As the 2013 Major League Baseball season slides into the All-Star break, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the results of innovative research by the U.S. Forest Service, and funded by MLB, that will result in significantly fewer shattered baseball bats.
"This innovative research by the U.S. Forest Service will make baseball games safer for players and fans across the nation," said Secretary Vilsack. "The U.S. Forest Products Laboratory has once again demonstrated that we can improve uses for wood products across our nation in practical ways – making advancements that can improve quality of life and grow our economy."
Testing and analyzing thousands of shattered Major League bats, U.S. Forest Service researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) developed changes in manufacturing that decreased the rate of shattered maple bats by more than 50 percent since 2008. While the popularity of maple bats is greater today than ever before, the number of shattered bats continues to decline.
"Since 2008, the U.S. Forest Service has worked with Major League Baseball to help make America's pastime safer," said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. "I'm proud that our collective 'wood grain trust' has made recommendations resulting in a significant drop in shattered bats, making the game safer for players as well as for fans."
"These results would not have been possible without the outstanding work of the Forest Products Laboratory and the tireless efforts of its project coordinator, David Kretschmann," says Daniel Halem, MLB's Senior Vice President of Labor Relations. "Major League Baseball greatly appreciates the invaluable contributions of the Forest Products Laboratory and Mr. Kretschmann on this important issue."
The joint Safety and Health Advisory Committee of Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association began working to address the frequency of bats breaking into multiple pieces five years ago. FPL wood experts looked at every broken Major League bat from July to September during the 2008 MLB season.
The research team found that inconsistency of wood quality, primarily the manufacturing detail "slope of grain," for all species of wood used in Major League bat manufacture was the main cause of broken bats. Also, low-density maple bats were found to not only crack but shatter into multiple pieces more often than ash bats or higher-density maple bats. Called multiple-piece failure, shattered bats can pose a danger on the field and in the stands.
Slope of grain refers to the straightness of the wood grain along the length of a bat. Straighter grain lengthwise means less likelihood for breakage.
With the help of TECO, a third-party wood inspection service, the FPL team established manufacturing changes that have proven remarkably successful over time. Limits to bat geometry dimensions, wood density restrictions, and wood drying recommendations have all contributed to the dramatic decrease in multiple-piece failures, even as maple's popularity is on the upswing.
The Forest Service research team has been watching video and recording details of every bat breakage since 2009. The team will continue monitoring daily video and studying broken bats collected during two two-week periods of the 2013 season, working to further reduce the use of low-density maple bats and the overall number of multiple-piece failures.
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