Aluminum bats not good for college game

Gophers baseball coach John Anderson typically stresses the importance of pitching and defense to win games. He insists that these aspects of the game also win championships.
With the advanced technology of the aluminum bat, however, more people involved in college baseball are proving him wrong. They say offense is now the key.
Easton’s latest line of aluminum bats is called the Reflex bat. Each bat costs about $120 and has a five-ounce length-to-weight ratio. This means the bats are 33 and 34 inches long and weigh only 28 or 29 ounces. The alloy used to make the Reflex bat is the same as that in some jetliners.
Anderson described it not as a bat, but as a weapon.
“The aluminum bat makes hitters look better than they are,” he said. “Players 5-6 and only 160 pounds are hitting double-digit home runs (in a season), strictly due to the aluminum bat.”
Last year at a regional tournament to advance to the College World Series, Louisiana State defeated Georgia Tech 29-13. At the CWS in 1995, the first year of the Reflex bat, a record 48 homers were hit. The previous record was 29. Anderson attributed both the score and the record to the Reflex bat.
With players swinging the aluminum bat, college pitching is slower in development. Pitching styles have changed because of the fact that it’s a lot easier to get a hit with an aluminum bat.
Pitchers are throwing more curve balls and off-speed pitches like sliders and fork balls. These pitches threaten to seriously damage a young pitcher’s arm.
“Something needs to get done to restore the competitive balance between offense and defense,” Anderson said. “I hope a pitcher doesn’t get seriously injured from a ball off an aluminum bat before changes might be made.”
Yes, this is the off-season for college baseball, but it is also the time when NCAA officials make decisions for upcoming seasons. The biggest issue brought up this year is the use of aluminum bats in college baseball.
Why not switch from aluminum to wood? Well, this can’t be done for two reasons:
First, wooden bats would be very expensive for college baseball programs because they cost anywhere from $12 to $30 per bat. Wooden bats break if contact is made on the handle or off the very end, and inexperienced players break a lot of bats.
If the average college player breaks 20 bats in a season, that could cost the program close to $600 just for one player.
Secondly, there just isn’t enough wood to go around. With professional players in the majors and minors already using wood bats, adding the college ranks would kill the supply.
So where do you go from here? Enter the Baum bat.
Five years ago, Steve Baum invented a bat with an exterior made of a white ash composite. Inside is a core of foam, surrounded by a synthetic fiber. The result is a bat almost as strong as aluminum but has the feel of wood.
Cincinnati Reds minor league hitting instructor Jim Hickman said, “On any given day in spring training, we probably break a minimum of three dozen wood bats. We didn’t break any of the Baum bats.” Last year at the Minnesota Twins’ spring training camp, the team saved $10,000 by using the Baum.
Using it in college would also allow major league baseball scouts to more accurately evaluate players. Some high school and college players sign contracts for enormous amounts of money with no proof they’ll ever make it to the majors because they haven’t hit with a wooden bat yet.
Some college baseball players are sent every summer to play in collegiate summer leagues by their coaches. I played in the Great Lakes Collegiate League last summer in Ohio. We used both wooden bats and the Baum, but most players chose the Baum because it never broke.
“Some leagues have had discussions of going to the Baum bat,” Coach Anderson said, “but the problem is you’re putting your players at a disadvantage for All-America honors, as a prospect or being identified as a prospect. Plus, players want to swing the aluminum.”
The NCAA recently announced that during the 1998 season, college baseball will impose a length and weight ratio to match wooden bats, which would require a 33-inch bat to weigh no less than 30.5 ounces. Still, college players will continue using aluminum bats.
Anderson believes this is a step in the right direction, but he is still in favor of the Baum bat.
“The Baum bat will shorten the length of games and make pitchers more aggressive, ” he said.
The combination of both will restore the competitive balance between offense and defense, which means improved pitching and a safer college game.

— Bryan Guse is the starting catcher on the Gophers baseball team.