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MLB whiffs by banning competitors' pink bats on Mother's Day

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

What started off as a wonderful tradition and homage to breast cancer survivors everywhere, the use of pink bats on Mother's Day, has turned into another ugly example of corporate greed. Hopefully sometime between now and Sunday, Major League Baseball and Louisville Slugger will realize there are few greater sins than monetizing disease, and fix that.

Baltimore outfielder Nick Markakis and Minnesota third baseman Trevor Plouffe, both of whose mothers are breast cancer survivors, received special bats from manufacturer MaxBat this week. They have been told not to use the bats, with their pink MaxBat labels, because they don't comply with a league policy – one Louisville Slugger purchased through a charitable donation.

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Bats with this pink MaxBat label don't comply with league policy. (@maxbatbaseball)

In early April, MLB official Roy Krasik sent an email to all league-approved bat manufacturers outlining the rules on pink bats. The email, obtained by Yahoo! Sports, specifically mandates the only company allowed to manufacture a pink bat with its name on the label is Louisville Slugger, "the MLB official licensee."

To get that designation, Hillerich & Bradsby, the parent company of Louisville Slugger, made what one source deemed "a sizeable donation" to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the league's charitable partner. The terms of the donation included other manufacturers being able to make pink bats but not stamp the bat with their logos. MaxBat, which declined comment through a spokesman, made bats for Markakis, Plouffe and other major leaguers that were standard colors – with pink MaxBat labels.

[Also: MLB to use pink-stitched baseballs on Mother's Day]

The league apparently considered this running afoul of a portion of its rule that states companies other than Louisville Slugger can make pink bats so long as "no ribbons, corporate logos, distinguishing marks or names of charities are included on the bat." MaxBat could be subject to a fine for simply shipping the bats to players.

None of this is necessary. Louisville started the pink-bat operation in 2006 to raise awareness for breast cancer. The entire sport embraced it. On Sunday, pink will bathe fields – shoes, gloves, batting gloves and, yes, bats.

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Nick Markakis hoped to use a MaxBat with a pink logo to honor his mom, a breast cancer survivor. (USA Today)

Just not as many as there should be. While the stubbornness of bat manufacturers is evident – just make a label-less bat for one day – their refusal to do so is a legitimate action of protest.

Their argument: Since when is awareness for sale?

Raising money for charity is often a painful process, and if a company like Louisville is willing to donate money – more than $500,000 since the inception of the program, it claimed on its Twitter feed – that is a great victory. At the same time, Louisville's insistence on including the no-label clause for its competitors does more harm to the point of the day – increasing awareness – than its donation does good. The money is simply not worth the aggravation for any of the parties involved, particularly Louisville, which used its Twitter account to spin corporate gobbledygook about all the good it has done.

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From a business sense, of course Louisville doesn't want its competitors putting labeled pink bats in stores and claiming they're just like the ones major leaguers swung. Then again, for such good friends of cancer research, Louisville seems far more concerned with ensuring a monopoly on that market than painting the batter's box pink with every bat possible, manufacturer and label be damned.

Plouffe took to Twitter to show his initial anger, writing: "Seriously disgusted that a company would block awareness for Breast Cancer research so their brand can stand out. Thanks @sluggernation !" He followed up: "Sorry Mom. I can't use my Breast Cancer Awareness bat on Sunday because @sluggernation 'owns the rights.' Because that's what it's about…"

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He later deleted the posts and apologized to Louisville, though it's not altogether apparent why. He was exactly right. Awareness had a price. And it's one agreed upon by Louisville, MLB and the players' association, which in its collective-bargaining agreement with MLB says players will abide by league-mandated rules on special equipment days.

All of this can go away easily. Louisville can say that it would be happy to donate money to Komen with no strings attached, a sign of true giving – and if it declines to do so, it will be obvious just how hollow the donation was in the first place. MLB can allow Plouffe, Markakis and others to use their bats this year and change the rule back to how it used to be: Every manufacturer can make labeled pink bats. And rather than focus on who can't swing pink bats, we remember what Mother's Day in baseball should be: a time to honor the wonderful, strong women in our lives.

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Before Plouffe deleted his posts, his mother, Diane Plouffe, tweeted at him: "As a breast cancer survivor I thank my son Trevor for keeping up the fight for a cure!" It is indeed a wonderful cause, one MLB has embraced and taken to levels far beyond what anybody imagined pink-bat day could be. Like so many things done right, of course, it reached a point where the money involved killed the good will and caused this, a truly unnecessary mess.

Fix it, baseball. Fix it, Louisville. Make Sunday pink for everyone.

 

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