Aluminum vs. Wood bats in the Sport of Baseball
English 102 Section # 1569
The aluminum bat was introduced to the game of baseball in 1970 as an alternative to wood. A study done at the University of Massachusetts found a loophole exists among the manufacturing of aluminum bats. Research showed that it is possible for a manufacturer to physically change the center of swing gravity with an aluminum bat (Kelly and Pedersen). However, wooden bats cannot be changed to achieve the advantage of an aluminum bat. This loophole creates exceeding speeds to a baseball hit off an aluminum bat, causing serious risk to pitchers and infielders. Furthermore, Major League coaches and managers have complained about the use of lighter, easier-to-swing aluminum bats and the difficulty of evaluating the status of a college player’s potential to be effective with a wood bat (Delong). With the use of the aluminum bat instead of the traditional wood bat, the cost of the bats, safety on the field, and the development of the player have changed in the game of baseball.
Cost is one of the main issues discussed in the debate of aluminum bats vs. wooden bats. A team can argue that aluminum bats may cost more, but the durability and the composite last longer. This results in a better investment. For example, a team invests in 6 aluminum bats for the price of $250 each, which equals a $1500 investment. The same team can invest $300 on wood bats for the same quantity of bats. Just this past fall the Phoenix College Baseball program purchased 6 composite wood-bats at the price of $685 (Taylor). However, the investment of the aluminum bat last for three to five seasons, while the wood-bat investment might not even last one season.
Wood bats can be quite expensive ranging from $32 to $120, depending upon style and quality. Wellesley American League went through 600 bats in one year, which totaled to the amount of $8,000 (Greater Boston). That is why wooden bats may be tough to sell. Also, it is now hard to find a wooden bat among the aluminum bats in most sporting good stores. Wood bats are thin-handled and made of light wood, which makes them very fragile. Most of the wood bats sold in sporting good stores are not the best quality. Wood bats that have the best grain and that are
the best quality are sent to the Major Leagues. This leaves the minor leagues and lover levels of baseball with the leftovers. Although the wood-bats are not top-of-the-line, one still pays the high price for the bat. Therefore, the cost of wood bats for any team is not cheap, and aluminum bats have become the bat of choice.
In any competitive sport, no one wants anyone to get hurt: “Before safety measures were put into effect, baseball suffered many casualties” (Lee 141). Safety issues on the playing field increase immensely when aluminum bats are present. Teams across the country are beginning to return to the traditional wood bat; one of those teams is the Wellesley Raiders. Eric Winer, president of the Wellesley American Little League says, “We had an incident last year…when one of our top pitchers Billy Hughto got struck by a line drive of a metal batted ball (Greater Boston). This incident easily helped Eric Winer make the decision to switch from aluminum to wood.
Though wooden bats haven’t been widely used in little league games for more than twenty years, it is still proven that “there are less batted ball injuries with wooden bats” (Greater Boston). With the improved technology and advances in aluminum bats, games are now more dangerous for pitchers and infielders. A ball batted off wood stores little energy and is only slightly more elastic that the ball, while an aluminum bat stores one-eleventh of the collision energy (Adair 98). For instance a homerun hit 380 feet with a wooden bat will go about 415 feet with an aluminum bat (Adair 99). As a result, the playing field becomes more of a danger zone with aluminum bats.
Although many organizations are aware of the risks and dangers of aluminum bats, still 80% of the market of baseball is non-wood (Butler). Coach Jim Morris, head baseball coach for the university of Miami is well aware of the dangers when he said, “any idiot can see that the ball jumps off of an aluminum bat faster that off of a wooden bat” (Kelly and Pedersen). A baseball hit with a wood bat can reach speeds up to 92 mph, while a baseball hit with an aluminum bat can reach speeds up to 123 mph (Taylor). As a result, this sometimes makes it impossible for a third baseman, first baseman, or pitcher to get a glove up in the air to protect themselves.
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The banning of aluminum bats and the use of wooden bats in the NCAA Division I level would help college baseball players become better prepared for a future in professional baseball (Killer Bats). There are many kids that just play baseball for fun, but “there are a great deal playing with the hopes of going on to further heights” (Butler). Many young athletes have dreams of playing beyond college, and hopefully someday making it to the big leagues. While coming out of college, these players have been using aluminum bats for the past couple of years, and not wood. The college players’ skills have adapted to the use of an aluminum bat, which creates bad habits or weaknesses in their ability to perform in the next level. Unfortunately, wooden bats are used in the farm leagues of professional baseball, making the pathway to the Major Leagues more difficult.
In talking about aluminum bats, Coach Dave Van Horn of the University of Nebraska said, “What new bats are going to do is…change things as far-ranging as the line-up, the batting order, and even recruiting” (Butler). Aluminum bats not only affect the player’s development, but also have a huge impact on coaches. Often, a coach will have to use pinpoint strategies to be successful with the play of aluminum bats. The strategy might be as minute as using a pinch-runner, or as serious as using an off-speed pitcher. These pinpoint strategies are what ultimately win a ball-game for a team.
Since the approval of the aluminum bat in 1975 in college play, the player has changed drastically. A ball miss-hit, near the handle or the end of the bat, will go farther off an aluminum bat than wood bat (Adair 99). This is the cause of the inflated batting averages and higher scoring games. From 1995 to 1999, batting averages, scoring, and homeruns increased in NCAA baseball. For instance, the Phoenix College Bears baseball team made the switch from aluminum to wood this past fall. The batting average of the team was .346 last spring with the use of aluminum bats. This past fall the team batting average decreased to .265 with the use of wooden bats (Taylor). Therefore, aluminum bats have changed the game of baseball. Not only can it affect a team, but also the individual player.
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When hitters are using aluminum bats, pitching strategies must also change. Pitchers are worried about the “larger seet spot” on the aluminum bats, so “any pitcher would favor the change from aluminum to wood” (Taylor). As a result, more curve balls and off-speed pitches are thrown to keep the hitter off-balance. The fastball tends to be more dominant when wood bats are being used. The strategy is to bust the hitter inside with a fastball. Unfortunately, if the hitter doesn’t hit the ball with the sweet spot, then “it stings a lot, hurts your hands” (Greater Boston). Eric Vehr, pitcher for the Wellesley raiders said, “the ball doesn’t travel as far when you hit is so you have to swing a lot harder. You have to hit the sweet spot on the wooden bat for it to go anywhere” (Greater Boston). “When the pitcher jams a hitter with an inside fastball two things can happen: the hitte saws himself off or he breaks the thin-handle of the wood bat (Taylor). Both coaches and pitchers know that an aluminum bat is more forgiving than a wood bat.
Perhaps one of the best examples of the affect aluminum bat to a players’ development, can be found in the playing days of Florida State’s second baseman, Marshall McDougall. In May 1999, McDougall hit six homeruns and collected sixteen RBI’s against the University of Maryland (Kelly and Pedersen). For the season, McDougall had a .419 batting average and smashed twenty-eight homeruns (Kelly and Pedersen). Although he had a great season, he was looked over by many scouts in professional baseball. They feared that he would not live up to his potential with the use of wood bats in the minors. He didn’t get drafted until the twenty-sixth round of the Major League Baseball draft. In McDoughall’s first season in the minor leagues, he hit only .248 avg. with one homerun (Kelly and Pedersen). The scouts’ skepticism was fulfilled. If McDougall had used a wood bat during his collegiate career, he would have been more prepared to play in professional baseball.
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As a player, I prefer the use of wood-bat over an aluminum bat. It is much more difficult to hit with a wood bat, but that is what makes it so great. In order to hit a baseball solid with a wood bat, a player must hit it off the sweet spot. Any good player can hit a ball hard with an aluminum bat, but it takes real talent to hit a ball hard with a wood bat. “You’ve got to be a better hitter with a wood bat, and more consistent” (Taylor). This develops better mechanics, and prepares college athletes like myself for the next level of baseball. By using wood, “scouts are able to see your true capability as a player” (Taylor). Once scouts have seen the ability of the player, then they will be able to make the decision either to draft the player or not.
The game of baseball has changed since the debut of the aluminum bat. The safety risks alone involved in the use of aluminum bats can be a defining reason to make the switch from aluminum to wood. Further, a player’s development can greatly benefit from the use of wood, and he will be ready for the next level. Even though, cost may be more expensive with the use of wood bat, “it is a safer game with wood” (Greater Boston). “The use of the wood bat helps Major League scouts truly judge a player’s development, talent, and a possible future to play in the Major Leagues” (Taylor).
Adair, Robert K. The Physics of Baseball. New York: New York Press, 1990.
Butler, B. “Aluminum Bats.” Online Posting. 29 Oct. 1999. Recreation
Newsgroup. 19 Nov. 2002. <http://www.groups.google.com/groups?q=aluminum>.
Delong, Lois Anne. “Redefining the ‘Sweet Spot’: From Engineers at Easton, A
Whole New Ball Game.” 24 Jan. 2001. National Engineers Week Online.
“Greater Boston: Wood vs Aluminum Bats.” 5 Aug. 2002.
Aluminum to Wooden Baseball Bats in the NCAA.” Editorial. The Sport
Journal on the Web. 15 Dec. 2002. <http://www.thesportjournal.org/hardbats.html>.
Lee, Mabel. The History of Physical Education and Sports in the U.S.A. New York,
Viking Press, 1983.
Taylor Benjamin. Personal Interview. 25 Nov. 2002.