I came across one of these “wood bats” the other day.
This is a popular “composite” bat that you’ll often see in somebody’s bat bag as a “just as good as a wood bat”. The DeMarini S-series “wood” baseball bat. A kid was using the bat in the hitting facility I work at and quite frankly, the bat irritated me. I looked at it and thought – How can anybody look at this thing and think it is a wood bat? After having it gnaw at me for about an hour and spending some time bitching to a few people who would listen, I decided to actually do some research and see if I was getting worked up over nothing. So I used the google button and made a few calls to some people in the industry that I know and came up with some things I will share with you momentarily. But before I do that and possibly ruffle a few feathers, I want to relate some town ball history that I happened to be present for that will illuminate why this bat vexes me so.
Wood Bats & Minnesota Town Ball
Here is a factoid that I have discovered is not known by all town ball players. Minnesota town ball, regardless of class, used to be an aluminum bat league. That’s correct, it was not always a wood bat league. For those of us who were there this is a “well duh” type statement. But I have found that many younger players are unaware of this. It is, however, quite true. Prior to 2002 town ball players used aluminum bats. So how did it change? Well, that is an interesting story in itself.
In the late 90’s aluminum bats went through a transformation. Bat makers started using new technologies that led to lighter bats that produced a “trampoline effect” that caused the ball to pretty much explode off the barrel like a .50 caliber bullet. Consequently, balls started flying out of ballparks. Even guys who were little or previously popless started regularly hitting jacks. Five of the top ten highest single season collegiate home run records and highest team totals occurred between 1997-1999. And seven of the top ten highest team home run totals per game happened between 1997-2002.
I played my collegiate years right before this bat explosion. During this “Negative Five Era” as it came to be called, I was playing Independent pro ball using a wood bat. When I was released (for being too handsome, not because I sucked) I came back to town ball and was amazed. There were guys with 20 jacks all over the place. Dude, Minnetonka hit 93 bombs in 1998. I’m pretty sure like 10 of them were hit with one hand and floated over my head in left field at Parade Stadium in the state championship game. The truth is, it wasn’t really that fun. When someone hit a home run people barely noticed, and if a batter laced a double nobody even looked up.
Worse than that, it seemed to be getting dangerous. Pitchers were seriously in harms way. I witnessed several hurlers get absolutely torched. I was catching a game when Tonka legend Tony Richards took a ball about an inch off the ground and a foot outside past our second baseman before he could even move. It was actually scary to throw to some guys.
So our team decided we didn’t want anyone’s blood on our hands and switched to wood bats in 1999. I know that sounds cocky, but we had one of our own pitchers smoked in the dome and it came a fraction of an inch from ending his career (he really had a career too as he ended up being drafted by the White Sox). Plus we had some big boppers of our own. At 6’3″ and 260 lbs of shred town ball hall of famer Chris Johnson had a legitimate chance of murderizing someone, or at least putting them on a liquid diet for a long time. Anyway, we played the entire 1999 season with wood bats and finished 2nd to Minnetonka in the class A state tourney that year. We weren’t on a crusade to get everyone to use wood. We just found out it was more fun. It was real baseball and we had to work hard to compete.
The next year Wintz trucking, who had used wood for part of the previous year, went to wood all year long (at least I think they did). Then, finally everyone changed over in 2002. After playing with wood I will never go back to aluminum (or whatever passes for aluminum these days) again. Wood totally leveled the playing field.
Which brings me to this thing again…
Here is why I don’t like it. It is just like those stupid juiced aluminum bats. It is cheating. Allow me to illustrate why.
When I was playing Indy ball we had a dude who corked a bat. He had a hole bored in the center and filled it with cork. Then he plugged the hole and sanded it down. We all took BP with it, crushed some homers and agreed it was the coolest thing ever. My team mate did not use it in a game however. I guess he read this rule:
Major League Baseball Rule 6.06(d)
A batter is out for illegal action when he uses or attempts to use a bat that, in the umpire’s judgment, has been altered or tampered with in such a way to improve the distance factor or cause an unusual reaction on the baseball.
and he thought “yeah, that’s cheating.”
Here is a cross section of a corked bat…
Here is a cross section of a DeMarini…
Yes, you are seeing that right. A DeMarini “wood” bat is not really a wood bat. It is mostly plastic. It looks a lot like a corked bat. An awful lot. But you probably already knew that. the question is, so what?
The answer is, the bat gives the hitter an advantage. The bat is designed to be lighter and worse than that, the handle is made out of carbon fiber material. The same crap they make hockey sticks out of these days. It flexes and then snaps back faster than a solid wood bat does. Here is some actual copy from a DeMarini ad…
“This maple/composite design provides players with an ever so slight amount of flex that is not typically found in a maple–‐only wood bat. This design also produces a slightly end–‐loaded feel and a larger sweet spot for more trampoline and more power than your conventional wood bats.”
There is that darn word again “trampoline”. By this companies own admission, their “wood” bat DOES NOT even perform like a solid wood bat!
So here comes the argument – Yeah but they don’t break. It is true that they break far less often, but they are not indestructible. They now cost about $200. There are several reputable companies that I am aware of that offer discounts to town ball players and make great wood bats. You can get 3-4 bats from these companies for around the same price. Will it be a little more expensive to swing real wood – perhaps for some guys it will (depending how bad your swing is). Well, it was an adjustment to swing wood when we went to it in the first place. Nobody complained then. Because it was more fun and made the game even.
All of this leads me to my point, these bats should be banned from town ball, or any league or game that is dubbed wood bat baseball. The bat race that we broke free from in 2002 is just starting all over again. Lets nip it in the bud and swing real wood bats. The Roy Hobbs organization has already banned these bats stating that they are no different (and even worse) than a corked bat. It is embarrassing to me that the state that went to wood bats first has to take its cues from another organization. I really don’t know where to start, somebody take it from here…and then maybe the Lorax and all of his friends will come back again.
– Matt Paulsen