It's time to retire the aluminum bat

Posted by: Press Democrat correspondent Dewey Forget

With the horrifying sound and image of a line drive smashing off the head of Giants’ pitcher Joe Martinez last week, the subject of wooden bats versus aluminum or composite bats has once again been brought up.

Aluminum bats have been used in high school for a number of years. Originally, a cost-cutting maneuver, the increasingly dangerous bats are now a staple, an accepted piece of equipment. I for one would like to see high schools and colleges go back to wooden bats. The crack of the bat has been replaced by a “ping.” It’s not the same.

High school players are getting bigger and stronger, bat speed is increasing, and pitchers are throwing faster. It adds up to a disaster-in-waiting.

My colleague Rich Rupprecht, who has covered baseball on every level, mentioned in his Sunday baseball report that retired slugger Mark McGuire was hitting 500-foot shots routinely in batting practice with an aluminum bat. There are many high school players capable of smashing balls at warp-speed with these bats as well.

Have you noticed that, even in bunting situations, third basemen and first basemen aren’t nearly as far down the line as they used to play? If they are 40 or 50 feet away, and the batter swings and smashes a line drive in their direction, they have virtually no chance to react. The ball is on them much faster than with a wooden bat.

Mark Andrews, who has seen the evolution of bats in his 26 years at T & B Sports, explains that the BESR (bat exit speed rate) on an aluminum bat is not to exceed 92 mph. He pointed out that wooden bats can create speeds approaching that velocity, but only when contact is made perfectly on the sweet spot, and the sweet spot on wooden bats is considerably smaller than on aluminum. Hence, more line drives and sharply hit balls with the ersatz bats.

If the ball that caromed off Martinez’s temple had been going a few miles per hour faster, he might not have survived.

Mel Arnerich, one of the true baseball men in the area, says there is no way aluminum or composite bats could be used in the big leagues, and he adds that at every level composite bats have altered the game. He likens it to how titanium and other materials are changing golf, making shorter courses obsolete for the professional tour.

Balls compress off aluminum bats. Hitting is easier with aluminum. The ball gets to infielders and outfielders faster. Batting averages sky-rocket and many hitters are deceived into thinking it’s their ability.

“A pitcher makes a good pitch and the hitter hits a triple to right-center,” said Arnerich, who has coached high school and in many youth leagues. It’s Arnerich’s opinion that if a kid can hit it doesn’t matter what type of bat is in his hands. “In fact, some coaches use wood in the batting cage so a player can’t pick up bad habits that come with using aluminum bats,” he said.

I’m a baseball purist and I really miss kids talking about their bats with some reverence. Now it’s like: “Well, I use the Triton CBT91T-33.” Instead of: “Yeah, I use an Eric Chavez model or a Randy Winn model.”

Players today share bats. Heck, half the team sometimes uses the same bat. A bat used to be a personal choice that represented a player’s personality. I used a jug-handled Richie Ashburn model for two years – the same bat. To loan a bat to another player was a no-no. He could break it or worse yet, take a hit out of “your” bat.

So I say let’s bring back that sweet sound of ball on wood – no more ping.