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Return to wooden bats long overdue

Every year, the list grows longer. This year it was a 16-year-old from California who spent weeks in a medically induced coma after suffering brain damage in March. And there was the 14-year-old from Ohio who last year was drilled just above the hairline and had surgery to remove half of his skull.

The names change, but the stories are mostly the same about baseball players suffering serious injuries while getting struck with line drives off of bats built with NASA-style technology.

Are we waiting for a pitcher to die before we come to our senses and force wood bats back into the game?

We keep pushing for bigger, faster and harder with the idea that it somehow equates to better, but that's not always true in baseball. In fact, the game on most amateur levels is worse than it was 30 years ago because technology has reduced our baseball IQ while placing less emphasis on fundamentals.

Why bunt the ninth batter with a man on first and nobody out in the last inning of a tie game, for example, when the pipsqueak can drive a triple into the gap? And why play the corners in when A) the aforementioned pipsqueak can't bunt and B) can drive the ball into the third baseman's esophagus?

Baseball for years was the one sport that transcended generations, the one in which you could best compare yesteryear's players to those of today because the equipment was basically the same. Now, too many players are hitting 400-foot opposite-field homers using an Ultra Titanium Super Bazooka XXL 1000 or whatever their bats are called.

Here's a suggestion: Bring back wood bats on all levels or dumb down technology so aluminum and composite bats react more like wood rather than a scud missile launcher. Equipment companies that used technology to spruce up the Bat Exit Speed Ratio certainly have the intelligence to jam it into reverse.

See, wood makes the game safer and better.

Aluminum bats were introduced in the 1970s as a means of saving money. Manufacturers still insist that non-wood bats can last several years. The reality is players reload every season with new bats that are lighter and stronger with a larger sweet spot (see: more expensive), allowing them to hit balls farther.

The Easton Speed II Regular Flex, for example, is a two-piece war club that supposedly maximizes energy transfer and provides for lighter swing weight and faster swing speed -- all within high school rules, mind you -- and costs $419. For that much money, it better come with a batting coach. Heck, you could buy 10 suitable wood bats for the same price.

Last month, the NCAA voted to ban composite bats for next season. It was a move that was long overdue but didn't go far enough. Many schools feared the loss of money from equipment companies that either pay schools to use their products or supply them with free gear, particularly at the Division I level.

Sorry, but if you're good enough to play college baseball, you're good enough to play with a wood bat. It's particularly ridiculous that D-I schools such as superpowers South Carolina and UCLA, which are in the College World Series finals, don't play with wood.

Fortunately, some local leagues have been ahead of the curve. The Monsignor Martin Association has been playing with wood only for the past several seasons. Section VI should do the same. The County of Erie Baseball Association is among several leagues that turned exclusively to wood.

They found shorter games and more strategy without beer-league softball scores. It restored bunting and other lost arts, such as the hit and run. Batters still hit the ball hard, but only when they hit it right. They discovered a pure form of baseball, which was baseball at its best.

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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