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Legislating in the heat of emotion

Submitted by on Friday, 26 March 2010 No Comment

It’s perfectly understandable when people try to assign blame in the event of accidents – in fact, doing so is even official policy for some agencies.

If I were the parent of a beautiful 16-year-old who was lying in a coma after being hit by a line drive off a metal bat, I’d probably look for a cause, too. Stuff like that doesn’t just happen. Does it?

And, of course, there’s always going to be a legislator somewhere who’s more than eager to introduce a bill to eliminate the atrocity that caused the accident. In this case, it’s California Assemblyman Jared Huffman, who wants to ban “performance-enhancing metal bats” and go back to wood through out the state. Gee, he makes it sound like the bats are on steroids.

The problem is, research doesn’t support him.

An on-field study conducted three years ago in Illinois found no statistical difference in the safety of wooden versus non-wooden bats. According to findings from the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, catastrophic injuries from batted balls are far more likely to involve wood. That finding is striking given that most amateur leagues use metal.

As far as accidents, those happen with wooden bats, too. Just ask former Dodgers catcher Steve Yeager, who laid near the on-deck circle with blood spurting from his neck after a teammate’s bat splintered and nine pieces lodged in Yeager’s neck. Or Don Long, the Pirates’ hitting coach whose face caught the splintered end of a wooden bat just two inches below his eye.

Yet the mythology of a metal bat as a lethal weapon persists because every time an aberrational accident happens it draws attention. There was one case where parents successfully sued after their son died when he was hit with a line drive off a metal bat. They won, not because the jury found that the bat was unsafe, but because the bat didn’t have a warning label.  I hope that one was overturned. It’s as goofy as the “coffee is hot” warnings.

Personally, I don’t like aluminum bats, preferring a “crack” to a “ping.” But from a cost standpoint, they make sense for amateur sports.

And before any legislative body acts to ban metal bats, it needs to make sure the move is because it makes sense beyond the heat of the moment of an awful, awful accident.

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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