Massachusetts Becomes First to Banish Metal Bats

Times Staff Writer

Massachusetts on Thursday became the first state to ban aluminum baseball bats in high school competition, beginning with the spring 2003 postseason tournament.

Following prolonged discussion, the baseball committee of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Committee voted, 9-6, to ban the metal bats and recommended that wooden bats be used at all levels of play beginning in 2004. The committee’s recommendation will be discussed at a Dec. 3 meeting of the full state association, which could vote on it at that time or decide to vote on it next year.

The vote was prompted by concern over injuries caused by line drives that can fly off metal bats at 100 mph or more.

Beginning in the mid-1970s, aluminum and alloy bats grew in popularity, driven by cost-effectiveness -- they do not split on contact -- and by delivering greater power than wooden bats.


Manufacturers say that no studies have shown the aluminum bats to be more dangerous than wooden ones. Jim Darby, vice president of Easton Sports in Van Nuys, said before Thursday’s vote that the safety question surrounding metal baseball bats “has been answered” in numerous tests.

Regulations in recent years have limited the size of the barrel of aluminum bats to 2 5/8 inches as well as the length-to-weight ratio, which cannot exceed three (a 33-inch-long bat must weigh at least 30 ounces). Tests have shown these restrictions limit a batted ball’s speed to 97 mph, the same exit speed for a major league wooden bat.

However, a study by the National Institute for Sports Science and Safety in Providence, R.I., concluded that in some cases, balls travel faster off metal bats. Rick Greenwald, the institute’s vice president, said the studies did not show the metal bats produce more injuries.

Peter Roby, director of the Center for the Study of Sport and Society at Boston’s Northeastern University, expressed concern that the cost of regularly replacing cracked wooden bats could jeopardize the sport in less affluent areas.

“We hope it doesn’t end up impacting peoples’ opportunity to provide equipment,” Roby said. “But at the other end of the argument, there certainly is the safety factor. If it’s only one child a year who is injured, that’s too many.”

Baseball Coach Manny Alvarado of Granada Hills Kennedy High was on the national committee that studied aluminum bat safety and made recommendations for the restrictions put in place in 2001. He believes that aluminum bats are safe and that it would be difficult for schools to provide wooden bats.

“I don’t think there’s a safety issue there,” Alvarado said. “When we first started studying [aluminum bats], the manufacturers were on the verge of producing bats that were too powerful, but we stopped that [with the 2001 regulations].”