Big-league baseball has often been described as men, playing a boys' game."
For more than 2_ million Little Leaguers--boys and girls--the game remains true to its sand-lot roots. But as Elizabeth Kaledin reports for Eye on America, there is renewed concern about one change in the ol' ball game: the bat.
It's a rare sound on Little League diamonds these days--the crack of the ball against a good old-fashioned wooden bat. Today, metal is the name of the game at all levels of play except the big leagues--and it's the subject of an increasingly bitter debate.
"From a safety standpoint," says James Oddo of New York City, "high-tech aluminum bats are lethal weapons."
Oddo, a city councilman from the Staten Island section of New York, says the way metal bats are designed makes them able to be swung faster. The result is that balls are fired back at the pitcher like missiles, putting children at risk. He wants a nationwide ban on the bats. So far he's convinced local leagues.
Parents were resistant at first. After all, the springy metal bats can turn little slumpers into big sluggers, but safety concerns won out: "It feels comfortable knowing that he's safe, knowing he won't get hurt," says one parent.
For kids the bats are much easier to use, more fun to swing, and they can drive the ball to higher speeds. But are these bats inherently dangerous? It's a tough call.
Many would argue that kids plus sports equals injuries, period. The bat, they would say, can't be singled out as the villain.
In college baseball, where the players can really hit, studies show injury rates haven't changed in 14 years. And Little League officials, who support the use of metal bats, report a 76% decrease in injuries since 1992.
Bat makers are playing defense, saying statistics don't support the charges. At the Worth Sports Company, Chairman Jess Heald maintains that wood is more of a hazard.
"If we go back to using wood bats we're going to have a lot of wood breakage," says Heald.
But Councilman Oddo isn't convinced. Aluminum bats are Worth's biggest seller, after all.
"The fact of the matter is, from Tee Ball to Little League young people are being put in harm's way for one reason--money," he says.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission is investigating the issue but has yet to make a ruling. Until then this contest is likely to go into extra innings.
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