The Crack of the Bat
July 16, 2012
by William Szczepanek
We've all heard the phrase "the crack of the bat." It's synonymous with baseball. It's a sound that is integral to the game, so much so that it even has another meaning, ─ "to get going fast." Again, the phrase is derived from the game of baseball. As kids we knew the sound and experienced the feeling of the bat hitting the ball just the right way so as to "crack" as we watched the ball would jump of the bat.
Today, "the crack of the bat" may have a new meaning - such as the bat cracked and the flying shard stuck in the runner's chest, or the bat cracked and the umpire was skulled with the barrel as the handle remained pine tarred to the batters' gloves. Broken bats and flying wood have become more commonplace today. Someday, someone will be killed by one of these flying daggers. Fans now need to not only keep their eye on the ball, but remember to keep their eye on the flying bat parts.
Players and umpires have been injured in recent years. Tyler Colvin of the Cubs was speared in the chest, Casey Coleman of the Cubs was hit in the hand and umpire Jerry Layne was whacked in the jaw ─ all from broken bats.
Why has this change occurred to the game? The desire for home runs is the usual answer. To facilitate this players have opted for lighter bats of less density. Maple bats were sanctioned for Major League use in 1997. Since then bat characteristics have moved toward slimmer handles, fatter barrels and much lighter than their ash counterparts of the past.
The Bat is Juiced
We've all heard of the phrase the ball is juiced, referring to a tighter wound version that has more zip to it. Of late, bat construction has had more impact on a batters ability to hit a long ball than the ball itself. We have all seen the flex in a golf club and understand the ability of the club head to accelerate through the ball in a whip-like action which enables players, including you and me, to hit longer drives than ever before. While the emphasis is on lighter bats, the maple bats because of their density will actually flex more than ash and therefore import more whip-like action at the hitting point. The ability to whip the bat, and actually hit the ball at the precise time that the bat unwinds is what enabled players like Ernie Banks and Henry Aaron to hit so many home runs even though they weren't built like Babe Ruth, Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds. This type of hitting requires tremendous skill and timing combined with powerful wrist action.
Why then aren't we seeing significantly more home runs with the maple bats? Probably because if the ball isn't hit just right, then the less dense bat will provide less power, making it an equalizing factor. Players have opted for the lighter bat because pitchers are faster today overall than most pitchers in the past, so a lighter gives them a better chance of getting around on a pitch. So, getting back to the original premise, are the new bats too dangerous to use and should they be outlawed? That decision will be made in the same way that we determine which intersections need stoplights. When a certain number of people are killed, then action will be taken. The question isn't if these bats will need to change, the question is when.