Money the Main Reason Aluminum Bats Are Used
Will Little League, high school or college baseball ever swing back to using wooden bats?
Not unless someone comes up with a wooden bat that is equal in performance and durability to the aluminum models.
Start with economics. Quality aluminum bats cost between $100-$170, but they usually come with a one-year warranty. Quality wooden bats cost between $30-$60, but there are, of course, no guarantees against breakage.
“Most people who buy wood bats are in adult baseball leagues,” said Larry Cregan, manager of Orange Sporting Goods. “They’ll use if for the nostalgia, the difference in the sound of a hit. Some people just like it, but we don’t sell many of them.
“You can hit wood one time and it breaks. Certain alloy aluminums could last a high school career. Most of the time the bat should last a couple of years. But with aluminum, the first time you hit with it is the most powerful; after that, with each hit it loses some pop.”
Then there is performance. Aluminum is superior to wood because it is lighter and can be swung faster, resulting in balls being driven farther. In addition, aluminum bats have a greater hitting area than wood; you don’t have to hit the ball solely on the “sweet spot” for success.
Larry Carlson, vice president of research and development at Easton, a leading manufacturer of aluminum bats, said aluminum has another advantage.
“You can standardize the aluminum bat, make it the exact same every time in strength and performance,” Carlson said.
“Wood is different because trees are different. The top range of wood goes to the major leagues, and those bats are very good. The wood bats we would buy in stores are not as good.”
There have been attempts to create alternatives to aluminum.
The Worth, Inc., sporting goods company in Wisconsin offered a graphite bat about 10 years ago. It did not break like wood, but it did have the “ping” sound of aluminum; however, it was not the equal of aluminum in performance. Its $180 price also worked against it.
The Baum Research and Development Co., in Traverse City, Mich., has put out a bat made of composite wood. It, too, is harder to break than regular wood. But Baum has not been able to stir much interest because aluminum is still the material of choice for colleges and stores.
Hillerich & Bradsby in Louisville is the last major manufacturer of wooden bats. But even as cost efficient as the Kentucky company tries to make its Louisville Slugger bats by growing its own trees and operating its own mills in New York and Pennsylvania, Hillerich & Bradsby makes fewer than 1 million wood bats a year (as compared to the 1.5 million aluminum bats it manufactures).
“Twenty years ago, we made seven million bats a year,” said Bill Williams, company spokesman. “Now, we lose money on wood because few other than professional baseball leagues are buying. If we were a big corporation, we might have gone out of the wood business 10 years ago.”
Esperanza Coach Mike Curran wouldn’t mind seeing wooden bats return to the high school game, but he doesn’t expect it to happen any time soon.
“Two things would generate a change,” Curran said. “One is durability. If you get a composite bat to last as long as aluminum, people will take a chance. Second, how far can you hit with it? If you could hit farther with wood than aluminum, there’d be a number of parents buying wood.
“Every now and then you still see a high school kid hit with wood. I say thanks every time, because we have a batter chance to get him out.”
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