Fan hurt by bat could reignite debate

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Major League Baseball has instituted stricter guidelines for bat manufacturers in recent years, but a serious head injury to a Kansas City Royals fan who was struck by Torii Hunter's shattered bat could reignite a debate about whether those guidelines go far enough.

In the fifth inning of Thursday's game, the head of Hunter's maple bat snapped off, flew into the stands and struck 64-year-old Sue Cooney near the right eye. Cooney was hospitalized and will require facial surgery, the Kansas City Star reported. She was sitting three rows behind the Angels' dugout along the third-base line.

Maple bats have been popular with major league players since Barry Bonds used them a decade ago. Other players still use ash bats, which tend to crack rather than splinter, according to studies. The swing that broke Hunter's bat produced a single to medium-deep center field.

"I don't think I got jammed," Hunter said. "I hit it pretty good and it blew up."

Hunter had been using that bat for the past two weeks and said he had been jammed four times without breaking it. He believes it simply dried out from travel and the wood grew fatigued from repeated use. Hunter said the ash bats he used previously splintered about as frequently as maple bats.

Many veteran baseball people are convinced maple bats are more dangerous. Earlier this spring, Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon addressed the danger of broken bats and line drives. "Now, with maple bats flying all over the place, that makes it worse," he said.

Major League Baseball increased the licensing fees and insurance requirements for bat companies in both 2004 and 2009. Manufacturers must submit their bats to a certification company to ensure they meet MLB standards for grain and wood quality. Pittsburgh Pirates hitting coach Don Long was seriously injured in 2008 when a piece of a broken maple bat struck him in the face.

"I've definitely noticed more bats helicoptering, but it got better last year," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "They're not outlawing maple, but the parameters are much tougher as to what bats can be used."

Hunter said he "couldn't function" for a while during Thursday's game because he was concerned about the fan's safety. He asked a clubhouse manager Saturday morning to help him find the woman's phone number so he could check on her.

The Kansas City Star reported that medical personnel were slow to assist Cooney because of new safety procedures at Kauffman Stadium.

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.