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At the Letters: Maple bat banter

In five years covering baseball, I've never run into anything so polarizing.

Racism? No.

Sexism? Bzzzz.

Barry Bonds. Nah.

Maple bats.

From the people who think the whole issue is silly to those who want the bats banned, the stories on Don Long and Susan Rhodes generated thousands of letters, and in such cases a majority opinion usually bubbles to the surface.

Not here. Though the letters were quite thought-provoking. So with apologies to those who didn't make the cut – furniture carvers explaining wood-grain direction and metaphorists comparing maple bats to Ford Pinto gas tanks – we offer a compendium of the best, along with a few others that have leaked into the inbox in the past month.

FANS, READERS GO BATTY (Baseball at breaking point over maple bats) (Fan's injury should force bat policy change)

Don't go to a game if you're worried about being hit with a bat or ball. It's like going outside in winter and never expecting to get hit with a snowball.

Rick Doss

Shockingly, if the letters leaned slightly one way, it was toward this camp. That makes me feel like I didn't do a good enough job of explaining. Your eye naturally gravitates toward the ball. Sometimes the bat flies the complete opposite way you think it would. Many e-mailers blamed Rhodes – stupidly – for getting hit while attending a Dodgers game. Well, what about Long, the Pittsburgh Pirates hitting coach? He's been in baseball for decades. You think he wasn't paying attention?

While we're at it, let's just go to Nerf equipment. Or maybe we should issue football helmets or full-body armor to every fan that sits in the lower deck. Or maybe people sitting along the baselines and behind the dugouts should pay attention to the game! And maybe people who can't afford insurance shouldn't buy expensive tickets. "She wonders how a sport can put its players and fans in such precarious positions, prone to assaults with a deadly weapon." Umm … it is baseball. They've been playing it for 150 years.

Anthony Gill
Frankfort, Ky.

See above.

As you noted in your article, baseball stadiums post signs that state: "Please be alert to bats and balls entering the seating area." The problem with this warning is that sometimes it is physically impossible to perform. If a fan is sitting behind the third-base dugout and the ball travels to the outfield, then the fans can't be alert to a broken bat flying at them from home plate. Do you think that this is a flaw in the warning that could be exploited in a lawsuit against MLB?

Mark Norman
Long Beach, Calif.

There were reasonable readers, too, like Mark.

Thank you for your column about exploding bats. I am an insurance lawyer who understands perfectly well the doctrine of assumption of the risk, but the issue posed by these bats is very disturbing to me. It is one thing to expect fans to use their own judgment and pay attention to a game and either duck from or deflect batted balls hit in their direction. To expect them to also find a way, somehow, to individually protect themselves from massive slivers of jagged wood rocketing toward them is simply absurd.

Neil Singh

And those in the legal community.

I work for a company that produces wooden bats. In fact, I operate the lathe that turns them. If MLB were to ban the use of maple bats, our company would most likely go under. Good ash is hard to find, and much of the land that has good ash is owned by the parent company of Louisville Slugger. They and Rawlings have a monopoly on the industry, and without the recent boom in popularity of maple, smaller companies would not be able to compete. If MLB were to ban maple, there would have to be another alternative to ash, such as cherry or walnut. Ash is in short supply and will eventually become extinct in North America. Maple is plentiful. The easiest solution, in my opinion, is to tighten rules on the thickness of the handle. Some MLB players insist on the heaviest of barrels and thinnest of handles, and then complain that the bats are breaking. Of course they are. But, it isn't because of the maple. It is because the models that most players are using right now have horrible weight distribution. They are not balanced at all, and this leads to breakage. MLB could fix this easily by requiring thicker handles, and the players should just suck it up and swing heavier bats. After all, it is people's safety that is at stake. But hey. The more they break, the more they buy.

James Bliss
Jamestown, N.Y.

As well as those who would know best.

James brings up a good point about the emerald ash borer. It's a beetle that has killed tens of millions of ash trees and continues to wreak havoc. Maple was a godsend to bat companies that otherwise might have struggled to keep up with ash-only supply. Manufacturers need to find another wood that works – yellow birch, perhaps ?

This story, and all its other parallel news reports and related spin-doctoring, is just a poorly disguised attempt by the American ash bat producers to stem the ever-increasing surge of Canadian-made, superior maple bats becoming the norm in North American baseball. There is surely no one sports fan on the continent who isn't aware of the inherent danger of sitting in those seats specifically close to the field of play, no matter what the sport and no matter what the equipment used.

David F. Watts
Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada

It's a conspiracy!

While I do feel bad about what happened to the person in your story, how is it the fault of the wood that the bat is made from? Why not blame Canada for producing such a strong and useful natural resource? How about proposing a ban on lumber from Canada – oh, wait, you already tried that and almost killed an entire industry for no good reason. Clearly disappointed in your efforts and enjoying my Alberta beef.

Sean O'Grady
Airdrie, Alberta, Canada

I presume your next stop, after Yahoo! Sports, was Alberta Beef Magazine.

It seems to me that bats break at the handle (thinnest part of the bat) and recent bat designs have smaller handle diameters than bats did 10 or so years back. Wouldn't it make more sense that MLB set a limit on the minimum bat handle diameter to make bats more rugged than force a bat material change?

Robert Hoover

Yes, and I think that's going to be the compromise. Nets take care of fans but don't protect players. Banning maple outright is problematic for a number of reasons, bat supply now and in the future No. 1.

The rule will be something along these lines: If you're caught with an undersized handle once, it's a warning. Second time, a 10-game suspension. Third time, 50 games.

Back when I was a kid we would have worn that bandage as a medal.

Epoufette, Mich.

Why is it that anything beginning with "Back when I was a kid" always ends with an absurd statement?

LET'S BE PRACTICAL (Suggestions to make interleague play better)

So let me get this straight. You want the DH to appear in both ballparks? So the NL has a bench player hitting or playing the field in place of a starter and the AL team has a player that they pay $10 million to be their DH? A logical, well-thought-out recommendation would be something along the lines of having the DH in the NL parks and having the pitcher hit in the AL parks.

VJ Misch
Piscataway, N.J.

Agreed completely. I screwed the pooch on that one. And of all the ones to pick as "logical" …

I love VJ's idea. Try to at least help NL fans appreciate the DH and allow AL fans to see the strategies involved when pitchers hit.

You're going to regret the Ron Paul comment. You know they own the Internet.

Tampa, Fla.

I am?

You (expletive) (expletive). How dare you compare a privately owned choice to pair certain sports franchises aginst one anoter to a political movement in a publicly reverent gonernment? You know (expletive) about politics and even less about cultural movements. Why don't you just write your silly little basebal column and leave the real issues to people with IQ's above 100?

Dack Zerger
Austin, Texas

I am.

And Rep. Paul: You must be so proud. Please, when you ascend to the presidency, introduce mandatory spell-check as the 28th Amendment.

STOP YANKING MY CHAIN (Rebuilding isn't in Yankees' vocabulary)

Your annual Yankee eulogy is becoming as predictable as a Yankees slow start. This team is only 6 games out of first place, and two games out of the playoffs, something you conveniently left out of your article. Face it, the Yankees will be a thorn in the Red Sox's paw all year, and who knows, with Paplebon's ERA six times higher than last year at this point, Papi hurt, Schilling hurt, Ellsbury hurt, you should continue to pray that the your beloved Red Sox don't get any more banged up or soon they will be looking up at the rest of the AL Easters.

Joe Bessette

Yankees fans are allowed to live in Boston?

OK, sentence by sentence: Uh-huh. Standings don't matter right now, quality of play does, and the Yankees don't look like they've got much. Much credit to you: the Papelbon's-ERA-is-six-times-higher note is a damn fine use of misleading stats, what with his 1.86 this year unbearable.

The fact that the Yankees are retooling for the future is a good thing. Only the short-sighted and stubborn can't see that.

JOBA-MANIA (Chamberlain starts but goes nowhere)

Exactly how did Joba Chamberlain come to be the biggest story in the sport? I mean, yes, I realize he plays for the most storied franchise in baseball and, yes, I realize he plays in the biggest market in the world, but c'mon. It's been non-stop with the "Will he start? Will he relieve?" nonsense since the end of last season. He's not even the most promising pitcher in the league!

Hubert Chung
Ottawa, Ontario

I was discussing this with a friend who's a Yankee fan, and he had a simple explanation: Joba is a rock star. He's loud. Brash. Funny. Goes by one name. He took the biggest team in the biggest city by absolute storm last season. Who was the last player the Yankees developed with such hype? Kevin Maas? Bam Bam Meulens?

WELCOME TO FIGHT CLUB (Red Sox find Rays fight to fight)

Did Johnny Gomes attack someone from behind in the game with the Red Sox as he did in a game against the Yankees? This is not the first time he has injected himself into a fight by running in from the outfield or out of the dugout, and he should be punished accordingly. Talk about cheap-shot artists!

Larry Weitzman
New York

Wait … so now there's a New York guy writing about Boston? This is Bizzaro At the Letters.

Larry's point is well-taken. Gomes plays bully well, and that's why he was suspended for five games, though his bum rush off the bench should have gotten him seven or eight.

"Did Ramirez tell Youkilis to quit his bellyaching about ball-and-strike calls?" Seriously, do you really think Manny has the brain power to even conjure up such an objection? I suppose it is possible, but something like that has to be around No. 57 on the list of possible reasons for their little fracas. My guess? Youk ate one of Manny's pudding cups.

Las Vegas

Sounded absurd to me, too, though a press-box rumbling pointed to it as the cause. Then, a day later, it was actually confirmed. I'd have thought pudding cups before that, too.


Suck on this Jeff: Cardinals right-hander Todd Wellemeyer was named National League pitcher of the month for May on the basis of his 4-0 record and 2.19 earned run average.

Bryce Gilbert
Quincy, Ill.

Karma bites.

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