Why can’t colleges switch to wooden bats?

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Zack Pumerantz
Campus News
The sound of a baseball hitting a bat is one of pure euphoria. Once prime contact has been made, the batter knows it, feels it in his veins. It’s a unique feeling to know that the ball has made perfect contact with the bat in the sweet spot. The question then arises, how much of this sweet spot should exist? The debate regarding what type of bats to use in college baseball continues. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The issues with aluminum bats concern safety and tradition. With a larger sweet spot, aluminum bats produce the “trampoline effect,” in which the ball explodes off the bat significantly faster than off a wooden bat. In being introduced to youth baseball in the early 1970s, it is curious as to why there are a limited number of tests regarding speed comparison. In 1977, aluminum bats were said to have a batted ball speed of 3.85 more than wooden bats, a substantial variance.  . . . . . . . . . . . While the speed of the ball and the safety of the players in college is a main priority, tradition comes into play as well. In “Batting Around the Debate on Aluminum Versus Wood,” Judith Stiles reminds readers of the olden days and the “no-hitters,” kids not adept at hitting the baseball. Lacking supreme talent, mostly striking out and occasionally pushing a pop fly over the infield, these kids hoped for an equalizer. “Then along came lightweight aluminum bats in the 1970s, which gave lousy batters of all ages a better chance of getting a hit,” Stiles wrote. In her article, she highlights Michael Kalontarov, a mechanical engineering major at The Cooper Union, who is attempting to design an aluminum bat with less power.

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It seems to be a split dichotomy in that those who support the safety and speed issue don’t see aluminum bats as a good fit in college baseball, while those who believe strongly in tradition see aluminum bats as a necessity in college baseball. “Aluminum bats help hitters but are a disadvantage to pitchers,” says Josh Nethaway, a freshman catcher at the University at Albany. Originally from Fonda, New York, Nethaway believes the material of the bat significantly affects the at-bat. “A pitcher can make a good pitch in on the hands that would break a wood bat and induce an out but with an aluminum bat can get the ball to go far enough to get out of the infield for a hit,” he says. “I think wood would be the better choice [for] college because it would give pro scouts a better idea of what a player can do.” Why not give scouts a better preview of players who will garner millions of guaranteed dollars when drafted? With major league teams investing so much money into these unknown commodities, they deserve a better look at these players in a season with wooden bats.

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Baseball has always been a game of tradition, a family game. Hot dogs, peanuts and beer, it doesn’t get better. The question lies in whether aluminum bats have earned a permanent stay. People might argue that wood is the conventional material used for bats and is deserving of a sole spot in the heart of the sport. Others believe that aluminum bats have earned their spot in college and youth ball.

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“They should stick with aluminum,” says Pete Eichner, a senior infielder at the University at Albany. With a contrasting opinion from those who believe solely in wooden bats, Eichner doesn’t see a discrepancy in the effect of the ball off the aluminum bats and believes that aluminum bats are now a part of the game. “It’s the way college baseball has been forever, and I don’t like changing the game,” he says. “I’ve played a lot of metal and wood bat baseball in my life and I’ve seen pitchers get hit the same way with both. They should definitely keep it.”

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If aluminum bats are seen as advantageous or unfair, they still do have the same effect on all batters. Pitchers may argue that any pitch can be punished with an aluminum bat, that the true talent of a batter is not displayed with the use of aluminum. It seems that the most logical argument regarding wooden bats rests in the major league scouts’ views of a player, or rather a potential draftee. Wooden bats do give the scouts a better, truer look.

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While change is unlikely to occur anytime soon, it is an idea to toy around with. How much would wooden bats alter the game of college baseball and how might that affect the potential drafting position of superior college athletes? With a change in material, talent would appear to deviate, with less talented batters dropping off significantly and talented batters hitting more line drives, as opposed to monstrous home runs. Power numbers would end up dropping as well. Is that what we want the game to do?
Leave aluminum bats; they have flourished for over thirty years. For now, ignorance is bliss.

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