History of Metal Baseball Bats
My baseball career ended at around the same time in my life when I considered a pool table to be an acceptable place to sleep for the night. That is, I didn't play beyond the collegiate level, which, in retrospect, was a bit of a blessing.
The NCAA is the highest level of amateur baseball where regulations allow players to hit with aluminum bats. As pretty much any hitter who has used both metal and wooden baseball bats can tell you, metal bats are vastly superior. Personally, I might as well have gone to the plate with a wet sock than a wood bat.
Even as many studies will show varied results when comparing the effectiveness of metal bats against wood bats, firsthand experience supersedes anything re-created in a laboratory. In fact, the technology used to improve metal bats has gotten so impressive that higher-ups in every realm of amateur baseball have recently set restrictions that will not allow players to hit with the most technologically efficient bats. Therefore, I find it necessary, again, to type up some knowledge bombs about the history of aluminum bats that will blow your mind (see what I did there?).
A common theme you will see throughout this article is that virtually every change made to the baseball bat was the result of common sense and logic. For instance, if you were erecting a building, would you use wooden or metal beams? Likewise, if I made an insincere comment concerning the weight of your girlfriend, you would probably rather hit me with something made from metal than wood. Baseball players are no different. We want to hit the ball as hard as we possibly can, and therefore, we are going to use whichever stick that allows us to do so.
Now why would someone possibly choose a metal bat over a wooden bat? I figured you would ask, which is why I have statistics for you. The table below is taken from a study by Daniel A. Russell, Ph.D. (that means he's smart).
Swing Speed (MPH)
Batted Ball Speed (MPH)
Breaking Down the Numbers
The metal bat referred to in the table is the model found to be most effective in an earlier study, and the wood bat is your run-of-the-mill ash bat. And yes, I understand that numbers in blocks can be pretty intimidating, but allow me to break this down for you.
The "Center-of-Mass" column refers to the balance of each bat. Wood bats have a mass center that is much farther up the bat, while metal bats can be manufactured with this center much closer to the handle. This allows for metal bats to have a drastically larger "sweet spot," which means that metal bats allow for more likelihood of solid contact. Many times, this is the difference between a broken bat and a base hit.
The final two columns are probably the most popularly referred to aspects when discussing the dangers of current metal bats. Aluminum bats succeed with what is known as the "trampoline effect." In short, this term lets us know that when you hit a baseball with a metal baseball bat, you are not simply hitting it. You are virtually springing the ball back off from the bat. It's like jumping on your floor, in contrast to jumping on your bed. Not only are metal bats generally lighter in your hands and therefore easier to swing harder, but the trampoline effect causes the ball to shoot off the bat with (in scientific terms) a crapton of force.
The Rise of the Aluminum Bat
The first metal baseball bats were made in the mid-1920s, but they performed much like starched scarves when contacting baseballs. They would often bend and dent if solid contact was made. It wasn't until 1970 when aluminum bats became effective enough for mass distribution. Easton began the revolution with Louisville Slugger quickly joining until the NCAA legalized the use of aluminum baseball bats in 1974.
Up to 1970, bat science (not to be confused with "Batman science") was relatively straightforward. Hold your wood bat with the label facing you so that you could make contact with the most dense portion of the bat. Whether you were using ash or maple, wood is pretty much wood. With the emergence of metal bats, bored scientists now had stuff to play with. With wood, you pretty much have two options: burn it or build a cabin. Meanwhile, metals are to scientists as do-it-yourself pizzas are to drunk college students (the possibilities are endless). Long story short, aluminum baseball bats would become more and more effective even up until now.
What do you think should be done about metal bats in baseball?
As Victor Frankenstein can attest, sometimes technology oversteps its bounds. To keep selling baseball bats, bat companies, such as Easton and Louisville Slugger, needed to keep producing stronger bats. As a general rule, hitters want to hit the ball hard and will find a device most conducive to doing so. These companies can only see paychecks by having the most insanely powerful bats available. What gets lost in this arms race, though, is the fact that hitters aren't just hitting baseballs into an empty field. There are eight players standing out there, and most notably, one (the pitcher) is standing roughly 60 feet directly in front of the hitter.
I'm not going to offer any diatribe for or against a ban for the aluminum baseball bat, but you can literally find people everywhere calling for one. With technological advancements coming so quickly, safety regulations are pretty slow catching up to certain bats before landing in players' bags. The apex of the genius/insanity (depending on which side of the fence you're on) is the composite baseball bat. Casual observers may remember these bats for the discernible "THUD" they would make as compared to the traditional "PING" most metal bats make when striking a ball. This sound is produced by glass, carbon, and Kevlar fibers all wrapped up in a plastic mold (SCIENCE!).
In true supervillain form, these bats don't wear down. In fact, they get stronger over time. There are even ways to juice up these bats. Such advancements have caused the BBCOR bat to become the only style of bat available for collegiate and high school baseball. Simply put, in an effort to more properly regulate safety, these bats are developed to sustain the same level of effectiveness throughout the bat's lifespan. They are also, supposedly, more immune to tampering than their composite counterparts. Even while some strides are being taken to regain a semblance of safety in the world of aluminum bats, a number of people are still seeking a ban on all metal bats. Judging from the advances made in the forty years of their existence, who knows what future metal bats will be capable of.