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Head Injury Concerns Lead to Baseball Bat Ban for Virginia High Schools

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Starting this season, high school baseball players in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake and every other city and county in Virginia (VA) will have to use wooden bats or aluminum bats engineered to work more like traditional ones. The ban on metal alloy bats labeled "BESR" takes effect for all secondary schools across the United States in 2012, but Virginia sports officials imposed the restriction earlier out of concern for protecting players, especially pitchers, from serious head injuries.

A batted baseball regularly travels at 95 mph. Balls coming off BESR-rated — ball exit speed ratio– bats easily reach speeds of 105 mph or greater. Tragedies like the death of Double A first base coach Mike Coolbaugh during a Tulsa Drillers game in 2007 show almost yearly how dangerous baseball can be. Up the speed at which the ball enters play, and players and coaches in the field can have almost no chance to protect themselves from serious injuries to their heads, eyes, arms, legs or bodies.

The Virginia High School League — along with the NCAA, National Federation of State High School Associations, and rule-making bodies like the North Carolina (NC) High School Athletic Association — is urging baseball players and coaches to ditch BESR bats and start using BBCOR-certified models as soon as possible. "BBCOR" stands for bat-ball coefficient of restitution. What the standard means is that a metal bat will produce less "rebound"; that is, the bat will absorb more energy from a pitched baseball and slow its reentry into the field.

Specific bats Virginia high schoolers can no longer use include all of the following:

  • DeMarini CF4
  • DeMarini Vendetta
  • Louisville Slugger Triton
  • Louisville Slugger Dynasty
  • Combat B1AB2
  • Combat B1AB2 (Red)
  • Combat B2AB1

A major factor in VHSL’s decision to ban high-performance composite bats was the nearly fatal skull fracture suffered by a San Francisco-area high school pitcher two years ago. The decision has not set well with many coaches, players, parents or companies that produce aluminum bats, but VHSL Assistant Director Tom Dolan told the Virginian-Pilot on January 12, 2010, "You have to decide. Do you want to err on the side of player safety? Or would you prefer to not tick off a bat manufacturer? I know where I’m going to come down on that issue."

As the father of a high school athlete and two other children just discovering sports, I’m on the side of those who want to protect children. Also, as an attorney with decades of experience representing victims of head and brain injuries ranging from concussions to massive trauma, I am doubly on the side of anyone who takes steps to prevent those types of life-changing events.

So play ball. With safer bats.

EJL

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, whose attorneys work out of offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, Eastern Shore Virginia Injury Attorneys Blog and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.

2 Comments

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  1. Mike May says:
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    There has been a great deal of research done in recent years on the ‘wood vs. non-wood’ baseball bat issue which bears further consideration:

    1.) Dr. Dawn Comstock, PhD (Center for Injury Research and Policy at Ohio State University) compiles injury data on high school sports for the National Federation of State High School Associations. During a speech she delivered on April 21, 2010 in Indianapolis, she stated that baseball is a very safe sport as football, wrestling, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls basketball, field hockey, boys and girls lacrosse, ice hockey, and gymnastics have higher rates of injury than baseball. She noted that baseball injuries are declining – from 1.25 injuries per 1,000 athlete exposures in 2006-07 to .93 injuries per 1,000 athlete exposures in 2007-08 to .78 injuries per 1,000 athlete exposures in 2008-09. Football has more than 12 injuries per 1,000 athlete exposures. According to Dr. Comstock, her research is important so that any rule changes made to any sport will be “data driven and not based on anecdotal evident or emotion.”

    Some of her key findings of the study as they apply to baseball:

    — Strains and sprains are the most common injuries in actual competition and during practice.
    — 44% of all baseball injuries are specifically to the shoulder/arm/elbow/wrist/hand area…23% of baseball injuries are to the head and face.
    — 92% of all baseball injuries do NOT require surgery.
    — 78% of all injuries are suffered at, in this order, 1st base, home plate, 2nd base, 3rd base, and in the outfield. The pitcher’s mound is the 6th most common location for injuries.
    — In actual competition, there are more injuries suffered by base runners than to pitchers.
    — 26.9% of all baseball injuries are suffered while playing defense, 17.4% of injuries occur during base running, 14.7% of injuries take place while in the act of pitching (but not while trying to field batted balls!), 13.7% of injuries take place during batting, and 8.1% of injuries occur during sliding.
    — There are more concussions caused by running the bases than by fielding batted balls.
    — There are more strains and sprains caused by running the bases than by fielding batted balls.
    — There are a similar number of fractures caused by running the bases as there are by fielding batted balls.

    2.) A 2007 study on “Non-Wood vs. Wood Bats” by Illinois State University concluded that “there was no statistically significant evidence that non-wood bats result in an increased incidence of severity of injury.”

    3.) In 2002 (before today’s standards were implemented), the CPSC stated “Available incident data are not sufficient to indicate that non-wood bats may pose an unreasonable risk of injury.”

    4.) Daniel Russell, Ph. D. (Applied Physics, Kettering University, Flint, Michigan) has concluded that metal bats currently legal for play under NCAA and NFHS regulations do not pose a safety risk that is significantly greater than the risk of playing baseball with wood bats.

    5.) Injury statistics have been kept on record at Little League International since the early 1960s. Since that time, there have been eight fatalities in the Little League program as a result of the batted ball. Six of the fatalities have come from wood bats and two from non-wood bats — in 1971 and 1973. Those occurred 20 years before the mandated Bat Performance Factor (BPF) bat standard that is in place today.

    6.) In 2007, minor league baseball coach Mike Coolbaugh (Double A — Tulsa Drillers) was killed during a game by a ball hit off a wood bat, while he was coaching first base.

    Baseball is not dangerous, but unexpected injuries do occur – off both wood and non-wood bats.

    In September of 2007, longtime major league baseball player and current Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker defended the integrity and safety of the non-wood baseball bat:

    “As a former Major League Baseball player and manager, and as the father of an eight-year-old son who uses a metal bat, I support players using the bat of their choice because I know wood and metal are safe. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t let my son use an aluminum bat. I strongly believe leagues, players, coaches and baseball officials should decide what type of bat they want to use.”

    Today’s major leaguers all grew up using a non-wood bat. Secondly, amateur baseball is not the training ground for pro baseball. Amateur baseball’s only obligation is to give today’s young players a chance to play and enjoy the game.

    Two of the main reasons for injuries in baseball are thrown balls and collisions – not batted balls.

    It’s important to realize that standards on bat performance are agreed upon and enforced by baseball’s governing bodies — not bat makers.

    Sincerely,

    Mike May
    Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association
    mmay@sgma.com

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    Mr. May,

    Thank you for your comment and additional details on risks of injury to players and coaches on the baseball diamond.

    Certainly, batted balls are not the only danger in the sport. My firm has represented a coach in a suit against the maker of pitching machine that malfunctioned and caused damage to the man’s eye. We have also handled a case for a family’s whose son suffered a traumatic brain injury while shagging fly balls. That second case involved negligence by an adult supervising a high school practice.

    Still, I support the decision by national and Virginia youth sports officials to take high-performance composite metal bats out the hands of young baseball players. Serious injuries from batted balls may be rare — and they do result from the use of both wood and aluminum bats — but slowing the average speed at which balls reenter play can only protect people in the field.

    Keeping players and coaches as safe as possible must be the top priority of the officials who make and enforce the rules for youth baseball.

    John Cooper, Attorney