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Author TOPIC: Juiced Bats and Balls
The Doctor

August 16, 2005
10:10:09 PM

Entry #: 997764
Technological advances in equipment have rendered grand old golf courses obsolete for professional tournaments. Many have adapted by lengthening and narrowing fairways, "Tigerproofing" themselves in an attempt to keep scores from plummeting. There is serious discussion of more restrictive regulation of the golf ball as well.

In softball, technological advance has done much the same, rendering local ballfields obsolete, as described in today's WSJ:

By the beginning of this decade... softball bats had become too powerful -- often resulting in longer games with inning after inning of home runs. Last year, the ASA [Amateur Softball Association of America] responded by telling makers to limit how fast a regulation softball could fly off their bats in a lab test -- its "98 mph rule." After years of better performance, bats were effectively dampened.

Until, that is, the bat doctors went to work:

"It's amazing the lengths teams will go to win an $18 trophy," says Joe Morice, a player and manager of Cassie's Italian, a men's softball team in Fairfax, Va.

Bat doctors have devised various procedures to give players that age-old satisfaction of launching a ball over the outfield fence. One method, called "end loading," involves removing the cap on the end of the barrel and adding weight, shifting the bat's balance to give it more momentum when swung. Bat doctors may also use a lathe to shave the inside of a bat's barrel to make it springier, in effect giving the ball an extra boost on contact. Then there's the painting routine -- taking a high-performance bat that isn't allowed for league play and disguising it as a regulation model.

Hitting the ball hard and putting it over the fence is a nice feeling - one of those he-man feelings. That's why guys use juiced bats (off the shelf bats) and doctored bats. It's not about winning trophies and it's not for the team. It's personal - it's for the "me" in team.

There's a big difference in balls too, even within "cors." In Missouri, we used .Cor47 balls, and our ball of choice was the Super Duper Blue Dot by Worth. There was no comparison between the Super Dupers and the Dudley Titanium balls. When dropped from about 5', the Super Duper bounce about 3-4" higher. Imagine how much further the Super Dupers would fly off a bat, especially one of the juiced bats.

There are other rules that either are or have been in place to lessen the effect of the bats on the duration of games. Before the bats got juiced, there was a limit of one home run in my coed and men's leagues. Not long after the juicing began, the limit was increased to 3. Now, I'm told, the limit is 4. Hitters who put one out also only had to run to first instead of running the bases.

But there's a real safety issue with the juiced bats and juiced balls.

Umpires say bat doctoring is getting hard to detect, as bat doctors become increasingly sophisticated. For Brad Crerar, the ASA umpire who officiated Mr. Consiglio's game in Connecticut, the larger worry is that players will get hurt when balls are hit with extra velocity. "It puts everybody on the field at risk," he says. (Injury statistics are inconclusive: U.S. emergency rooms reported about 113,000 softball injuries in 2003, down more than 10% from 2001, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.)

I play outfield, but my infielders, especially the thirdbasemen I've played with had to move back at their position to give themselves a better chance to react to and field the juiced balls hit off the juiced bat. But they would also tell stories about balls that made it through their legs so fast that they didn't have a chance to. If that ball's coming at your head, it's grope and hope time.

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