Bat Science

The discussion on this site regarding the ban of metal baseball bats in New York City has focused purely on the nanny state aspects of the law, but via the NY-based blog Alarming News run by my friend Karol, I see this priceless email exchange between a NYC Councilman’s Office and a professor that undercuts the scientific justification for the ban. Since Tapped’s Ben Adler claims that libertarian/conservatives get so caught up in our silly notions of individual liberty that we are incapable of judging each policy on its own merits, I figured I’d pass this along.

Some backgrround. Last October, less than a week before a hearing on the bill, the chief of staff for “Republican” Councilman James Oddo, a proponent of the ban, frantically emailed Dartmouth engineering professor Richard Greenwald, who is executive director of the National Institute of Sports and Science Safety and had studied the differences between metal and wooden bats.

“We are currently in need of scientific information that states that aluminum bats outperform wood bats,” the chief or staff wrote. “We are very much aware of the study you conducted in 2002 that stated that aluminum bats produced faster batted ball speeds in part due to faster swings and greater elastic properties found in nearly all the aluminum bats. We think it would be beneficial to explain that data at the hearing.” He asked Greenwald to attend the hearing.

Here, in part, was Greenwald’s response:

My apologies for not being able to attend or provide info for this meeting. I am curious about the outcome, however. I think the information I would have provided may not have been exactly what you might have hoped for. Here’s the short version:

1) Our published research did show that some, but not all, aluminum bats tested did outperform wood bats in terms of batted ball speed.

2) However, I think in your email below, you mix the notion of increased batted ball speed (a metric of performance) with safety. This is a significant concern for me. I am not aware of any published peer-reviewed scientific data that supports the notion that there has been an increase in injuries related to being struck by a batted ball in baseball or softball at any level of play due to increased batted ball speed or bat performance. Baseball and softball appear to have remained at the very low end of the injury incidence lists.

3) I have stated publicly that the notion of limiting the use of bats to wood only is reasonable if a governing body wants to control some aspects of the game such as run production or game time based on the fact that non-wood bats often outperform wood bats. However, I would oppose any statement that linked such a limitation on using non-wood bats to injury, simply because there are no scientific data to support this contention. This is an important and overlooked point – I urge Councilman Oddo to consider this as you move forward.

Why let science get in the way of a good nanny state law?