Your team’s best hitter is at the plate with the winning run dancing off second, you hear the crack of the bat and see the ball laced to the left of second base and a potentially lethal shard of maple helicoptering toward the seats behind the visitors dugout. The introduction of maple as a bat composition is credited to Joe Carter in 1991. Some 50 years earlier ash had replaced hickory as the wood that bats were made from. Maple wasn’t illegal, but when the obvious danger was recognized it should have been universally banned by MLB and the MLPAA, but it wasn’t.
The players and fans had seen the potential for injury or worse. Pirates coach Dale Long hit in the head with the barrel of a broken bat. Tommy Lasorda knocked to the ground. Then Cubs player Tyler Colvin, whose arm was speared by a 15-inch shard of maple while trying to score from 3<sup>rd</sup> base and Dodgers fan Susan Rhodes, struck in the face at Dodger Stadium. Players spoke out but little was done.
"I'm not so much worried myself," Scott Rolen said.. “The bats are a hazard for fans more so than players."
Alex Rodriguez, "I've never seen anything like it. Even if I'm 140 feet away [at third] base I'm in danger. Why not ban them”?
In 1991 the level of distrust between baseball and the Players Assoc. was at a level red. Brewers owner Allan Huber Selig and his ‘gang of six’ were undercutting Commissioner Vincent Fay with a vote of no confidence. Fay’s crime was telling ownership that it is their continued collusion against the union that has poisoned the relationship. In 1985, the Commissioner Peter Uberroth encouraged owners not to compete for other team’s free agents, this continued until 1987 when the Players Assoc. and Donald Fehr brought charges in Federal Court. The MLBPA was successful and MLB was fined 280 million. Selig replaced Fay and the independent authority of the office of Commissioner and office of Commissioner became a toady for the owners.
In 2008 it was estimated that 60% of the major league players used maple and the incident of shattered bats was one per game. It was then that MLB met with scientists knowledgeable about the properties of wood and bat manufacturers. The MLBPA was not invited to participate. Recommendations were advised and incorporated.
Today the percentage of players using maple has dropped slightly to 55% and the incident of bats breaking is down to .53 per game. Selig feels that this is an acceptable risk.
"I think we've made a lot of progress and we continue to make progress. The union and everybody has been involved," Commissioner Bud Selig said last month at his annual All-Star FanFest question-and-answer session. "You can't have enough emphasis on it. We've done everything we possibly can." Quinn Roberts, MLN.com, 8/3/12
That acceptable risk translates into 1300 maple bats exploding into potentially lethal projectiles. With Michael Weiner having replaced Fehr as Executive Director of the MLBPA and a thawing of the decades old contention, Selig sits back and gives up.
Tom Verducci SI.com 6/19/08 was a reference source.