Don't blame bats for an accident
Published: Saturday, May 26, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 25, 2012 at 12:06 p.m.
The unfortunate (and that is not nearly a strong enough adjective) accident suffered by Petaluma Little Leaguer Brendan O’Neill is sure to revive the argument of metal vs. wooden bats.
First of all, it needs to be emphasized that what happened to Brendan was an accident. Not all injuries to young people are accidents. When harm is caused by carelessness or recklessness, it is not an accident. That is the case of most vehicle crashes. They are not accidents. They are preventable results of lack of attention or poor judgment.
What happened to Brendan was an accident, a happenstance of fate.
Would it have made a difference had the ball been hit by a wooden rather than a metal bat? Probably not. There was a time when baseball and softball were headed to continuing injuries when the composite bats got hotter and hotter with more and more whip action and bigger and bigger sweet spots.
After Marin Catholic High School pitcher Gunnar Sandberg was severely injured when he was struck in the head by a line drive off a metal bat in 2010, the California Interscholastic Federation developed standards for metal bats that supposedly put them on a par with wooden bats without the danger of breaking. Little League has similar standards.
I personally like wooden bats, but that is more a prejudice than a reasoned decision. I much prefer the crack of a wooden bat over the ping of the metal bats. But, the reality of today’s metal bats is that, if they are indeed more dangerous than wooden bats, it is by a very slim degree.
I do agree with many that the Little League diamond is too small. Today’s youngsters are bigger, stronger and throw faster. Forty-six feet is too close for a big pitcher to be throwing to batters — some of whom are pretty small. I believe this is where someone is going to get hurt.
Fortunately, well-designed batting helmets limit the potential for serious head injuries, but every season there are players who freeze and get hit in the face, arm, leg or other body parts. The smart ones usually managed to get hit where there is maximum natural padding.
It is time we take a serious look at moving the pitching mound back to 50 feet. Of course, this means moving the bases back to 70 feet from their current 60 feet.
Little League has already approved a division that would use the bigger diamonds.
It will be interesting to see how much moving the pitching mound and bases back will change the dynamics of the game. More troublesome is the size of parks themselves. Most have fences set at 200 feet. Those would have to be backed up to accommodate a larger infield. At most Little League parks, that would involve quite an undertaking and no little expense.
It is something I believe will eventually be done, but it will take planning, coordination and effort. It is not going to happen next season.
Meanwhile, it might make more sense that, rather than switching bats, youth baseball — not just Little League — go to face guards for pitchers. I would go a step farther and use face guards for batters as well.
It might take some getting used to, but Little Leaguers have adjusted well to full-flap helmets, softball players have no trouble with their face guards and even bull riders have traded Stetsons for Riddells.
(Contact John Jackson at email@example.com)
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