Today at the Winter Meetings, Major League Baseball plans to make an announcement regarding the usage of one of the game's most dangerous performance-enhancing substances. No, not Wade Boggs' special fried chicken, it's maple! Baseball bats made of maple made news during the 2008 season because of the soft wood's proclivity to splinter or shatter, sending dangerous shards flying towards coaches, fans, or even worse, those million-dollar investments we call 'pitchers'. After a few months of studying by government forest nerds, they've decided not to ban maple bats and instead make design recommendations to bat manufacturers that should mitigate the problem.
So, sometime this afternoon at the Bellagio Hotel in Vegas, expect a press conference that will announce that players can keep using maple bats. Which is exactly what we knew back in September. Remember what David Kretschmann of the US Forest Service's Forest Products Laboratory had to say about the problem?
Much of the speculation on broken bats this year has centered on bats made of maple. But Kretschmann said it was too simplistic to ban maple bats. "It's a much more complicated problem than that," he said. "The species itself is not necessarily the root of the problem. There are lots of factors involved, including the limitations on bat size and handle size."
So go ahead and use whatever wood grain you'd like, major leaguers. The catch? You won't be able to swing a weapon that is, effectively, a toothpick with a brick at the end of it because Bud Selig will only allow you to use a 4-inch diameter cylinder of wood with no sweet spot and no handle whatsoever. Still, some players will continue to break their bats because when they're getting jammed inside by cut fastballs, they decide that pitch would be a good one to drive into the seats. I'm looking at you, Robinson Cano.
If only toothpick-thin maple bats had been around in 1989. Maybe then Billy Ripken wouldn't have been so unlucky.