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Published in Print: November 13, 2002, as Safety Issues Prompt Aluminum-Bat Ban in Mass.

Safety Issues Prompt Aluminum-Bat Ban in Mass.

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Massachusetts is poised to become the first state to ban aluminum baseball bats in high school play because of safety concerns.

The baseball committee of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association voted Oct. 31 to require wooden bats in tournaments next spring.

It also recommended a rule change that, if approved by the association's board of directors, would mandate the use of wooden bats at all levels of high school play beginning next school year.

The 9-6 vote to prohibit aluminum bats during the playoffs followed a hearing that featured testimony both from manufacturers of such bats and the father of a high school baseball pitcher in the state who was seriously injured last year when he was struck in the head by a line drive from an aluminum bat.

But the decision drew immediate criticism from the National High School Baseball Coaches Association. And in a near- unanimous vote in September, the Massachusetts Association of Baseball Coaches favored retaining the aluminum bats.

The Massachusetts interscholastic association's sports-medicine committee had backed off its own proposal to ban aluminum bats after concluding that there was no definitive scientific evidence that wooden bats would be safer.

A 1999 study by the National Institute for Sports Science and Safety, based in Providence, R. I., found that baseballs come off some aluminum bats faster than they do off wooden bats. The study did not offer definitive evidence, however, that aluminum bats cause more injuries than wooden bats do.

'Unfortunate Recommendation'

Most Little League, high school, and college players around the country use aluminum bats, which are seen as giving hitters more power. Nonetheless, professional baseball and some summer leagues for standout college players who are being looked at by professional scouts require players to use wooden bats.

"It is truly an unfortunate recommendation," Jerry Miles, the executive director of the National High School Baseball Coaches Association, in Bella Vista, Ark., said of the association's vote. "There are going to be accidents, but it's going to happen with wood or aluminum bats. There are always the possibilities of injuries in the game."

Mr. Miles said flying splinters from broken wooden bats are common and have injured major-league players. And while some aluminum bats can cost up to $250, he said, they last longer than easily broken wooden bats, which he said could become expensive to replace at up to $65 or more each.

"I'm worried about the impact economically on smaller programs," Mr. Miles continued. "It could put them out of business. They could drop baseball."

But in a statement following the baseball committee's vote, Richard Neal, the executive director of the Massachusetts interscholastic association, said the committee was motivated in part by serious injuries to players in the state over the past few years.

In one high-profile incident, a pitcher at Wellesley High School in Wellesley, Mass., was seriously hurt after being struck in the head with a line drive from an aluminum bat. The injury was captured on video and played on television news broadcasts around the state.

"The decision by the committee represents the best judgment of the men and women elected by the membership to decide such important matters," Mr. Neal said.

A final decision on whether to require wooden bats for all levels of play next year could come at a Dec. 3 meeting of the MIAA's board of directors.

Vol. 22, Issue 11, Page 5

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