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Young parents who see the big boys play baseball on television might notice the pros use wood bats, while their little ballplayer uses bats made of metal. More than one parent has asked us, Can you use wooden bats in little league?
Solid wood bats made of 1 single piece are allowed in all youth baseball leagues, whether it’s Little League, or similar organizations like PONY baseball, or USSSA. Wood bats are not as regulated as metal bats, so players only have to abide by rules about weight and length, and whether composite wood bats are allowed.
Note that this article refers to any youth baseball league. The term Little League if capitalized refers to a well-known, long-established youth sports organization founded in 1939. The term is so connected with kids playing baseball, that if not capitalized as “little league” it’s a general term referring to all organized leagues for youth baseball play.
Bats are a piece of equipment used to play the sport of baseball. The sport began with the use of bats made only with a single piece of wood. That remains for Major League Baseball and its minor leagues.
However, in almost all other baseball leagues, namely from the college level down to tee ball at age 5, bats made of metal are the norm. Not that young players must use metal bats. It’s just that they are not outlawed as they are in the professional leagues.
The reasons for this are:
- Cost. Wooden bats break, some more easily than others. Baseball leagues for younger players go with metal bats to avoid the cost of replacements.
- Safety. Professional leagues use wood bats mainly because of the tradition of using only wood dating back to the 19th century, but also because metal bats launch baseballs faster and cause safety issues for infielders and pitchers.
See more: Does College Baseball Use Metal Bats?
Unlike metal bats, which are studied very closely for certification to use legally in game play, wood bats have no such restrictions on materials used. An exception could be composition bats, or those made of a composite of different types of wood.
The main limitation for wooden bats for youth, high school and college play is they must have barrels no bigger than 2⅝”. Then, depending on the level or organization, there may be limits to the weights and lengths of all bats.
Metal baseball bats are more powerful than wooden bats, plain and simple. The hard surfaces are not porous like wood and are less susceptible to diminished performance over time and usage. But the biggest difference is that metal bats can be manufactured using materials intended to really bounce baseballs off them, or with design advances to do the same.
Basically, metal bats can be enhanced by materials used.
Metal bats became commonplace in the 1970s, and for a long time they were just called aluminum bats because that’s what they were made of (mostly). Then, in the 1990s, major bat manufacturers began to tinker with the bats’ composition to enhance performance ~ kind of like how performance-enhancing drugs helped ballplayers.
The results were evident. Anyone who used a double-walled or titanium bat in the 1990s understands this. But it did not take baseball administrators long to act on concerns about too many home runs, and on-field injuries blamed on metal bats.
The turning point began with the 1998 College Baseball World Series championship, won by the University of Southern California over Arizona State ~ by a football-like score of 21-14! College baseball by that time was dramatically influenced by these powerful metal bats, and many concerns surfaced.
It still took years for the amateur baseball organizations to act on regulating metal bats.
Aside from high scores, it was safety concerns that finally brought mass regulations to metal bats. Baseballs fly off metal bats around 5% to 10% faster than coming off wood bats. Beyond the homers, it was screaming line drives off metal bats that scared parents and school officials.
The pitcher, for instance, begins play at 60½ feet. Then, after the stride, he remains about 53’ (give or take some inches) away from the batter. Balls flying off a baseball bat at 110 mph or more do not give defensive players enough time to react to make a play or even protect themselves.
Kids were being hospitalized when struck with these missiles. Hence the metal bat regulations.
Wooden bats are less powerful than metal bats. That’s the plain and simple reason you don’t see wooden bats in use where metal bats are allowed.
Wood bats may be used at the youth or school levels of baseball play, for a number of reasons including:
- Special wood bat-only tournaments (usually limited to travel ball or invitational play)
- To hopefully make the hitter better, to wean him (or her) from depending on the metal bat’s power and instead focus on batting fundamentals to produce power.
- Because it sounds cool when a fast baseball cracks off a wood bat.
- To be a rebel.
- To be different.
- Because you can.
Choosing a wooden bat for youth ball or school play is hardly different from choosing a metal bat, except for certain designations for metal bats (explained below). Pick wood bats that are not too heavy, are a weight and length the player is comfortable with, and are designed well to last as proven by user comments and reviews. And don’t forget to pay attention to the type of wood.
Wood bats are not all simple pine, nor all designed the same. Some have very thick or thin handles, for individual preference or comfort. Some have cupped ends to reduce weight a bit. Some handles are flared, others are not. Wood bats can be personalized easier.
Aside from that, pick your wood. Maple bats became the rage in the 1990s as sluggers like Barry Bonds began to use them, either because that wood is harder, or the ball travels farther off them, or a combination of both. Before that, most major leaguers used bats made from ash trees.
What you don’t need with wooden bats, but you should pay attention to for metal bats, is stamps indicating which organization tested it. After all the drama that led to the metal bat regulations, organizations devised high-tech ways to test bats, with hopes to hopefully deter use of the most dangerous of them.
The stamps: BBCOR vs. USABat. The BBCOR stamp is required on bats used in high school or at the college level. It stands for Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution, a standard to control energy when a bat makes contact with a baseball.
It’s the stamp needed to make a bat legal for use in leagues for older players including the National Federation of High School Sports (NFHS), National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).
The USABat is for Little League and other youth leagues, and some travel tournaments. It means the bat has been approved for use by USA Baseball, for use in Little League, PONY Baseball, Cal Ripken Baseball, Babe Ruth Baseball, and other youth baseball organizations.
Both certifying programs use the Bat Performance Factor (BPF) which aims to measure what is known as the trampoline effect a bat produces when it strikes a baseball. BBCOR bats are legal up to a BPF of 0.5; the USABat stamp comes on bats only 1.15 BPF and lower.
Question: What about composite bats?
Answer: The BBCOR and USA Baseball organizations have standards for those, too. Solid wood bats need no certification; they are made of a single natural material.
Q.: What is USSSA?
A.: It stands for United States Specialty Sports Association, a Florida-based organization that sets rules and standards that baseball leagues can choose to play under. The USSSA also sometimes stamps approval on metal bats; these are sometimes used for youth-age tournaments.
See More: BBCOR vs. USSSA: Here Are Differences