High-performance bat technology could soon be benched at high school baseball fields across the country.
In an effort to preserve the traditions of the sport, the Baseball Rules Committee of the National Federation of State High School Associations announced Monday it is setting guidelines for maximum bat performance.The standards would be based on wood bats.
"There's been some concern in recent years that metal bats are getting out of line with our current rules," said committee chairman Richard Termeer.
Among the dozens of high-cost, high-tech aluminum bats on the market are engineering feats like Worth Inc.'s new $280 Copperhead ACX, which uses piezoelectric dampers like shock absorbers to minimize vibrations, allowing the batter to hit the ball harder and extending the sweet spot down into the handle.
It already has NCAA approval and it is allowed in college and high school games.
"These new bats are like using titanium clubs on the golf course," said Justin Givens, spokesman for the National Baseball Congress, a semi-professional organization.
"The difference is the speed the ball leaves the bat," he said. "You're seeing more and more pitchers getting just clocked out there."
Last summer in Glendale, Calif., 17-year-old Julius Riofrir was warming up when he was struck in the head by a ball hit with an aluminum bat. The ball hit him in the right temple, fracturing his skull and killing him.
Riofrir's death and other injuries, particularly to pitchers, have convinced several youth and semi-pro leagues to switch back to wood bats. The Jayhawk League and Cape Cod League, summer leagues for college players, use wood bats exclusively, and the National Baseball Congress is considering making wood bats mandatory in championship games starting in 2000, Givens said.
Three pitchers on the Lawrence (Kan.) H.S. team were injured by line drives off aluminum bats this year.
Lawrence coach Dirk Wedd said he supports NFHS's proposed change in bat standards, but he doesn't expect many high schools to go back to wood bats because of the expense.
"We're all for continuing to use aluminum bats to keep the cost down, but we think they should made as close to a wood bat as possible," Wedd said. "The way the bats are made now, the ball's coming so fast, our pitchers don't have time to react."
Using wood bats or dead aluminum bats would even the playing field and let coaches and scouts evaluate players on a professional level, Givens said.
NFHS assistant director Brad Rumble said the national high school association's primary goals in limiting bat performance are returning balance between defense and offense on the field and helping minimize the risk of injury.
The rules committee is researching the performance of various aluminum bats and plans to announce new standards for high school baseball bats by Oct. 31.
If the NFHS Board of Directors approves it, the change would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2000, Rumble said.