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The time to address maple bats is now

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The video? Troubling.

The headline? Even more so.


The ramifications? A season-ending injury to one of the lone bright spots in this season of all-around deflation for the Cubs.

But what of the aftermath? What will Major League Baseball do in the wake of this close call?

I mean, think about it. A player had his chest punctured as a foreign object violently rammed its way inches from vital organs. That's serious stuff.

So Major League baseball has a question to answer.

Has the shift to maple bats created such a dangerous environment that it needs to be addressed? Like, now?

Or is this a fluke accident? The exception to the rule. The unfortunate, but oft-forgotten reality that playing the game carries risks.

Predictably, the debate over safety on the diamond was pushed front and center a day after Colvin's misfortune. And it's no big surprise. With all due respect to the outfielder, it's not everyday something like this happens. It was a salacious and must-see event, from the realm of the bizarre.

The problem is, it seems that the likelihood of repeating this incident is growing.

It's certainly not the sexiest debate on the sporting landscape, this maple-bat one.

That doesn't mean it's not of paramount importance, especially while the images are fresh in our collective mind.

Maple bats are a point of contention around the league, which has banned some bats from minor-league play, including those of the maple variety. Players on a team's 40-man roster, however, are exempt.

At the root of the issue is the fact that many players have become, in their minds at least, dependent on them. Ever try to convince someone they don't need something they think they do, in fact, need? Yeah, not so easy.

And why are the bats so attractive to hitters?

Maple bats are harder than their ash counterparts and routinely have thinner handles. These, too, can be shaved down even further by hitters looking to lighten their lumber.

One doesn't have to be overly well-versed in science to understand the heavier-barrel-thinner-handle situation is going to result in more snapped bats. And while an ash bat breaks into small pieces when shattered, maple ones often result in larger shards.

The rate of maple bats breaking has dropped 50 percent over the past two seasons, according to a major-league official. Still, that statistic is little consolation to Colvin or anyone seeking to shore up safety.

There is the idea that the Cubs outfielder should have been more aware of the situation. It's an idea that just doesn't hold any weight.

Honestly, what was he supposed to do? He had to watch the ball down the line to gauge his baserunning decision. In all likelihood, he probably didn't even know there was a flying piece of wood flying at him until it was too late.

Then there's the issue of fan safety. Professional athletes have years of instinct and ample athletic prowess to draw upon when dodging these dangers. The paying public? Not so much.

"Get rid of the maple bats. Absolutely, 100 percent," Milwaukee Brewers manager Ken Macha said when asked in the wake of Colvin's injury. "what's going to really happen is one's going to go in the stands. There's people in the stands, they're not paying attention to anything. They're talking to the guy three seats down, not even going move to get out of the way."

Oakland Athletics reliever Brad Ziegler, who was slashed in the back with a flying broken bat earlier this year, echoed those sentiments.

"A little higher and it could have struck him in the throat," he said. "I'm worried there won't be interest in doing anything until it's too late and it takes a lawsuit when a player or fan gets hurt.
"Until they are eliminated, the danger is still there. ... This is like having a 2-pound tomahawk flying through the air."

Now that one of those "tomahawks" has connected with a human sternum, baseball should have no choice but to address this situation. And address it quickly.

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This page contains a single entry by Kyle Koster published on September 21, 2010 9:52 AM.

Braylon Edwards charged with drunk driving was the previous entry in this blog.

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