Banned In Boston?

North Reading High School senior baseball players Chris Cody, left, and Brian Lewis pose with aluminum bats used in their games at the high school field in North Reading, Mass. Wednesday Sept. 25, 2002. On Thursday Oct. 31, 2002, the baseball committee of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association will consider banning aluminum bats from next year's state tournament. AP

Massachusetts could become the first state to ban aluminum baseball bats in high school play, a move prompted by injuries from line drives that can rocket through the infield at close to 100 mph.

The state Interscholastic Athletic Association on Thursday will consider banning the bats from next year's state tournament. It will also decide whether to recommend a ban for all high school games.

No other state bans aluminum bats, according to the National High School Baseball Coaches Association in Arkansas.

The bats, which produce a distinctive "ping" on hits, were first used in amateur baseball in the mid-1970s and are now a standard in college play. They are also in widespread use in scholastic leagues across the country.

But questions have been raised about the safety of young players. Some contend baseballs come hurtling off aluminum bats faster than they do off wood bats - too fast for some youngsters to react.

Several Massachusetts leagues have already banned aluminum bats, and players across the state can use wood bats if they prefer.

Last year, a panel of the National Collegiate Athletic Association approved changes expected to make aluminum bats react more like those made of wood, in part to cut down on teams' offense. The National Federation of State High School Associations also adopted standards on the length and weight of non-wood bats to limit the "maximum exit speed" of a baseball to 97 mph. The standards take effect Jan. 1.

Manufacturers say no studies show aluminum bats cause more injuries than wood bats.

Easton Sports vice president Jim Darby said the safety question "has been answered" in multiple tests. Standards for aluminum bats require that they not propel a ball faster than bats made of the best wood, he said.

Rick Hughto doesn't need statistics to make up his mind.

His son, Billy, needed surgery after he was hit in the temple last year by a ball hit off an aluminum bat. The boy now cannot play football for Wellesley High because of headaches.

"Several of the doctors and nurses that worked on him said it was a miracle that he survived," the elder Hughto said.

He questioned the tests cited by Darby, saying balls in those cases were propelled at 60 mph toward the bat - slower than some of the pitches young players face. "My son throws 85," he said.

A study by the National Institute for Sports Science and Safety in Providence, R.I., found that balls come off some - but not all - aluminum bats faster than off wood bats.

NISS executive director Rick Greenwald, a co-author of the study, said he is not aware of any studies showing aluminum bats cause more injuries but feels more research is needed.

While he sympathizes with the Hughtos, "it seems hard to make legislation or rules based on anecdotal evidence," Greenwald said. "We want science to rule the day."

The Massachusetts Baseball Coaches executive board voted 17-1 this month against the proposed ban.

"I've coached for 38 years, even before aluminum bats, and I haven't had one player injured by a batted ball," said North Reading High coach Frank Carey, a member of the board.

Proponents of aluminum cite two major advantages over wood bats: cost and offensive production. While an aluminum bat can cost $200 to $300, about 10 times that of a wood bat, it will not break or need replacement nearly as often.

Still, Rick Hughto is convinced the aluminum bat sped up the ball that hit his son.

"We're talking hundredths of a second," he said. "With a wood bat, he would have caught it."


By Howard Ulman
  • Francie Grace

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