Tag Archives: Brandon Patch

Steve on Rick Wolff’s The Sports Edge 11/08/09

Steve on WFAN to discuss the recent jury verdict in favor of the family of Brandon Patch, an 18-year-old pitcher who was killed by a ball hit off an aluminum bat in 2003.   Joining host Rick Wolff and Steve is Joe White, Jr., the attorney for the Patch family.

Advertisements

PLAINTIFF PREVAILS IN ALUMINUM BAT CASE; AWARDED $850,000 FROM LOUISVILLE SLUGGER

                                                                                   Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

In a Helena, Montana courtroom on Wednesday afternoon, a 12-member state court jury awarded the family of Brandon Patch, the 18-year-old pitcher who was killed by a ball hit off an aluminum bat on July 25, 2003, the sum of $856,000 from defendant Hillerich & Bradsby (more commonly known as Louisville Slugger).  The jury deliberated for a little more than a day and, arguably, has sent a message that may be heard across the country in the continuing battle of metal v. wood bats to be used by the youth of America.

 When reached after the verdict, the Patch family’s attorney, Joe White, Jr., exclusively told Kallas Remarks, “we are happy with the jury’s verdict.  This case was never about the money for the Patch family and we told the jury that.  The jury found that Louisville Slugger failed to warn people about the dangers of the bat made by Louisville Slugger.”

 WHY WASN’T IT ABOUT THE MONEY?

 Well, the history of the Patch case is a long one.  But when the Patch family had to bury their son in 2003, their main goal was to have aluminum bats banned from youth baseball in Montana.  The Patch family thought that they would be able to get a law passed in the Montana legislature doing just that.  But after some bat company representatives went out to Montana (according to the Patch family), all that was passed was a “resolution,” that is, it was suggested that kids not use aluminum bats in Montana. 

 Needless to say, once the proposed law became a resolution, virtually every team in Montana continued to use aluminum (Patch’s team, the Miles City Mavericks, used wood).  But it was the frustration of the Patch family being unable to get a law passed that led them to filing the lawsuit, virtually towards the end of the statute of limitations period.

 Clearly the Patch family was and is hoping that what happened to their son will never happen to anybody else’s son.  If you’ve seen Debbie Patch (Brandon’s mother) on HBO or other places, you would view her as a salt-of-the-earth person who really doesn’t want your family or mine to go through what she went through on that fateful day and for years to come.

 WILL THIS VERDICT HELP THE CAUSE?

 It says here that this is a step in the right direction.  These metal bats aren’t the metal bats from the 1970s, which were heavier and not nearly as technologically advanced as the bats of today.  The advances over time are, frankly, scary.  All you have to do is pitch batting practice to these kids or watch a team that plays with both wood and metal to see the difference.  It’s startling.

 But the ball is rolling.  There’s no metal allowed in New York City high school baseball.  There’s no metal allowed in North Dakota.  Little Leagues in certain towns (Ridgefield, Ct, for example) are going to all wood, at least until the Williamsport Tournament.

 That’s a start.

But, hopefully, this verdict will send a message across the country that bat manufacturers have to be more careful about what they are manufacturing.  If you or your child is involved in youth baseball, maybe it’s time to do something, to approach your Little League board, to get the word out:  these bats are dangerous.

Remember, the life you save, the massive injury you prevent, may be that of your own child.

We’ll see what happens.

© Copyright 2009 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.

Steve on Rick Wolff’s The Sports Edge 10/25/09

Death by aluminum bat: the Brandon Patch case against Louisville Slugger

TRIAL STARTS IN DEATH OF PITCHER BRANDON PATCH AGAINST LOUISVILLE SLUGGER

                                                                                    Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

On July 25, 2003, 18-year-old Brandon Patch was pitching for his American Legion team in Montana, the Miles City Mavericks.  Patch threw a pitch and, according to witnesses, never had a chance to get out of the way of a line drive hit at him off an aluminum bat.  Patch was hit in the head, suffered devastating head injuries, was taken to the hospital – and died just a few hours later.

TRIAL UNDERWAY

This past week, in state court in Helena, Montana, the case against the maker of that bat, Hillerich & Bradsby (better known as Louisville Slugger), proceeded before a jury of twelve men and women.  Attorneys for the plaintiffs, the family of Brandon Patch, essentially took two trial days to present their case and rested their case this past Wednesday.

The essence of the case, according to the plaintiffs, is that Brandon Patch simply had no time to react, had no time to get out of the way or do anything to protect himself from a ball that was catapulted off an aluminum bat.  According to an AP article written by Brock Vergakis, Patch’s teammate that terrible day, first baseman Kevin Roberts, testified that “[i]t was just so quick.  Everything happened so fast.” 

The Patch family attorney, Joe White, exclusively told Kallas Remarks this past Friday, two days after resting his case, that “we feel real pleased with how the evidence is going in.  We feel pretty good about the way the case is going and we hope that the defendant’s bat is found to be defective in design.”

AND THAT’S THE CRUX OF THE CASE

One of the main issues in the case is whether anyone could have known that this bat could be so dangerous.  Joe White is quoted in the AP article as saying “[t]here is absolutely no warning anywhere … that this bat can create a situation where a pitcher is defenseless.”

DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS

At the end of the Patch family’s case, defendant’s attorney, Rob Sterup, made a motion to dismiss the entire case.  According to the AP article, Sterup argued before Judge Kathy Seely this past Wednesday that “[t]his bat did what was expected of it.  There is no showing it did anything different.”

Judge Seely denied the motion to dismiss and the defendant is putting on its case.

THE CRUX OF THE NATIONAL DEBATE

To some degree, in this writer’s opinion, defendant’s counsel really crystallized the national debate on aluminum bats.  There have been some loud voices for many years (such as WFAN’s Rick Wolff on his youth sports show, The Sports Edge) who believe (as does this writer) that the aluminum bats of today, in and of themselves, are too dangerous and can maim, severely injure and even kill young baseball players.

It’s started a national debate and the Patch case will gain national attention in the coming week.  This will bring the issue of aluminum bats to the forefront and, depending on the jury’s verdict, could very well start to sound the death knell for allowing our children to use these bats and be put at risk for serious injury. 

The campaign is already underway with such people as legislator Jim Oddo of Staten Island, who sponsored a bill banning the use of aluminum bats in New York City high school games.  After much debate, the bill passed and the reaction, two seasons later, has become much ado about nothing – the games go on, the kids learn to hit with wood and baseball is a better – and safer – game today in New York City high schools.

BRETT V. LOUISVILLE SLUGGER

There’s already been a case where Louisville Slugger was held liable by a jury for damages to a kid who was hit in the head and suffered severe injury from a ball hit off an aluminum bat.  In that 2002 case, which received very little attention, a federal jury awarded young Jeremy Brett $150,000 in damages for his injuries.  Louisville Slugger did not appeal and paid the judgment.

BACK TO THE PATCH CASE

The crux of the Patch case might very well be the reaction time.  Witnesses who were at the game have testified that there was no time for Brandon Patch to react, that he had no chance to get out of the way, that he was defenseless.  According to attorney Joe White, as reported in the Independent Record by Angela Brandt, the average time to respond to a batted ball is 400 milliseconds.  Yet Brandon Patch had less time than that brief time, about 376 milliseconds.

Could this short time span be the difference between life and death?  Well, it very well could be, but a jury will have to decide, in the next week or so, whether this bat was defective and didn’t give Brandon Patch enough time to react to the batted ball.

THE DEFENSE CASE

The defense is presently putting on its case and will continue until the middle of this coming week.  The defense is apparently going to call some experts who will attempt to show that this bat is like many bats, including wood bats.  Defense attorney Sterup, in his opening statement, told the jury that “If some other bat was used, the ball would have been hit just as hard, if not harder.”  Sterup was also quoted as saying, in the article by Angela Brandt, that “Baseball is a safe sport – always has been.  Aluminum bats have not changed that.”

Well, anyone who has pitched batting practice to youth players who hit with wood and aluminum can immediately tell that there’s a difference between hitting with metal and hitting with wood.  Years ago, this writer went down to a wood bat league in central New Jersey and, between games of a doubleheader, I asked two umpires I had never seen before and have never seen since, what the big deal was, that it seemed to me, from what I had heard, that aluminum and wood bats were the same when it came to hitting a baseball.

They both laughed at me and told me to stick around and watch these 16 and 17-year-old kids hit the ball with wood.  They said there would be no moonshots or rockets off the bat.  They said it would clearly be like “old-time baseball” and that it would be safer.  I did stick around and they were right – I saw one in-the-gap double and no rockets that made you cringe and worry about the safety of the pitcher.  It was indeed an eye-opener – long before the New York City law and the comas of Billy Kalant in Illinois and others.

WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

The Patch case is expected to go to the jury in the middle of this coming week.  Unlike the Kentucky football coach case which could be watched on the internet (see Kallas Remarks, 9/14/09 and 9/18/09), it’s impossible to get a feel for what the in-trial evidence is like and what the judge and/or jury’s reaction to it is.

But it says here that, no matter what the verdict (although if the case gets to the jury, in this writer’s opinion, you have to think the Patch family has a good chance to prevail), the national debate will continue.  The Patch family needs eight of the twelve jurors to vote for them to prevail.  If Louisville Slugger loses the case, it will go a long way to start reversing the trend of aluminum bats in this country that was started in New York City a few years ago – a return to wood bats for children who play baseball.

We’ll see what happens.

© Copyright 2009 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.

“METAL BAT” CASES RESULTING IN SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH BEING BROUGHT TO THE FOREFRONT IN THE BATTLE OF WOOD V. METAL

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

    

There is a movement afoot in this country where more and more people are beginning to understand the increased risks of injury that the use of metal or aluminum bats (in youth baseball games through college games) are causing the youth of this country.  Below is a summary of a number of pending and resolved legal cases, across the nation, which show that attorneys are starting to take these cases and take on powerful defendants whether it’s a bat company, Little League baseball or other powerful entities.  While all the defendants deny any liability, a jury in the past has (and, possibly, in other cases in the near future, will) held a defendant liable for injuries caused by a baseball hit off an aluminum or metal bat.

    

DOMALEWSKI v. HILLERICH & BRADSBY, THE SPORTS AUTHORITY and LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL — Many of you are familiar with this case, where, on June 6, 2006, 12-year-old Steven Domalewski was pitching in a Police Athletic League game in Wayne, New Jersey when he was hit in the chest by a ball hit off an aluminum bat.  His heart stopped, he couldn’t breathe for about 15 minutes and the resulting commotio cordis condition caused brain damage to the point where he is now a teenager confined to a wheelchair who cannot speak clearly and needs 24/7 care.  The Domalewski family’s attorney, Ernest Fronzuto, filed the lawsuit naming as defendants Hillerich & Bradsby (known to most of us as Louisville Slugger), the maker of the metal bat, The Sports Authority, the seller of the bat, and Little League Baseball, which had approved the bat as safe for youth baseball.  For a more complete discussion of this case, see Kallas Remarks, 5/25/08.

    

While still in its early stages (it was filed in May 2008 in Superior Court in New Jersey), all defendants have or will deny any liability on their part.  But this suit alone has already changed the way that many young kids play baseball.  Many are wearing a protective heart guard when they play and at least one youth league has made it mandatory for all of their pitchers.

     

PATCH V. HILLERICH & BRADSBY and UNIVERSAL ATHLETIC SERVICES — Another devastating case, Brandon Patch was an 18-year-old pitching for an American Legion team in Montana on July 25, 2003 when he was hit in the head with a ball hit off an aluminum bat.  He crumbled to the ground, suffered massive head injuries and died from those injuries.  The Patch family is suing the bat maker and the bat seller in state court in Montana.  According to Joe White, Jr., one of the attorneys for the Patch family, the trial was originally scheduled for March 2008 but, due to a snafu with getting jurors for the case, it has now been put off until October 2009.  The defendants deny any liability and, apparently, a jury in Montana will decide this case next year.

     

YEAMAN v. HILLERICH & BRADSBY — In this case, just filed this year, Dillon Andrew Yeaman was pitching in an American Legion game in Norman, Oklahoma when he was hit in the face with a ball hit off an aluminum bat.  He suffered severe facial injuries and he brought suit in state court in Oklahoma.  This case is also in the early stages. 

    

BAGGS v. LITTLE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL, INC. — In this case, filed in New York State Supreme Court in Staten Island, John Baggs, Jr. was pitching in a Little League All-Star game in July 2006 when he was hit in the head by a ball hit off an aluminum bat.  He suffered a broken orbital bone and other injuries that required multiple surgeries.  While the damage was caused by a ball hit off an aluminum bat, Baggs and his family are suing Little League International because Little League had just increased the eligible age limit by 90 days (the cutoff went back from July 31 to April 30, thus allowing older kids, who could not have played before at that age, to continue to play Little League baseball) and Baggs was hit by a ball hit by one of those previously ineligible players. 

    

Little League’s motion to dismiss the case was recently denied, according to John O’Leary of Staten Island, attorney for plaintiffs.  Mr. O’Leary also said that no bat company was named because the actual bat was not found after the incident. 

    

PALMER v. GRAND SLAM, INC., ET AL – In this case, filed in Stamford (CT) Superior Court, 16-year-old Chris Palmer was hit in the face with a ball hit off an aluminum bat during batting practice.  Palmer lost his right eye, among other injuries, and, in 2003, sued the place of business where he was hit, an AAU team and its coach.  According to Bruce Corrigan, Jr. of Westport, Connecticut, Palmer’s attorney, no bat company was sued because they could not find out what bat had been used.  The use of an improperly-placed L screen (sometimes used during batting practice to protect the pitcher) was one of the reasons the defendants were sued.  According to attorney Corrigan, a confidential settlement was reached with all defendants except Grand Slam, Inc and its owner.  When those defendants failed to appear in court, plaintiff received a default judgment for $886,000, which he is now trying to enforce against an insurance company.  Amazingly, Chris Palmer eventually came back to play high school baseball with just one eye, starring at Fairfield Prep and playing baseball in college at Tufts. 

    

BRETT v. HILLERICH & BRADSBY – The premier plaintiff’s case in this area, Jeremy Brett was a teenaged pitcher who was hit in the head with a ball hit off an aluminum bat.  He suffered severe head injuries and brought suit in federal court in Oklahoma.  In 2002, Brett won a jury verdict which totaled $150,000.  The money was paid by Louisville Slugger and they did not appeal the jury verdict, according to Brett’s attorney, Joe White, Jr. of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.   

    

SANCHEZ v. HILLERICH & BRADSBY — Andrew Sanchez was pitching for the University of Southern California on April 2, 1999, when he was hit in the head with a ball hit off an aluminum bat.  He suffered a fractured skull.  The case was eventually settled for an unspecified amount in 2002 with no admission of liability. 

    

HANNANT v. HILLERICH & BRADSBY – On April 1, 2000, Daniel Hannant was hit in the head with a ball hit off an aluminum bat while pitching in a high school game near Chicago, Illinois.  He suffered severe head injuries while pitching for his high school team, the Pittsfield Saukees, when he was hit in the head.  He sued for $1 million in 2002 and the case was eventually “resolved,” according to his attorney, Robert Chapman of Chicago, Illinois, who could not discuss the case other than to say it was resolved.

     

There are other cases with similar fact patterns that have been settled out of court.  Information on these cases is difficult to find because there is often little or no publicity surrounding them and the parties (and their attorneys) are usually barred from speaking about the outcome of the case (usually a settlement, pre-trial or otherwise, which has no finding or admission of liability on the part of the defendants and includes an agreement that the attorneys and the parties will not talk about the case).

     

The cases discussed above are the new wave of attack on the use of metal bats in youth and college baseball games.  In addition, because of people like New York City Legislator Jim Oddo of Staten Island, New York, who sponsored the law that eventually passed in New York City barring the use of non-wood bats in high school games in New York City, and others (including WFAN’s Rick Wolff through his well-known radio show, “The Sports Edge”), more and more people are seeing the increased danger that metal bats can cause our children.  These injuries, devastating and (in the case of Brandon Patch) deadly, can be limited by a return to baseball as it was played for a hundred years — with wood bats.

 

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

LITTLE LEAGUE – IS WINNING MORE IMPORTANT THAN SAFETY? By Steve Kallas and Rick Wolff

 

Note: New York City attorney Steve Kallas is a former Little League coach and is a director of the Center for Sports Parenting. Rick Wolff is a long-time sports parenting advocate and is the host of WFAN’s “The Sports Edge” which is heard on Sunday mornings from 8-9. He’s the co-founder of the Center for Sports Parenting. This article was written in early August, 2007. Portions of it have appeared in the Hartford Courant.  

Later this month ESPN will broadcast the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.  Some of Little League’s hardest throwing and best-hitting11-and-12-year-olds will be on display.  But sadly, few spectators will see the increasing health and safety risks faced by these kids.  Ironically, Little League has been praised in its recent weeks for its new pitch count policies, days of rest between starts, its concerns about kids tossing curveballs, and the safety issues regarding non-wood bats.

 

But once one digs a little deeper, Little League Baseball faces harsh criticism on all of these issues, and especially from physicians who believe current league policies subject young pitchers to possible long-term arm damage. Most of the problem comes from Little League Baseball’s decision to ignore its own medical experts when it comes to instituting standards for pitch counts and curve balls.  Rather than trumpeting their new initiatives, Little League officials owe it to the millions of kids who play youth baseball to make sure they’re getting sound medical advice.

 

MAJOR LEAGUE PITCH COUNTS FOR LITTLE LEAGUERS? 

 

Overusing the arms of Little League pitchers has been a long standing problem.  A few years ago the league tried instituting a voluntary pitch count for 11 and 12-year-olds.  But the league kept changing the days of rest between starts.  To its credit, Little League Baseball asked two of the country’s top orthopedic surgeons – Dr. James Andrews and Dr. Glenn Fleisig – to advise the league in designing uniform standards for pitch counts and, presumably, days of rest. 

 

Andrews and Fleisig recommended that 11-and 12-year-olds should throw no more than 75 pitches per start and no more than 100 a week. And in 2005 and 2006, in Little League’s pilot pitch program, it mandated that kids in this age bracket — who had thrown 61-85 pitches in a game — then needed four days of rest before pitching again. Even Dr. Andrews, at a recent Little League International meeting in Houston, put up a chart which recommended that 11-and-12 year old kids needed four days of rest, and also that they should be stopped after throwing only 60 pitches (not 75 or 85) in a game.

 

But when Little League Baseball unveiled its new pitch count policy at the start of the 2007 season, it didn’t follow its own medical advisors’ advice.  Instead, the league announced that 11 and 12-year-old boys could throw up to 85 pitches per game and needed only three days of rest between starts.  “Our leagues were telling us that they felt that three days’ rest was adequate,” said Little League Baseball CEO Stephen Keener, when asked why the league had ignored its own medical advisors.  “So when we were hearing that from a lot of our people doing it at the local level, we took that proposed modification back to Glenn Fleisig.” 

 

The idea that the Little League Baseball put more credence in what volunteer coaches had to say about arm safety than orthopedic surgeons is a real problem.  Meanwhile, despite what Keener says, Dr. Fleisig insists that neither he nor Dr. Andrews were consulted about these changes. 

 

It gets worse. The watered down pitch counts rules don’t even apply during the Little League tournament.  Under the 2007 tournament rules, a kid can pitch on just two days rest.  That means a Little Leaguer is allowed to throw as many as 255 pitches in a week during the tournament.  When asked about this loophole, Little League Baseball’s medical advisors said they were unfamiliar with the playoff tournament rules, but Dr. Andrews said he found this total number of pitches in a week “worrisome.”

 

Dr. Tim Kremchek serves as the orthopedic surgeon for the Cincinnati Reds and also maintains a private practice, where he treats an alarming number of young pitchers with arm problems.  Dr. Kremchek says the Little League’s decision to allow boys to throw up to 85 pitches on three days’ rest — and then to two days’ rest during tournament time — is “one or two giant steps backward.”  He thinks the current tournament rules that permit Little League pitchers to throw up to 255 pitches in a week are even more dangerous to the long-term development of a kids’ arm.  “That’s utterly ridiculous and I’m going to call it abuse,” he said.  “What about the kids?”

 

If major league pitchers such as Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling – who possess some of the strongest arms in America – are subjected to strict pitch counts and, as a matter of course, need four day rest periods between starts, certainly Little League Baseball should impose even more careful guidelines on young boys whose arms are still in the development stage. 

     

IT’S TIME TO BAN CURVEBALLS 

 

When you watch the Little League World Series, check out how many curve balls are thrown.  And notice how the ESPN announcers marvel at how well these kids can make the ball break across the plate.  Curve balls have become an accepted, even an expected part of Little League Baseball. 

 

 

Yet orthopedic surgeons universally warn coaches and parents against kids throwing curve balls before age fourteen.  “It’s not just the stress that is placed on the elbow in a youngster,” said Dr. Kremchek.  “First of all, the grip is very difficult on a breaking ball. The amount of force and rotation of the forearm — supination we call it – is significant in a breaking ball. And it’s very, very difficult to throw this correctly as a youngster because of the youngster’s small hands and small fingers.”

 

Kremchek treats many youngsters who have suffered damage to their arms from throwing too many curveballs too early in life. “I still feel very firmly that youngsters with their growth plates open – before they shave, ages 11, 12, and 13 in particular – and probably in most cases up to 14 – should not be throwing breaking balls,” he said.  

 

In a recent appearance on HBO Real Sports, Kremcheck called the practice of teaching young kids to throw curve balls “an absolute crime.”  Based on the damage he’s seen, Kremchek believes Little League Baseball should ban curve balls altogether. 

 

Curiously, Little League Baseball CEO Stephen Keener agrees.  “If I could, I would ban curve balls from Little Baseball,” Keener said in a broadcast interview on WFAN radio in March of this year.  “But it’s really a question of enforcement.  We don’t know how to enforce that rule.” 

 

Instead, the league has commissioned a five-year study to examine whether curve balls are dangerous for young arms.  This is unnecessary.  The league’s own medical experts have already done two studies on this topic.  In 1996 Drs. Andrews and Fleisig were commissioned by USA Baseball’s Medical and Safety Advisory Committee to examine how many pitches a youngster should be allowed to throw.  “In general,” they concluded, “a child can start throwing a fastball at age 8, a change-up at age 10, and a curveball at age 14.”  A study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine in 2002 by the same doctors also concluded that “pitchers between the ages of 9 and 12 should limit themselves to throw only fastballs and change-ups, and not throw sliders and curveballs.”

 

When Dr. Fleisig was asked about these previous studies, he attempted to deflect any questions by pointing to a new study which hasn’t been released yet, and that it’s the pitch count that matters more these days than throwing curves and sliders.

 

Since his proclamation on WFAN that he’d like to ban curveballs, Steve Keener has backed off his position a bit. He too points to this new study, but Keener says that he’s not at liberty to discuss it yet. But Dr. Kremchek, who has seen this new study, strongly rejects the notion that curveballs aren’t as dangerous as previously thought. Kremchek says: “It goes against all of the other studies, as well as the thought processes of physicians and medical people involved with baseball and articles that have been written about breaking balls and youngsters.”

 

Even Dr. Andrews still believes that kids under 14 should not throw curveballs and agrees that “if they [Little League] could enforce it [a curveball ban], it would be [a good thing].”

 

Little League knows it has a problem.  Delaying five more years to address the issue, or pointing to a controversial new study, is not safe for today’s young pitchers.  There’s a simpler solution – put the ban in the hands of the Little League umpires.  Tell them to stop the game and issue a warning whenever a youngster throws a curve ball.  If it happens a second time, remove the youngster from the mound.  Meanwhile Little League Baseball should encourage the ESPN broadcasters to do a little less praising and a little more warning when kids throw curve balls. 

       

ALUMINUM BATS: DO YOU REALLY THINK THEY’RE AS SAFE? 

    

Let’s start with common sense. Anybody who has spent any time at a baseball game in recent years where aluminum bats are used will tell you that there’s no question that a ball off a metal bat travels faster and farther than a ball off a wooden one. This is not to say that a line drive off a wood bat isn’t potentially dangerous; of course, it is. But the difference is that a line drive off an aluminum bat is just more dangerous.  

 

CEO Keener claims that wood bats and metal bats these days perform exactly the same, even though he admits that he’s never actually been to a wood bat tournament.

No better example can be given than the 2007 Ridgefield (CT) Little League. Joe Heinzmann, Ridgefield Little League vice president, picks up the story:

 

“In 2007, the Ridgefield Little League majors division switched to wood bats for the regular season. We played 106 games, including playoffs, using wood bats. During these 106 games, five balls were hit over the fence for home runs. We allowed our players to switch to metal bats for the Connecticut District 1 Little League All-Star tournament. After our first five games, and against the best pitching in the district, our players hit six home runs over the fence, including one that went approximately 300 feet.”

 

Imagine hitting more home runs with metal bats in five games against the best pitching in the district than were hit in 106 games with wood bats in a local little league.

 

Keener does admit that “aluminum bats are easier to handle. The wood bats are more cumbersome. There’s no question that the non-wood bats are easier for the kids to swing.” He remains adamant, though, that too many critics of aluminum bats base their judgments on personal observations, not scientific evidence. “You can make all the presumptions you want based on perception, but until there’s a real credible demonstration, I certainly don’t support any kind of a ban on the non-wood bat.”

 

A study by Brown University bioengineers in 2002 compared ball speeds off wood and aluminum bats found that the average speed of a baseball coming off a metal bat is seven miles per hour faster than off wood bats. When it comes to a Little League pitcher trying to get his head out of the way of a line drive, a metal bat could be the difference between life and death.

 

Keener and the aluminum bat supporters dispute the Brown study, saying that aluminum bats are now manufactured to have the same ball exit speed as wood. But is that really possible? Dr. Robert Adair is professor emeritus of physics at Yale University and is the author of the best-selling book, The Physics of Baseball. Says Dr. Adair: “If the swing characteristics, including length, are the same, the ball will come off the aluminum bat, I would say, 7 or 8 percent faster than off a wooden bat. And there’s nothing you can do about that in the manufacturing. With an aluminum bat, the ball will come off faster than the wood bat.”

 

But what about Little League’s claims that the aluminum bats are now the same as wood?

 

“Wood is not very elastic,” observes Dr. Adair. “Now, with an aluminum bat, it will compress a lot more. It will compress maybe 10 times as much more. And that energy releases like a spring or trampoline. And it’s very efficient.”

 

In addition to this metallic trampoline effect, aluminum bats also feature a “sweet spot” on its barrel that is significantly larger than wood bats. That, of course, enhances the batter’s ability to hit the ball harder and farther.

 

The way aluminum bats are constructed these days, kids can swing the bat much faster than a wood bat. That’s a major key. But Keener disagrees: “Just because you can swing a non-wood bat through the hitting zone faster doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to hit the ball harder and further. That’s the point.”

 

Well, yes, that is the point, but Keener has it backwards. Any hitting coach or scout will tell you that increasing one’s bat speed definitely increases the power that a hitter can generate. And the greater the power, the harder the ball is hit, and the farther it will travel.

 

In a not well publicized case in 2002, a federal jury in Oklahoma held Hillerich & Bradsby (Louisville Slugger) liable for damages after pitcher Jeremy Brett was hit in the head by a ball off a metal bat and suffered serious head injuries. The jury verdict, which awarded Brett close to $150,000 in damages, was not appealed by the bat company.

 

There is another major lawsuit pending against a bat company in Helena, MT. Brandon Patch, an 18-year-old pitcher was killed on July 25, 2003, after being struck in the head by a line drive off a metal bat. That case is expected to go to trial in March 2008. There are also pending or settled cases relating to metal bat caused injuries in New York State, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, and others.

 

Little League also claims that the number of serious injuries has gone down in the last 14 years, but this “dropoff” is not based on actual injuries. Rather, it’s based on Little League’s recording of secondary insurance claims; that is, it’s based on whether an injured kid’s parents file a claim with Little League’s insurance (most parents use their own insurance coverage for their injured child).

 

The problem with this injury statistic – based on insurance claims – is glaringly evident in the pending case of Baggs v. Little League International, Inc. in New York State Supreme Court. On July 8, 2006, during a Little League All-Star game in Staten Island, NY, John Baggs, Jr. was pitching and was hit above the eye with a ball hit off a metal bat, suffering head injuries.

 

The boy’s parents used their own insurance to cover the medical bills, but the bills became so onerous that they filed a claim with Little League insurance. Had the child’s injuries not been so severe or had the medical bills not been so high, Little League would have never known what had happened to this young pitcher, according to the attorney for the Baggs’ family, John O’Leary of Staten Island, NY.

 

One final suggestion. If Little League Baseball wants to put an end to any debate about the safety issues of wood versus aluminum bats, why not take some of their hundreds of thousands of licensing money and have an independent research team do a complete and exhaustive scientific study? And do the testing now, so that by the start of the 2008 season, all Little League parents, coaches, players, and administrators will know the truth about using wood or aluminum bats.

 

But for now — despite serious head injuries, lawsuits, and scientific evidence — Little League Baseball continues to support the use of metal bats.  “You can make all the presumptions you want based on perception,” said Keener.  “But until there’s a real credible demonstration, I certainly don’t support any kind of a ban on the non-wood bat.” 

 

Wood versus aluminum? Ask any Little League batter whether they would prefer to use a wood or aluminum bat in a game. Reports Joe Heinzmann of Ridgefield Little League: “Of the 28 players playing this summer on our two All-Star teams, all 28 chose to use metal bats over wood.”

 

That speaks volumes.