Broken baseball bats investigated by U.S. government
The Wood Grain Trust
The players in this one make up a unique all star team unofficially dubbed The Wood Grain Trust. The line-up card features such heavy hitters as the Safety and Health Advisory Committee of Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Association, the U.S. Forestry Service, its Forestry Products Laboratory (FPL), and TECO, a third party certification agency for building products.
After teasing you with an enticing and provocative headline, let me state that the project I’m reporting on is not paid for with U.S. Taxpayers’ dollars. It’s funded by Major League Baseball.
But, it’s an interesting project, especially to those fans who have been in the trajectory of a broken baseball bat spinning its way into the stands. Or to an infielder who has to choose between fielding the ball or evading the broken bat that's unexpectedly hurtling his way.
Between July and September of 2008, FPL wood experts examined and tested every broken bat in Major League Baseball. Going forward, they’ll monitor daily videos and examine broken bats collected during two two-week periods of the 2013 season, also. In between, the Forest Service research team has watched video and recorded details of every bat breaking episode since 2009.
Anything Come of It Yet?
Absolutely. Some bats crack, some break, and some shatter in what the study calls multiple-piece failure. The main culprit identified by the study was the inconsistency of the quality of all species of wood used to manufacture bats used by Major League Baseball.
For example, in addition to ash, there are two types of maple wood used in the manufacture of bats for Major League Baseball: low-density and higher density maple.The study found that low density maple bats were more likely to crack, but also, and perhaps more importantly, to result in multiple-piece failure (shatter) more often than ash bats or higher-density maple bats.
It's About the Slope of Grain
Slope of grain is a manufacturing detail regarding the straightness of the wood grain along the length of a bat. Testing revealed, simply, that there’s less chance of a bat breaking when the grain is straighter along the length of the bat.
This Call to the Bullpen Brought to You By Teco
Pronounced tee-koe, TECO is an independent third-party certification agency for all types of structural and non-structural panel products manufactured throughout North, Central, and South America, as well as Europe.
Working with FPL staff, TECO came up with some manufacturing changes that have produced positive results. Limits to bat geometry dimensions have been established, wood density restrictions have been adopted, and wood drying recommendations have been put into play.
The result has been a dramatic decrease in multiple-piece failures, even in the face of a surge in maple's popularity in baseball bat manufacture.
A Food & Drug Administration press release quoted Daniel Halem, MLB's Senior Vice President of Labor Relations thusly: "These results would not have been possible without the outstanding work of the Forest Products Laboratory and the tireless efforts of its project coordinator, David Kretschmann. Major League Baseball greatly appreciates the invaluable contributions of the Forest Products Laboratory and Mr. Kretschmann on this important issue."
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, "This innovative research by the U.S. Forest Service will make baseball games safer for players and fans across the nation,"
Ever the team cheerleader, Vilsack added, "The U.S. Forest Products Laboratory has once again demonstrated that we can improve uses for wood products across our nation in practical ways – making advancements that can improve quality of life and grow our economy."
Major League Baseball and its fans get the Win, and FPL and TECO get the Save. Maybe we’ll see more such productive partnering between government agencies, private agencies and big business. It will be even better if, in future such partnerings, no taxpayers' dollars are injured in the process.
© 2013 Bob Bamberg