Maple Bat Threat: Is MLB Waiting too Long to Act?

Michael PopeAnalyst IMay 23, 2008

In 2005, while pitching for the Nashville Sounds, former big-league pitcher Rick Helling was impaled in his left arm by a piece of broken bat. He was taken to the hospital and his injuries were not life threatening.

In 2006, umpire Jerry Layne was struck in the side of the head by Hanley Ramirez's shattered bat. He laid on the field for several minutes before being loaded on a cart and taken off the field.

In 2007, a female spectator was struck above her right eye by shards of the broken bat of Humberto Cota. She was taken to the medical room for treatment but her injuries were not considered serious.

Earlier this year, Pirates hitting coach Don Long was struck in the cheek by shattered bat fragments, while sitting in the dugout.

Tonight, Orioles announcer Gary Thorne was paraphrasing Rays manager Joe Maddon when he said, "There is nothing right about a maple bat. They've got to go."

Watching almost any ball game today, you'll hear a similar mantra from MLB announcers. Maple bats, much more common since the turn of the century, break more frequently and violently. Something needs to be done before someone gets speared by the hurling remains of a shattered bat and is seriously injured.

While MLB has passed stricter drug policies recently, it also instituted "speed up" rules to increase the pace of the game by making coaches run on and off the field.

Yet, measures have only been proposed towards addressing the issue of bats.  Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig expressed concern about maple bats, but stated it was "very premature" to do anything about them now.

What are they waiting for? What more evidence does MLB need to confirm bats are breaking more frequently and are causing injuries?

Is this like steroids where the problem went unchecked for years, and the handwriting was on the proverbial wall before a slap on the wrist was established?

Let's hope not. The player's union and the Commissioner's office should get together and resolve this issue before more injuries occur.