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Baseball bats are safer thanks to the U.S. Forest Service Forest Products Lab

Baseball fans thrill at the thought of hearing a bat crack. But seeing an actual bat shatter is not one of those thrills. That’s because this seemingly harmless wood breaking can be dangerous for the players and fans and is the reason that the U.S. Forest Service Forest Products Lab has worked for several years to improve the strength of wooden bats.

The Products Lab’s efforts have not been in vain. Since Major League Baseball’s partnership with the Forest Service began in 2008 there has been an astonishing 50 percent reduction in multiple-piece failure rates in bats.

While broken bats have always been part of the game, multiple-piece failure is something relatively new. With recent changes in bat geometry, wood species used to manufacture bats and inconsistencies in the grain of the wood itself, there had been an increase not only in cracked or broken bats, but also in bats dangerously shattering on contact.

Dave Kretschmann, a research engineer at the Forest Products Lab has seen many videos of shattered bats. He’s tested and analyzed hundreds of bats, and recorded every Major League bat breakage since the 2009 season. Through his recommendations and the cooperative work of TECO, an independent certification and testing agency for wood products overseeing changes from the factory to the dugout, baseball players, owners and fans have reaped the rewards of increased safety through practical science.

“Most of my initial recommendations addressed “slope of grain” issues,” says Kretschmann. Slope of grain refers to the straightness of the wood grain along the length of a bat. Straighter grain lengthwise is associated with less likelihood for breakage.

“One change made to address this issue, something that players and fans can easily see,” says Kretschmann, “is a small ink dot placed on the face-grain of bat handles. This helps identify grain characteristics at just a glance.”

Thanks to these findings, the 2010 season saw limits to bat geometry dimensions, wood density restrictions, and wood drying recommendations. Shattered bat incidents continued to decrease under these new limits, and the trend has continued into the early parts of the 2011 season.

Major League Baseball continues to work closely with the Forest Products Laboratory and bat manufacturers to further decrease the number of broken bats in order to ensure the safety of all.

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