Are maple bats now the most likely piece of baseball equipment to injure players or spectators? Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports looks into the issue of whether maple bats shatter into pieces that tend to fly into dugouts or the seats with the potential for gruesome injuries.
Someone’s going to die at a baseball stadium soon.
Might be a player. Could be an umpire. Possibly even a fan.
It almost was a coach.
The scar on Don Long’s left cheek still puffs around the edges, fresh enough that it looks like a misplaced zipper instead of the mark of someone who lived too hard. Like every scar, this one has a story, and it involves a piece of shattered wood, about two pounds heavy, that tomahawked 30 feet before slicing through his face.
Nate McLouth thought he just missed the sweet spot of the bat. It was April 15, the eighth inning, and the Pittsburgh Pirates were getting pummeled at Dodger Stadium. Long, the Pirates’ hitting coach, milled about the dugout until he heard McLouth hammer Esteban Loaiza’s 0-2 pitch. Long looked up and tracked the ball down the right-field line. He had no idea baseball’s greatest weapon was headed right at him, and that had he been positioned an inch to the left or right, he might not be here to talk about it.
About two or three times a game. players swinging bats made of maple wood end up with kindling in their hands while the barrel – blunt and thick on one end, splintered and sharp on the other – flies every which direction. Pitchers and middle infielders stand in the greatest line of fire and do their best acrobat imitations to avoid the remnants. On occasion, the shard will land in the stands and harm a fan. And sometimes, as it did in the case of Long, it will wind up in the dugout.
“Didn’t see it at all,” Long said. “It just hit me. I backed up. I saw the blood coming out on the card I keep and on my shoes.”
Passan talks to MLB officials who may be asking for a ban on maple bats or a requirement to make the handles thicker. However, it isn't known if ash bat manufacturers can fill orders fast enough.