With Opening Day just three weeks away, fans everywhere are beginning to collectively anticipate the ever-comforting, all-is-right-with-the-world sound of wood meeting ball, signifying that another baseball season is, at last, officially underway.
Of course, that very crack of the bat is a subject that the folks who run major league baseball have been seriously grappling with lately -- namely the alarming preponderance of potentially dangerous pieces of busted lumber flying through the air all over baseball fields during the last decade. And that's even before Roger Clemens picks them up to recycle them as spears.
It was recently revealed that beginning in May of 2008 MLB and the player's union began studying the issue of broken bats -- specifically those big-barreled, thin-handled maple bats that became all the ('roid) rage after Barry Bonds used them to (pardon the expression) shatter the single-season home run record in 2001.
Working with representatives of various bat manufacturers as well as the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service's Forest Products Laboratory -- working, presumably, out of their top-secret George Whipple "Don't Squeeze The Charmin" facility -- a team of experts systematically collected, catalogued and examined thousands of bats broken during games in '08, and continued the study throughout all of last year as well.
Guidelines put into effect in 2009 governing the wood grain quality of maple bats did result in a marked decrease; they cracked roughly one-third less often than in 2008. Still, while the overall number of broken bats was evenly, er, split, between maple and ash bats, maple bats did remain far more likely to splinter into pieces than their ash counterparts. Consequently, MLB began implementing additional bat regulations for 2010.
Beginning this year, minor league ballplayers who are not on their team's 40-man roster and have no major league experience will be banned from using bats made from certain types of maple which have proven especially prone to breaking, including varieties such as sugar maple, red maple and Russian maple. In fact, the 30-plus companies authorized to manufacture bats for professional baseball will now be mandated to use only North American Rock maple. (Take that, you subversive Commie/ Socialist batmakers trying to undermine our American pastime!)
Of course, one of the most interesting things to come out of this ongoing bat caper is the fact that MLB decided to not publish the 50-page report that has led to the new manufacturing edicts. Meaning you've either got some laudable environmental printing concerns at work here -- or, perhaps just as likely, some baseball folks who'd prefer no one question precisely where all the mandated maple comes from (otherwise known as the "Kickbacks for Brushbacks" agreement).
The other interesting thing to come out of all this is that any major leaguer whose bat broke in pieces more than ten times last year will have to meet with a panel of union and bat experts for a consultation to see if any further measures need be taken to hold down the number of broken bats in that player's future.
I can think of one easy solution: just ban Mariano Rivera from pitching to him.