It's Time for MLB to Address the Dangers of Shattered Bats
Apparently a Major League Baseball player, coach or spectator is going to have to be struck and killed by the heavy end of a shattered bat flying through the air before those in charge of the game do something to halt these dangerous episodes.
The Chicago Cubs' rookie outfielder Tyler Colvin became the latest victim of a shattered bat when he was speared by one of these deadly missiles a week ago today at Sun Life Stadium in Miami.
One of the thousands of broken bats that have been flying every which direction around major and minor league baseball diamonds for years came within inches of stabbing Colvin to death as it punctured his upper left chest just below his jugular vein.
Colvin was taking his lead off third base and coming down the line toward home plate in the second inning when his teammate Wellington Castillo hit a double off Andy Miller, the Florida Marlins' starting pitcher. Castillo's bat broke as he struck the ball. The outer end of the bat with its sharply splintered point helicoptered through the air straight at Colvin. The spear-like piece of wood fell to the ground after wounding Colvin, who then managed to trot across home plate with a run despite the life-threatening injury.
The rookie was rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital's Ryder Trauma Center, where doctors inserted a tube into Colvin's chest to prevent a collapsed lung. He will not play again this season.
Colvin is just one of many players and spectators who have been struck by these extremely deadly flying objects while Major League Baseball executives and the Major League Baseball Players Association fail to agree upon exactly how to prevent this constant danger to players and fans.
Brad Ziegler, an Oakland Athletics' relief pitcher who was struck in the back with the broken-off butt end of a bat earlier this month, wrote in a Twitter message after Colvin's accident, "Hope it doesn't take the death of a player/fan to get maple bats banned."
Many players prefer the maple bats to the traditional ash bats, and it is usually a maple bat that shatters in two pieces with the heavy end flying toward players, umpires, coaches, dugouts and spectators. Maple is a harder wood than ash, the traditional wood all of us elderly folks grew up using when we were lucky enough to own a Louisville Slugger as kids.
If Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Stan Musial and others of 20th century MLB used ash, why are modern players switching to maple?
Many players feel that the harder the wood the farther the ball will travel when hit properly. Also, ash has become scarce compared to 75 years ago, when there seemed no limit to the amount of ash bats that could be produced.
Susan Rhodes, a 50-year-old single mother of two teenage boys, suffered a broken jaw during a game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles last April 25, when Todd Helton of the Colorado Rockies shattered his bat swinging at a pitch by Dodger pitcher Cory Wade. The barrel end of Helton's bat flew directly at Ms. Rhodes and hit the left side of her face as she sat four rows behind the Rockies' dugout.
A week before Ms. Rhodes was injured, the Pittsburgh Pirates' batting coach, Don Long, was cut severely on his cheek by the flying, splintered end of a bat that broke during practice.
It seems obvious that if nothing is done to quell the ever-increasing number of shattered bat incidents, someone will be killed.
The two current major leagues have been playing under the umbrella of MLB authority since 1903. During these 108 seasons there have been only two deaths resulting from injuries suffered on the playing diamonds of MLB.
Michael Riley (Doc) Powers, a catcher for the Philadelphia Athletics, died two weeks after suffering serious internal injuries, April 12, 1909, when he crashed into a brick wall chasing a foul pop in Philadelphia's Shibe Park. It has been suggested that Powers died as a result of complications from three surgical procedures following the injuries in the game.
The only other MLB player to die because of a game injury was Ray Chapman, the Cleveland Indians' shortstop, who was struck in the head by a ball pitched by the New York Yankees' Carl Mays in the Polo Grounds, Aug. 16, 1920. Chapman died about 12 hours later just before dawn of Aug. 17, 1920, at a New York City hospital.
Three years ago, a 35-year-old minor league first base coach for the Tulsa Drillers, Mike Coolbaugh, was killed when struck in the head by a foul ball. Since then minor league and MLB third base and first base coaches have worn batting helmets while on station.
MLB can easily prevent any such needless deaths by following the advice of the Milwaukee Brewers' manager, Ken Macha, who said, "Get rid of the maple bats. Absolutely, one hundred percent. What's going to really happen is one's going to go in the stands. There are people in the stands and they're not paying attention to anything. They're talking to the guy three seats down and not even moving to get out of the way."
Macha said that the potential for the type of injury to Colvin is reason enough to eliminate the maple bats regardless of the difference in performance between the hard maple and the softer ash.
News reports since the injury to Susan Rhodes say that she will receive no financial help from the Dodgers in order to pay medical bills that are mounting. This is SOP for major league teams that specify on tickets and postings around stadiums that spectators must be alert to flying baseballs and bats. Teams tell those who attend their games that they do so at their own risk.
A New Jersey man, James G. Falzon, brought suit against the New York Mets last month as a result of a very serious broken bat injury. He claims he suffered multiple fractures to his face when struck by the end of a maple bat -during a game, Aug. 7, 2007, between the Mets and the Atlanta Braves.
The 50-year-old Falzon is also suing the National League, the Jarden Corporation, which made the bat, Luis Castillo of the Mets, who swung the bat that broke, and Ramon Castro of the Mets, who owned the bat Castillo used.
William Maniatis, who is Falzon's attorney, said, "When a maple bat shatters it actually explodes. It sends shrapnel everywhere."
But rarely has such litigation against sports teams and players been successful because of the doctrine of "assumption of risk."
Nevertheless, MLB and all of its teams should stop using bats that shatter. And until MLB puts a stop to such weaponry at its ball parks, teams should at least show some compassion by paying medical bills for those fans that are seriously wounded by flying objects.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is sports@ -thepilot.com.
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