Maker of maple bats gives opinion

Times Staff Writer

The most prominent manufacturer of maple bats said Tuesday that baseball players and owners should ensure the quality of bats by paying roughly triple the price.

Sam Holman, founder of the Canadian company that makes the maple bats popularized by Barry Bonds, said baseball’s maple bat crisis -- bats snapping into large pieces and flying toward players and into the stands -- could be resolved by setting minimum prices that would compel manufacturers to use the finest wood rather than competing for business by selling cheaper bats made of lower-quality wood.

“It would level the competition,” Holman said. “That would do as much as any regulation of what kind of wood.”

Baseball’s safety committee met for the first time Tuesday, making no decisions but issuing a statement in which the committee promised to consult with bat manufacturers, conduct laboratory tests on bats and evaluate how spectators are protected within ballparks. The committee plans to recommend reforms “as soon as possible,” the statement said.


Bats are covered under the collective bargaining agreement as tools of the trade, so owners and players must agree to any changes.

Commissioner Bud Selig has pushed for prompt action in the wake of injuries to a coach and a spectator at Dodger Stadium and numerous near-misses elsewhere. Tuesday night in Kansas City, plate umpire Brian O’Nora was hit in the head by a piece of Miguel Olivo’s broken bat, forcing him to leave the game.

Selig has refrained from ordering teams to extend protective netting from behind the plate to beyond the bases.

Bats made of ash wood tend to crack and splinter when they break, while bats made of maple tend to snap into chunks with jagged edges that can fly wildly in any direction.

Holman said he looked forward to discussing the matter with the committee. The committee could recommend banning maple bats or mandating thicker handles that might make bats less prone to breakage, but Holman said a price hike would ensure safety.

He can make a maple bat for $55 and sell it for $60 to $65, he said. He said he would support a $200 minimum so manufacturers would not be tempted to cut corners and use the lower-quality wood that he said is much more prone to breakage.

Morgan Ensberg, who was one of the players on the committee before the New York Yankees released him this month, said spectator safety would be the key issue for him.

“We don’t want people to get hurt,” said Ensberg, who plays for the Cleveland Indians’ triple-A affiliate in Buffalo.


Ensberg, who did not participate in Tuesday’s meeting, said he did not consider himself subject to undue risk by playing a position 90 feet from a hitter with a maple bat.

“I think, percentage-wise, I’ve got a better chance of being hit by a line drive than an exploding bat,” the infielder said.