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Parents new to youth baseball will naturally think of questions as they watch and learn. Why is it called a bullpen? What is a doughnut? A pickle, in baseball? And one of our favorites: “Why does Little League use aluminum bats?”
The Little League baseball organization, and all other organized entities that govern youth baseball, use aluminum bats primarily for their durability compared with wooden bats. Linked with that answer is cost ~ to avoid having to buy replacements for broken or cracked wood bats.
Aluminum bats, more properly known as metal bats because today they are made from a variety of materials, are less prone to break or crack upon hard impact. They can be expected to last an entire season, and probably more.
Quality wood bats can last quite a long time, but nowhere close to the ones made of metal. Wood bats can crack if struck in a weak point in the grain; chip; or flat-out break, often upon contact with fast inside pitches. Sometimes even hitting a pitched ball off the very end of a wooden bat can cause a crack. And quality youth baseball bats are not inexpensive.
The only levels of baseball that forbid use of metal bats is the highest of professional baseball, Major League Baseball, and its minor leagues. Internationally, leagues at the highest levels typically ban use of aluminum bats. It’s a matter of safety.
Baseballs bounce off metal bats faster than they do upon contact with wood sticks. There are scientific reasons for this, of which we won’t get into, but it’s true that baseballs come off metal bats at higher velocities.
Defenders, namely pitchers, are only feet away. In the MLB, a pitcher after striding and throwing ends up about 52 or 53 feet away from home plate. The baseball could come off a wood bat at well over 100 mph. Add on 10 or 20 mph more when an adult hits with a metal bat.
So a pitcher would have a microsecond to react to a ball hit right back at him. In fact, hard liners off a bat to a pitcher’s head have caused serious injury, even death. A serious injury in college baseball (which still uses aluminum bats) caused significant rule changes in metal bat regulations, starting around 2011.
Even infielders face peril when big-sized hitters use metal bats. Corner infielders (1st and 3rd basemen) can be positioned anywhere from 87 feet to 105 feet or so from the batter. They might have twice the distance to react compared to the pitcher, but it still doesn’t amount to much when a line drive is hit 120 mph.
It is worth noting that some youth baseball leagues may set up tournaments that allow wood bats only. Additionally, some college summer seasons are wood bat-only. The reasons can vary. Some just want to experience using wood bats like the pros.
The Cape Cod League, a collegiate summer league in Massachusetts, switched to all-wood bats in 1985. A significant reason is for players (and scouts) to learn how these newly adult players fare with the switch from metal to wood. It’s the transition players must make to succeed past college ball.
The reason baseball leagues for players in college and younger is to avoid the costs of constantly replacing broken bats.
High-quality wooden bats cost $75 to $185 each. It’s nearly impossible to determine the exact average for Major League Baseball players, but a solid guess is that each, on average, goes through 3 or 4 wood bats per season. Some players are known to have gone through dozens of bats in a season!
For MLB players the cost may not be bothersome, as either the team or a sponsor could fund the bats. For college players, at least $75 per season can be quite a hit financially. And imagine Little League parents learning they have to put out another $75 for a bat mid-season.
Some information written about wooden bats (especially if found online) are erroneous. Let’s start with the first one: Kids are strong enough to swing a wood bat. A 27-inch, 17-ounce wood bat feels pretty much exactly the same as swinging a 27-inch, 17-ounce metal bat.
What is true is that baseballs do not fly off of wood as they do off metal bats. Metal bats are hollow which can make the barrel much lighter compared with its size, which boosts bat speed. Additionally, some metals used to manufacture the bat could create a “trampoline” effect, thereby sending a baseball off it unnaturally fast compared with wood.
Some people think kids don’t use wood bats because they just don’t have enough “pop.” One comment even said kids would struggle to hit a baseball out of the infield with a wood bat. The latter is untrue.
Certainly, balls come off metal bats more sharply, resulting in more base hits, a great advantage over wood. But the main reason wood bats are absent in youth and high school ball (even though wood bats are legal in all baseball leagues) is durability.
Metal bats became commonplace in the 1970s, but it’s been the past 30 years when baseball governing bodies like USA Baseball and the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) began making rule changes for use of metal bats in the ongoing quest for player safety.
The goal of the metal bat standards is to try to make them perform as much like wooden bats as possible.
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