with wood bats but never make the headlines (Rozin). Instead the headlines continue to be filled with accidents or injuries that only occur from aluminum bats. A study conducted by the Illinois High School Association concluded that non-wood bats are just as safe as wood bats when it comes to injury (Faiwell). Advocates for aluminum bats contend that research is scarce and/or inconclusive on whether aluminum bats cause more injuries. In fact, the only fatality figures comparing metal to wood bats comes from a 2002 report by the U.S. consumer Product Safety Commission. In the report, the commission reported 17 deaths due to impact with a batted ball from 1991 through 2001. Of those, eight were known to involve non-wood bats and two involved wood ones, but the remaining seven cases the type of bat was unknown (Rozin). This uncertainty about the remaining cases brings into question whether aluminum bats truly cause more injuries. Consumers who use aluminum bats point to the fact that wooden bats can cause injury just as easily. In June of 2006, a pitcher in the Cape Cod League was hit in the face with a ball off a wood bat and had to have reconstructive surgery to repair the damage. Jim Easton, owner of Easton bats, sums it up well when he states, “All sports have some level of risk” (Adelson).
Wood bat purists strongly disagree. They contend that because the aluminum bat performs so much better than a wooden bat, more injuries are occurring and will continue to occur. Their main evidence is the exit speed of the ball from the bat and the time it takes the ball to reach a pitcher, the position that has incurred the most injuries since the inception of the aluminum bat. The exit speed of a ball hit by an aluminum bat is 101.6 mph, 2.9 mph faster than off a wooden bat. The reason behind this increased exit speed is the trampoline effect and the larger sweet spot that is obtained with an aluminum bat. What this translates into, is that the ball gets to its destination quicker. A study by Bill Thurston, a Hall of fame coach, showed that pitchers needed .375 seconds to react to a batted ball hit straight at them. While only 5 percent of balls hit by wood bats got to the pitchers mound in that time, 60 percent of balls hit by aluminum arrived in less than .375 seconds (Adelson). The study shows that balls hit by aluminum bats arrive at the pitcher faster than the person can react, greatly increasing his/her chances of injury. Just ask Deb Patch, whose son Brandon was killed by a line drive from an aluminum bat because he didn’t have enough time to react. Parents and coaches from around the country are hoping that manufacturers will tone down the performance of the aluminum bat to make it perform like a wooden bat. Some leagues are even considering banning the use of aluminum bats and switch strictly to wooden ones.
The final aspect of the aluminum vs. wooden bat debate relates directly to economics, namely cost. A good aluminum bats cost approximately $250 and will last at least one season if not more. A good wooden bat, on the other hand, costs approximately $80 and can last as long as one at bat or for several games. For cash strapped amateur leagues, this can have a huge impact on their operating budget. Due to wooden bats breaking at a much higher rate, they have to be replaced more often. Wyoming Valley Conference coach Matt Skrepenek states, “It’s a money issue and wouldn’t be cost efficient. It would just get too expensive” (Faiwell). For instance, a $1000 dollar investment by a team for bats could purchase 4 aluminum bats that will last the season or longer, or it could purchase 12 wooden bats that could last for several games or several months. Wellesley American League went through 600 bats in one season, which totaled to the amount of $8,000 (Greater Boston). Easily this amount of bats in one season can severely drain a team’s budget.
Supporters of the wooden bat claim that it shouldn’t be about the money. It should be about the safety of the ballplayers and that you can’t put a price tag on that. The switch to wooden bats should be based on that, and that alone. If the leagues support a change from aluminum to wooden bats, then it is up to the teams to plan for the extra expense that can result from it. Obviously cost is not that much of a deterrent as proven by the number of teams that has entered the Broward County League of South Florida since the league went to all wooden bats. Before the switch, the league only had three teams competing, but now it has over eleven teams (Rozin). An option for these cash strapped leagues is to switch to a composite bat. A composite bat is made from various composite materials like graphite or fiberglass. It performs like a wooden bat, but has the durability of an aluminum bat. This way both sides are covered, safety and economics.
As with all sports, there is some element of risk. Whether the aluminum or wooden bat is better for the game depends on each individual’s perspective. The baseball purist will claim that baseball should only be played with a wooden bat. It allows the player to develop as more rounded hitter and that it prepares them to possibly succeed as a professional ballplayer. On the other side of the coin, are those who think technology should be a part of the game and that it makes the game more exciting. It’s about the homeruns and the amount of runs scored, and that is what is keeping kids interested in the game today. I believe that the game should be played the way it was designed and originally developed. Parents put to much emphasis on trying to make their kids a star. They try to provide them with every advantage possible through new technologies that come on the market and in doing so, put their children at risk. What they fail to realize is that this technology can only take you so far. Natural talent has to be part of it as well. I say, just let the kids have fun, the safest way possible.
Adelson, Eric. “Bat Controversy Lingers Over NCAA.” ESPN.com.
Updated 25 October 2000. ESPN. 19 March 2008.
Berkow, Ira. “Metal Bats Are an Issue of Life and Death.” NYtimes.com. 16 July 2006.
The New York Times. 19 March 2008.
Faiwell, Sara. “Aluminum vs. Wood Bats: A Difference in Safety?” Daily Herald
Web Page. 10 December 2007. Daily Herald. 19 March 2008.
Greater Boston: Wood vs Aluminum Bats.” 05 August 2002
Rozin, Skip. “Killer Bats? The Debate Over Wood vs. Aluminum.” Wall Street Journal
Online. 31 July 2007. The Wall Street Journal. 19 March 2008.
Russell, Daniel A. “Why Aluminum Bats Can Perform Better than Wood Bats.”
Kettering University Web Page. 18 October 2006. Kettering University.
22 March 2008.