Baseball is Safer
Do you remember a few years ago there was a lot of talk about baseball bats breaking and flying around the field, potentially injuring players and fans? Have you heard much about it this year? Probably not, because the incidents of broken bats are down by half in Major League Baseball.
Thanks to a partnership with Major League Baseball and the USDA Forest Service that began three years ago, there has been a 50 % reduction in multiple-piece failure (MPF) rates. Research engineer, Dave Kretschmann, at the Forest Products Laboratory has studied video of every shattered bat since 2009 and examined hundreds of those bats. Most of his recommendations address “slope of grain issues” which refers to the straightness of the wood grain along the length of a bat. A straighter grain is less likely to break.
Also, MPF is fairly new to the game, partly because of changes in the geometry of the bats. One favorite among players is a thick barrel tapering quickly to a much thinner handle. Because MLB bats must weigh about the same, these bats need to use a lower density of wood which is also weaker. Over-drying during the process can also create weaknesses.
Because of these findings, in 2010 limits were placed on bat geometry, wood density restrictions and wood drying recommendations. According to Kretschmann, “One change made to address [the slope of grain] issue, that players and fans can easily see, is a small ink dot placed on the face-grain of bat handles. This helps identify grain characteristics at just a glance.”
The Forest Products Laboratory and MLB will continue to work closely to continue this trend of fewer broken bats. And I’m going to look for that ink dot on the bat the next time I’m watching a game.