High School Baseball Debates Bat Safety

Katrina Kovalik

A bill which would place a two-year moratorium on metal baseball bats in California high schools was approved by the Senate Education Committee on May 5 and will move on to a vote in the full Senate.

Although the arguments about the use of metal bats versus wooden bats has long sparked controversy in the modern history of baseball, this bill, known as Assembly Bill 7 (AB7), is in direct response to the injury of 16-year-old Gunnar Sandberg of Marin Catholic High School.

On March 11, Sandberg, a pitcher for his high school baseball team, was hit in the head by a ball hit off of an aluminum bat and was immediately rushed to the hospital. He was placed in a medically induced coma at Marin General Hospital where doctors removed a portion of his skull.

Weeks later, Sandberg slowly came out of the coma and was sent to a rehabilitation center which he was released from on May 5, the same day that AB7 was advanced by the Senate Education Committee.

Supporters of the bill cite popular opinion that metal bats can hit a ball harder and farther than wooden bats, thus posing a greater threat.

However, studies on this subject have reported mixed results; some support common beliefs, while others seem to have proven that wooden bats are equally as dangerous as aluminum or other metal alloy bats.

Possible characteristics that would be responsible for the potency of a metal bat to exceed that of a wooden bat are the size of the bat’s “sweet spot,” an area on the barrel of the bat which is believed to hit the ball the farthest, the light weight of the bat, and the “trampoline effect,” the capacity of the bat’s material to compress at the point of impact.

Unlike metal bats, wooden bats have a tendency to break after a hard hit, sending splintered pieces of wood flying towards players.

Opponents of the metal bat ban also claim that, despite a wooden bat’s smaller sweet spot, if you hit a ball with the right area of the wooden barrel you can send the ball flying just as fast as you could have with a metal bat, thus making wood just as dangerous as metal.

“From a pitcher’s perspective, it’s easier to get a batter out with a wooden bat,” said Miramonte pitcher Kyle Miller ‘11.

“But from a batter’s perspective, metal bats are better,” said Miramonte baseball player Trever Lunquist ‘11. “Wooden bats are a lot harder to get a hit off of because they have a smaller sweet spot and they’re a lot heavier and harder to swing.”

Major League Baseball strictly adheres to the use of wooden bats, and metal bats are already banned from youth baseball leagues, including high schools, in New York City, North Dakota and the Marin County Athletic League.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has also banned certain metal composite bats over the years and more are expected to be added to this list when the NCAA releases its bat testing results in 2012. If AB7 is put into effect, the end of its two-year moratorium will coincide with the release of the new bat standards.

“Players that are used to hitting with a metal bat will be at a disadvantage if they have to switch to a wooden one,” said Miller. “The difference in weight distribution can completely change your swing.”