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Aluminum or Wood? The Great Bat Debate

Aluminum bats have caused much consternation since they burst on the scene in the 1970s. Are they an unsafe menace or a cost-effective alternative to wood.

(Editor's Note: To make Mom's Talk more accessible to fathers, grandparents and others interested in issues facing the community, this feature will now be called "Raising Holliston." We're still looking for reader engagement, so throw in your two cents in the comments section or e-mail a question you'd like to see asked to Holliston Patch editor Sean Jacquet at sean.jacquet@patch.com.)

If you've played youth or high school baseball since the late 70s, chances are aluminum bats were all you ever used. The "ping" of metal was every bit as familiar as the "crack" of Kevin Youkilis's wooden bat during a Red Sox game.

Aluminum bats are cheaper, lighter, more durable and send the ball further than wooden bats. Plus, many metal bats have warranties. Meanwhile, high-end maple bats can set you back as much as $150 and can break on the first swing (take it from somebody who has shelled out nearly $500 one summer on lumber alone while playing in a wood-bat league). And these bats generally offer no such warranties.

But there are a host of drawbacks to metal. With exit speeds - the speed at which the ball comes off the bat - an estimated 20 miles per hour higher than wood bats, aluminum is regarded by detractors as a serious hazard.

Standing only 60 feet, six inches (or only 45 feet in Little League) away from home plate, pitchers are the most susceptible to getting struck by batted balls. In addition, pitchers are often finishing their throwing motion when a line drive is screaming back up through the box, giving them little or no chance to react.

Brandon Patch, an 18-year-old American Legion in Montana died after he was hit in the head with a line drive in 2003, while Wellesley High pitcher Bill Hughto had to undergo emergency brain surgery after he took a ball off the face in 2001. The latter incident partially inspired the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association to impose a wood-only mandate for the 2003 postseason, which led many leagues to adopt the rule for the preceding regular season.

But while the move drew raves from baseball purists and safety advocates, many leagues in Massachusetts returned to aluminum in 2004 with the Bay State Conference, Catholic Conference and Greater Boston League among the few sticking with wood.

It seems to be clear that aluminum bats have higher exit speeds than wood bats and are therefore more dangerous. But by how much? Bat manufacturers and safety proponents have been arguing this point for years. And is this hard-to-quantify increase in danger worth an overhaul of the nearly 40-year-old practice of using aluminum, to say nothing of the cost of doing so?

So the question is: what type of bat (wood or aluminum) do you believe should be used at the youth and high school levels)?

Do you think the durability, the relative cheapness and added pop of aluminum bats outweigh the hazards? Or do you think the relative safety and traditionalism of wood bats offset the cost-effectiveness of aluminum?

Give us your opinion in the comments section.

John MacDougall April 14, 2011 at 05:26 PM
The cheaper argument doesn't really hold water since the best metal bats are now $300 to $400 dollars. There are alternatives to the wood you were swinging (and breaking) in your wood bat league. This is why I invented the PowerWood bat. It is all real wood and lasts about 10 times longer than a regular wood bat, per durability testing at the Baseball Research Center. It's the only real wood bat with a breakage warranty too. Check out www.MacDougallBats.com to learn more. Cheers.

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