Mass. high schools take wood over metal

By J.J. Cooper
November 12, 2002

The debate between wood and metal bats, a controversial subject at the college level for several years, has made a splash at the high school level.

Citing safety concerns, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association's baseball committee voted at its fall meeting to ban metal bats for next season's state tournament. A second vote in early December will determine if the bat ban will include the regular season as well.

The MIAA's decision makes it the first state high school association to ban aluminum bats. The momentum for a change came after a pair of incidents in 2001 in Massachusetts where high school pitchers suffered head injuries from balls hit back up the middle.

The baseball committee voted 9-6 in favor of the metal bat ban. Before the matter came up to vote for the MIAA, the Massachusetts Baseball Coaches executive board voted 17-1 against the proposed ban in a non-binding vote. The National High School Baseball Coaches Association also lobbied against the ban. Jerry Miles, the NHSBCA's executive director, said he believed the decision was made because of emotion rather than a calm view of the facts.

“I don't think it's a positive step,” said Louisville Slugger president Marty Archer, a manufacturer of wood and metal bats. “I wish the MIAA would have looked or will look at the hard data that is there.”

Opponents of the decision say there's no proof metal bats lead to an increase in injuries. They also say the switch to wood will lead to less participation, because wood bats have a smaller sweet spot than metal bats, and bat budgets will have to increase because wood bats break so often.

Proponents of the ban say safety outweighs the financial concerns. But that's where the issue gets murky.

No study directly comparing the safety of wood and metal bats exists. NCAA studies have shown baseball is one of the safest college sports, but no study has directly investigated whether there is a difference in safety between metal and wood bats.

The National Institute of Sports Science and Safety recently published a study comparing the performance of wood bats and metal bats. The study showed a wide range of difference in metal bats, with some performing similarly to wood, while others showed greater exit-speed velocity than wood bats.

However, metal bats that showed the largest disparity from wood bats are no longer legal for NCAA or high school use. The NCAA and the National Federation of State High School Associations have adopted standards for metal bats that limit the diameter of a bat to 25Ž8 inches. Also, the weight-length differential can be no greater than three (e.g., a 32-inch bat must weigh at least 29 ounces). And the study did not look at whether the increased performance leads to more injuries.