Dear Mr Wilbon & Mr Kornheiser,
I am GM of Phoenix Bats, a pro-approved wood baseball bat manufacturer since 2000. As part of our business, we provide maple and ash bats to numerous major and minor league players and teams. The majority of our players choose maple.
We believe the uptick in maple bat breakage, if statistically significant, is primarily attributed to the fact that some players are requesting bigger barrels and thinner handles. This is a simple equation that does not work. The redistribution of weight to the barrel is putting significant additional stress on the handle, creating a much greater chance for breakage.
Major League Baseball addressed part, but not all, of this issue. They only put a minimum handle dimension requirement on the books (still too small) and then grandfathered in models that were in use. They also have manufacturers placing the engraving and logo on the opposite side of where it had been for years. If players truly changed and are hitting on the grains recommended (unlikely as they know where the strongest part of the bat is), bats will break more often, just not with as much intensity as they would be hitting on the weaker area of the bat.
Secondarily, we believe that some wood being accepted by certain manufacturers is having an impact. We’ve seen some wood for players that we shake our head at, the most glaring being a bat for one of the most recognized Boston players. The unseen issue comes from wood that’s too dry or dries too fast. That will also lead to bat breakage much faster. We suspect one method of drying is causing the wood to dry too quickly, impacting the cellular structure of the bat. MLB did work to address wood quality with manufacturers, but did not address the moisture content.
While there is nothing inherently unsafe about maple bats (in use for many years now), the safety problem should be solved by regulating the handle/barrel dimensions. Addressing wood quality issues is more difficult than bat dimensions/specifications. Thus, we recommend addressing dimensions first and then wood quality if desired results are not obtained.
A maple ban will force manufacturers to come up with other acceptable woods, which will likely exhibit similar characteristics due to specifications being requested. At best, these other bats will still break as often, increasing the cost of team operations, while minimally impacting safety.
With a ban, demand for ash bats will increase, regardless of other woods available. Unfortunately, the Emerald Ash borer, a presently unstoppable bug, is destroying ash trees at an alarming pace. The wood expert we work with, who brokers for the largest wood supplier in the nation, expects ash to disappear at some point within the next 5-10 years, without the impact of a maple ban take in to account.
We feel MLB has taken some positive steps, and with some additional tweaks/changes can insure that maple remains a viable wood that’s used by the majority of major league players. Of note, besides the Elijah Dukes bat incident, the most noticeable broken bat incident that occurred so far this year was when an umpire was struck by a broken bat---an ash bat.
I appreciate you taking the time to read our take. Hopefully the info above can continue to contribute to the debate and people’s understanding of the issue.
Phoenix Bat Company