The Crack of the Bat

July 16, 2013 Comments Off on The Crack of the Bat

73-BB 001

Photo source: Daniel Terdiman/CNET

In the early part of the twentieth century, most baseball bats were made from hickory and ash. Eventually hickory bats became more scarce, and ash took over as the predominate wood of choice. The strength and flexibility of ash makes it perfect for this use. In recent times maple was introduced, and now it’s the most common wood species used. Initially, maple bats were a disaster. Though maple is harder than ash, it is also more brittle and less flexible. All of sudden, bats weren’t just cracking, they were shattering on a nightly basis. (The most famous example of this was the 2000 World Series when Mike Piazza’s bat shattered its way to the pitching mound, where Roger Clemens caught it and flung it back at Piazza. Stay classy, Roger.) The old timer announcers began to proclaim on a nightly basis, “They don’t make bats like they used to!”.

Well, they were right, but the wood was only partly to blame. Forest Products Laboratory recently published their findings into the matter, and found that wood grain runout was the biggest culprit. Now I’m not sure how much time and money was spent on this study, but I reckon a phone call to Brian Boggs or Curtis Buchanan, or any one of about 1,000 woodworkers in this country might have saved a little time.

Tonight is the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. I grew up a baseball fan, watching the Cincinnati Reds in the now extinct Riverfront Stadium. I was a little young to remember the Big Red Machine, but some of my earliest childhood memories were watching George Foster hit upper deck home runs. Major League Baseball has changed a lot since then, and mostly for the worse. I don’t watch baseball as much as I used to, but I look back on those childhood memories with such nostalgia. Even watching people play catch in the park brings back great memories. Despite all of Major League Baseball’s worst intentions—the strikes, steroids, free-agency, Bud Selig—a summer day spent at a ballpark is still a great thing. If you are lucky enough to live in a city with a baseball team, whether it be a major or minor league team, you should make a point to go to at least one game. And if the bat shatters while you’re there, you’ll be able to explain it to those sitting next to you.


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