The debate over the use of maple bats is alive once again, after the impaling of the Cubs' Tyler Colvin by a shard of a teammate's bat while he was running down the third base line. Colvin's injury ends his season, but obviously, it could have been much worse.
We all know the story: maple bats are harder than ash, and while there's only anecdotal evidence that the ball flies any further off of maple, enough players are convinced that it does that roughly half of them in the big leagues are maple-users.
Because maple bats tend to shatter into pieces when they break - as opposed to ash, which simply cracks or splinters - the potential for injury to others is far greater than with ash.
MLB claims that there's no way to ban maple bats - if for no other reason than there's not enough quality ash around to make the numbers of bats required. It seems an ash blight of the recent past has greatly diminished the ash population. If that's so, then they need to embrace a product called the "Bat Glove."
I wrote about the product more than a year ago and did a piece on "Nats Xtra" about it. It's one of those things you think of and feel like you invented yourself only to find out someone much smarter has beaten you to the punch. I was thinking about the thin candy shell on an M&M, and how a similar, more flexible coating on a bat would keep it together. The folks who came up with the "Bat Glove" were thinking about Chinese handcuffs, those woven tubes you stick your fingers into and as you pull them out, the flaxen tube tightens around your fingers. They came up with a transparent polymeric film - a thinner-than-paper tape - that can be wrapped around the handle by either the manufacturer or the player. When the bat cracks, the tape tightens around the affected area and keeps the bat in one piece. In tests over the 2008-2009 seasons, it was 100% effective in eliminating flying debris. Also, there's no difference in ball action coming off a wrapped bat versus an unwrapped bat. Zero.
In other words, in works every time, virtually eliminating the possibility of serious injury.
So, why hasn't MLB made this product mandatory for maple? I don't know. It costs about $5 per bat to apply, according to the website www.batglove.com, so it shouldn't be based on money - unless MLB wants the bat manufacturers to pay for it and they want MLB to foot the bill. It seems like a small price to pay to insure against a catastrophe, doesn't it?
Tyler Colvin was lucky. The next player - or fan - may not be. There's a disclaimer on the back of the standard baseball ticket that states the ballclub isn't liable for any injuries caused by play on the field, i.e. foul balls, bad throws, or broken bats. It only takes one incident of a serious injury or worse to create a lot of regret on both sides.